sometimes you have to go down the death trap slide.

So, as the school year is winding down, teaching seniors makes me a little nostalgic about high school. I had a decent high school experience—my high school was great, the teachers were awesome people, and the people that I went to school with were overall pretty nice people. It felt like a family atmosphere. Mostly, because families either knew each other or were related to each other. For example, when I was a senior in high school, I had a cousin in my grade, two cousins in the grade below me, and my brother was a freshman. There were five of us from the same family in high school together. And, we were not the exception.

A few of my students asked me what I was like in high school; and I really didn’t know how to answer the question. I was…normal. I was…like I am now. I was….well, I wasn’t popular, but I wasn’t a loser. I was smart, but I wasn’t at the top of my class. I was average. This, my students, did not believe. “You had to be popular, ma’am. Come on!”

I don’t think that I ever cared what my social status in high school was; I was happy where I was.  I wanted normal high school experiences, and I got into a few situations that didn’t reflect the girl that I was then. I was, like to think, the woman that I am today—except I was a little more insecure and I was more of a people pleaser.

I was never a girl to follow trends—I wore what I wanted, watched the shows that I wanted, watched the movies that I wanted. I was an old soul desiring to have an authentic high school experience…but I never really got it. I never had a relationship in high school, and that bothered more than I probably would have admitted back then. And I definitely struggled with embracing who I was, because I wanted to be something different. People liked me for me, but I couldn’t see that. I was so busy worrying about what other people did, and what people thought of me that I never learned to like myself for who I was.

There is one thing that I always look back to when I am fighting with who I am and what I want to be. I have a memory before I was in high school of being at the pool that I work at. It was the end of the summer, the pool was getting ready to close, and the one thing that I wanted to do was jump off the really high lifeguard stand into the pool. So, I did it. I climbed up and dove head first 20 feet into the water. The impact was hard, my back hurt, and I realized that if I hit the water a different way I probably could have been really hurt.

But, I did it. It was amazing, scary, and I felt fearless. This was the girl that I always wanted carry with me…I wanted to dive off a lifeguard stand because I wanted to do it and feel free. Monday and Tuesday, we had a class trip to the Poconos at an indoor water park. There was this intense slide where the bottom dropped out from underneath you—I hate heights, I hate 90 degree angles, and I hate climbing stairs.

Well, I was sitting, relaxing by the pool and the boys talked me into riding the death trap of a slide. I panicked the entire way up the stairs. The boys were like “Ma’am, you’re going to be okay. You’re going to be fine. You’re really that afraid of heights?” I never used to be, and I wanted to do this death trap slide because my reputation was on the line. Was I glad that I did it? Kind of, I would never do it again, but I did go on a mountain roller coaster that I would do again. A coaster that you were able steer down the mountain side and it was so cool!

Something I ask myself what happened to that girl that wanted to do things her way; that wasn’t afraid of adversity or pain and wanted to do something for the experience? I think there were a number of things that happened. I probably was made fun of for being different. I was too out there, I didn’t conform to what I “should” have been. And, I wanted to be like everyone else that didn’t stand out. So, what would I say to that girl now?

I would look her in the eye and I would confront her what all those uncomfortable times that made her question who she was and what she wanted. She wanted to be fearless, but instead of being fearless she became ridden with fear. She started caring about what other people thought, she started hanging out with people that didn’t give her what she needed, and she started chasing  things that weren’t good for her. I would remind her of the time she was on top of lifeguard stand and ask her to remember the feeling of falling into the water. The feeling was freedom, the feeling of letting it all go, and the feeling of freedom that you can do anything at all.

I got that feeling on the mountain coaster and the death trap water slide. I remembered what it was like to feel free again and feel like I could do anything. It was awesome. Embracing that side of me made me realize a few things—how much I have grown up, how much I have experienced in my life that is so awesome.

In high school I was able to see Julie Andrews in person, attend a papal mass in New York City, and travel to Italy for 10 days. I have seen the Sistine Chapel, the Roman Colosseum, and the Trevi Fountain. In college, I attended a Phillies World Series Parade, joined a sorority, learned value skills of time management and compassion for others. And, as an adult, I have learned value lessons and skills that I never thought that I would be able to learn. It’s all be such a cool, crazy ride.

Part of that ride includes all the heartbreak and problems that I have had in my life—they make up that map. It’s not something that I want to forget because those things have made me who I am today. Through my dad’s death I have learned how important it is to listen to people and to be there for people regardless of what is going on in our lives. Part of life is helping other, giving of yourself to people, and that was something that my dad always taught me.

One of most valuable lessons that Dad taught me, through his actions, was that regardless of your shit…people have other shit going on, too. And, unless you stop to listen to someone and care about that person…you are never going to learn what is going on. You don’t compare your situations to other people, because it’s going to help anything. Comparison only brings sadness and anxiety, and doesn’t allow you to open yourself up to the people that might need to hear from you.

Dad’s passing highlighted a lot of things for me. I learned who was there to support me because they loved me, and those who supported me because it was something they thought they should do. It made them feel better. That’s fine, because not everyone know who to deal with death. There is not handbook that you get when a parent dies that says, “Hey, you should do x, y, and z to help yourself.” No magic pill, and no magic way to tell people how to treat you. You show people how to treat you. You have to let yourself lean on other, and some will support and others will buckle a little bit. But, that buckle might not be because they don’t love you…it just might mean that they need a little support, too.

This is so, so important to recognize because you are recognizing and appreciating what someone is giving you. But, at the time, of course it feels like your being slighted. Because you expect people to step up, and when they don’t it’s disappointing. But, you have to remember, just because you focus in about your situation 99% of day doesn’t mean that other are going to, or have to. People are busy, people have other lives, people have families. But that doesn’t mean that they don’t love you.

This is all much harder to accept that it sounds. Really hard. Because in the moment, you feel alone and helpless. You feel that people have stopped caring about you, stopped thinking about you, but that’s not true. It’s just that they aren’t thinking of you right now. And, like a lot of things in life, only the people that get it really understand it. They know what it’s like to have your thoughts consumed, to want a break from the world, and to realize that certain bullshit just doesn’t matter.

Two years ago if I had gotten a text from my best friend about someone in our class that either got married or had baby, and ridiculing them for their decisions I would have taken the bait. I would have checked out the post on the Gram or Facebook and made the same comment. But now? Who the eff cares? Bullshit drama at work? Who the eff cares? People making more money that you? Who the eff cares? Someone got fat? Who the eff cares? The people that you see on your timelines and feeds, they are on their own paths. They are doing them, and if it makes them happy to post…who the eff cares? Don’t want to read it? Unfollow or unfriend. Or, instead of making fun of them, how about seeing their happy in the situation?

I came across a post of a girl that I knew in high school, and that I always said was copying my every move in life. She now has her master’s and just got a new job. My first thought was, “Oh my God, she’s trying to be me.” Um, hello? How productive is that? How is that helping me? It’s now. Comparison is evil, and I was succumbing to it.

How much of an ego could I possibly have to think that? Ew. That’s not me; and that never was me until I left my little shelter of growing up and entered the real world. Well, in this world you get to choose the things you care about. You get to choose the people in your story. You don’t like the people? Write them out. But, don’t forget that just because you’re the main character means to get to ignore everyone else.

Yes, I have started saying “Who the eff cares?” about the little things, but the people that you care about in your world and you have been your support system are the big things. And, they go through shit too. Shit that sucks just as much as your shit sucks. People have shitty jobs, shitty relationships, shitty friendships; but if it means something to them it means that you have to listen to them. Even though it doesn’t add up to the shit that you have been through. That’s not their path.

I am thankful that none of my friends have had to lose a parent or even a grandparent. That’s rough shit, but I try to use that experience to make me more compassionate and more patient. My cross might be big, but that doesn’t mean that someone else’s has to be, too. If I can use that experience and help my friends carry their crosses, I consider that a win; because I want the people that have been there for me to know what I will be there for them.

a lesson from mean girls.

There are two things that I never debate about unless I feel totally comfortable with the people I am talking to. The first is politics and the second one is religion.

Politics, if this administration has taught us anything, is bleeding into every single aspect of our lives. It is at a point where politics and playing the game, is part of daily American activity. I have always had a special interest in politics, because it was a time where my dad and I would really talk about what we thought and what we believe.

My father was a Democrat. He had no problems telling people that he was democrat, and he really never understood why people became Republican in the first place. Honestly, I just think that he’s jaded because his parents became Republicans after JFK was elected. My grandmother decided that she wouldn’t vote for someone that cheated on his wife. Seriously, I think she was the only Irish Catholic woman in the Philadelphia area that did not vote for John F. Kennedy. This part of my grandparents made my Dad so mad—more so my Nana than my Pop.

But, what made him even more mad was that when I was growing up, I was the little Republican my grandparents dreamed their son would be. Now, I was 3rd or 4th grade—I literally had no understanding of the American political system, but I loved my grandparents. And, they loved Bill O’Reilly. So, in turn, I loved Bill O’Reilly. When President George W. Bush was running for president, I wanted him to win. Why? I probably couldn’t tell you. Literally, no idea. I guess I thought he looked like a nice man (which, to my credit…he actually does seem to be. Terrible president? Absolutely. A-One guy, most likely).

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A man and his poncho.

However, this made my dad so mad that my grandparents were telling me what to think and how to feel about political climates. Now, I am going to guess that he would have been mad if was the other way around, too. Because my parents were, and are, big believers in letting their children go their own path. My father was much freer about this than my mother is. But, my dad never wanted me to believe something or think something because he thought it—he always said that until the day he died. He raised me to question things if I felt that they were wrong, and stand up for what I think is right. But, it made him happy the day that I stopped being a Republican at 11 years old, and registered as an Independent when I was old enough to vote.

When I went to college, I fell on the other side of the political spectrum. I became, what my father called, “a bleeding-heart liberal.” I never understood that he was really annoyed at my conservatism but was also annoyed with my liberalism. But, yes…I went through a phase—because I look one Women in American History Education and suddenly I wanted to be Betty Friedan. I am sure I was really annoying to be around, but I will argue that all girls go through that “Stick it to the man” phase in their lifetimes. But, yes, I was one of these “snowflakes” (is that the term? I think that’s stupid) that the right now criticizes. I was offended by everything, probably. And, I thought that anyone that didn’t think or speak like me was ignorant, uneducated, and simply living under a rock.

Anyone seeing the hypocrisy in this? I read Facebook comment after Facebook comment because I am a glutton for punishment. I read the comments for the people on the right to call people on the left “libertards” (Classy)  and “snowflakes.”  I read the comments for the people on the left to call people on the right “radicals” and “bigots.” Besides a country wide seminar on how to use a thesaurus or a dictionary, I come away with these thoughts every single time:

This is what political discourse has come to in this country, and people really have the time and energy to write Facebook comments about this shit. (Says the girl writing an entire blog post, I know)

Political discourse is not about calling each other names, and finding fault with every single word in a sentence that someone writes about their endorsement or their dislike for a political candidate. When you evoke your First Amendment rights, you are not waived from dissent—that’s not how it works. The First Amendment writes allow you write what you want about someone in political office (as long it is not of a threatening nature to their lives or families’ lives) without being prosecuted. Yup.

You cannot be tried or convicted of treason because you disagree with the president. Also, can we, as a country just look up treason together and all understand and comprehend the definition? What Benedict Arnold did? Treason. Anne Boleyn? Treason-ish (I was teaching about Henry VIII, what a train wreck).

When I read posts like this, I tend to think of my students. I think of my rural Pennsylvania kid that voted for Trump, I think of my international kids that were so unsure about what was going on in our country, I think of the people that I work with that were disheartened the day after the election. The day after, the boys were buzzing in asking about how he won, what a long shot it was, and that Hillary Clinton was never going to be president.

One kid came up to my desk during my study hall, and said, “Ma’am, you’re a liberal right?” So, I asked him what he meant by that statement. He rephrased, “You don’t like Donald Trump, do you?” I could have taken this two ways, deny his statement and move on or use this as a teaching moment. Working at a private school, like the one that I do…you get a little wiggle room with things like this.

So, I said, “Do you mean, did I vote for him?” He nodded. I took a deep breath, and said, “No, I did not vote for him….” He started to ask, “why?” and I anticipated his question, “However, this is how I see it…He’s the President of the United States, and I will respect him as such. I might not have voted for him, but he is still the President of my country. I will not claim that he is not my president, because he is—even if I don’t agree with him.” I could tell he was not expecting what I had to say, and I continued, “Wanting Trump to fail is like wanting the pilot on your plane to have a heart attack. You’re all on the plane together, and you don’t want it to crash into the side of the mountain.”

He smiled, and responded “Ma’am, that’s the first time that someone who disagreed with Trump gave an answer like that.” And he reached out for a high-five. To see him have that reaction was good, but it was also a little sad. Young adults shouldn’t be surprised when people disagree politely about serious topics. Instead, they are learning to be inflammatory and judgmental behind a screen. This is what we want out children to learn? This is how we want the future generations to grow up?

This is not what I imagine for my children and my grandchildren; I want them to be able to form opinions and thoughts from listening to both sides—and maybe even living both sides. I never would have had that opinion if I hadn’t know what it is like to live on both extremes of the spectrum. And, I want other people to know what if you read something that doesn’t speak to your beliefs….that’s okay, because it’s either going to teach you something that you never knew or it’s going to deepen your belief in that system.

I want a world where kids are not afraid to ask questions and research because it speaks to their interests. I think that amount in which a person that learn is not something that needs to be prescribed to them in their textbooks in tests. For whatever reason, I always think of that scene from Mean Girls when Cady is facing off with Marilyn from the private school. “The Limit Does Not Exist” scene, if you will.

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Calling someone a snowflake or a bigot is not going to get people to change their view, and it certainly not going to get them to be able to see your differing opinion. Sometimes, it’s something that you can move on with, or sometimes you just have to walk away. At the end of the day, a post about how someone is an idiot because they backed a candidate does make them think you’re any less of any idiot for voting for the other guy.

depending on something bigger than myself

I have always had a special place in my heart for the Easter Triduum. I am sure it goes back to when I was altar serving in 8th grade. As an older kid, I was responsible for teaching the younger kids how to serve during the masses. And, when your priest is a nonsense Polish man that loves a high mass—you get everything right.

I remember the only time that I was openly disrespectful for a teacher—it was during on practice for Holy Week. Father would call every single altar server out of class to practice for the Masses during Holy Thursday and Good Friday.

Somehow, I was never slated to serve the Easter Vigil. I have never, in my life been to one. My mother won’t go back to one because when she was grade school, she was in the choir and had to stand for 3 hours. She said she remembered deliberately dropping her hymnal so she could bend her knees. So, we always served the 7 am mass on Easter Sunday.

Anyway, my teacher wouldn’t let me and other 8th graders leave for practice, even though we were allowed. I told her that we had to leave, and she got this big attitude (for the record, this woman probably shouldn’t have been a teacher. She was a little nutty) and said that if Father had a problem, he could take it up with her. I snapped back at her and told her that she didn’t teach anything anyway, so what would it matter? Somehow, I didn’t get in trouble and she let us leave.

Holy Thursday was always required more practice than Good Friday. Holy Thursday we had to practice the incense, we had to practice the washing of the feet, the procession around the ENTIRE church during the benediction. It was a big church, and it always seemed to take an hour. We must have ran through the entire mass three or four times, and it must of stuck with me because at every Holy Thursday mass, I remember what we did, when, and I notice if it’s not done at other churches. For instance, during the Gloria—two altar servers go back and forth ringing the bells during the entire hymn. It’s the last time the bells ring during the Triduum. My parish doesn’t do that, I remembered that. I have been to parishes that don’t really do a procession—which I always find odd.

Holy Thursday always required a lot of planning, and it seemed like it was most important mass of the year since we practiced, literally for a week.

Good Friday was always much simpler—not a mass, veneration of the Cross, communion, and that’s it. Cake walk compared to Holy Thursday. However, there was one Good Friday that I thought we were going to be a man down. We had a very old monsignor—he must have been almost 90. My pastor had directly told him, when we prostrate do not lay down. So, when we processed in, our three other priests prostrated on the ground and one altar server tugged at my sleeve. I looked around, and there was the old Monsignor laying on the ground.

I went into the panic. What are we going to do? Is he going to be okay? Are we going to be able to get him up? Well, that’s exactly what we had to do. We literally had to hoist him up off the ground, and he just started laughing. I mean, it was amazing that he still wanted to do that, but it was definitely not practical.

So, I have always loved the ceremony behind the masses—I think they are beautiful and deeply meaningful to Catholics during this time. But, I have not always had the sense of connection and love for this time.

Before I started working at my school now, I was a substitute teacher in my Catholic school system. Looking back on those days, they were some of the most trying times in my life. My anxiety was a lot higher, I was really trying to figure out who I was, and looking back at it now it was a lot of growing pains.

I experienced a lot of failures at a particular school that I worked out. I was having trouble figuring out what kind of teacher that I wanted to be, I was struggling with who I was professionally and personally—there was this separation of it all, I think, and I just wanted my life to be different. This was all over a period of three years. I worked at this school for about six months, but in that six months—I gained something that I hadn’t gained in other places. I felt, in a way that I belonged—I liked the community and I really thought it was what God has planned for me. But, when we plan, God laughs.

So, after my six month stint, I kept going back to this school—I started helping a friend of mine in her office, because I was unemployed (This was the spring before I was hired at my full time job), and I needed something to do. Thankfully, that panned into a per diem job. But, then my grandmother died. Another shock to my system. I didn’t have a job, and I lost one of the closest people in my life. How could it get worse?

Oh, wait it did!

There was a guy that I worked with that I ended up really liking—he was everything that I thought that I wanted. Catholic, loved his job, and just was a great person. After months, maybe a year of interpreting and misinterpreting signs I told him how I felt. I actually believed that the feelings were reciprocal—and a lot of other people did, too. This was something that I never did before, and to do it took a lot of balls.

Part of my wanted to finally have an answer, and another part of my wanted to stop feeling like I was crazy or unhinged. So, I told him. However, the feeling was not reciprocal, and looking back on it—all the anger that harbored toward him was actually anger that I had toward myself. I was angry that I thought that I looked foolish—and put myself out there. Understandably, my ego was hurt. And, I thought that my life was spinning out of control.

I was unlucky in love, unlucky in my job, and I had lost my grandmother—I could and thought about giving up. But, I didn’t. This time was different, I prayed harder than I even could have in my life and tried to make peace with everything that had happened to me.

But, too this day, I am working on this. I still have bouts of self-doubt and jealousy of all those people that I worked with. After I left that place, it was like my connection to them was completely severed. Everything that I had done, and everything that I given of myself was just left there in a weird limbo and I hated it. I hated myself for being upset and scared, this was not who I was working to be and not who I wanted to be.

When you are hurt by someone and something that deeply, it is really hard to get over. But, guess what? It’s all going to be okay. Because, at the end of the day I still have my family and friends that still love me and still support me. I know the people that are supposed to be in my life. My friend Judy once told me about “reasons, seasons, and lifetimes.” There are people that are in your life for a reason, season, or a lifetime. But you don’t realize when or for what at the moment. I think now, those people that I used to work with were a season—they were there to teach me something about myself that would eventually make me stronger.

Learning how to deal with heartache and disappointment, but also being able to rely on God are what helped me through the death of my father. Something that rocked my world to the core, I was able to remember that I am that I need to lean close to God, not against Him. It was something that I learned to go through all that when I worked at the school, but in terms of what I have gone through now…it’s a blip. But, it was blip that made me learn.

So, this Holy Thursday—I actually went to my home parish for the first time. I was in so much pain from the fibro that kneeling and standing were taking such a toll on me—but, I persisted. I was thinking about how Holy Thursday has carried such an anxiety and disappointment for me that it was hard to focus on anything but that. But, I think that was what I was supposed to do.

I focused on the difficult things. The things that made me cry, the things that broke my heart, the things that had made me feel so small and so insignificant. I broke myself in front of God, because I wasn’t afraid anymore of my brokenness or of what was thought of me. I knew who I am in the eyes of God and in the eyes of the people that matter the most to me.

When Father took the Blessed Sacrament around the church, I had this heaviness of my heart. From everything that I was worried about, and once he walk by me…my heart felt light. As soon as he walked to the Repository and placed the Blessed Sacrament inside…my heart was light. Jesus had taken my suffering from me, and held with him until the next day—where that suffering would be shown on the Cross.

God never give us anything that we can’t handle in our lives. He doesn’t test us, nor does he enjoy watching us suffer. However, in times of struggle, we lean on God for what was cannot get from other people. There is a safety net about God; that can handle things that we cannot. And, being able to rely on Him during times of struggle has been something that I have needed in my life. It was powerful, moving, and I just felt like I could sing. I finally felt at peace, and it was the best feeling in the world.

The Release Project: Guilt

I have a guilty conscious. I am the person that walked into a store, looks around but doesn’t buy, and walks out hoping that the people don’t think that I just stole something. Yup. I am the person who thinks, “Did I do that?” When I most certainly hadn’t seen, or communicated with that person in weeks.

Some people would classify this as “Well, you care too much about what people think about you?” Yes, but no. I care about what the people are that the closest to me think of me. If I cared too much about what people think about me, I could never do what I do daily. Teaching is getting up in front of children and not caring about how they view you, because you’re there and they are there. The purpose isn’t a standoff, the purpose is to make sure that they learn something in that time you have them.

I care that my students think that I am fair, kind, and there for them. I don’t care that they think that I’m a tyrant for giving them work as a 4th quarter senior (They keep trying to make this a thing, but it’s not). Before lunch, two of my students literally were so annoyed at the work I keep giving them, they wrote a declaration of how they weren’t going to do work. I laughed at them.

So, no….I don’t get wrapped up in what people think about me. However, I am sensitive. I have always been sensitive. Being sensitive has always been something that I haven’t been totally comfortable with, but it seems that I have start getting comfortable with it because it is most certainly part of me. I am the girl that cried during The Hunchback of Notre Dame when Esmeralda lost consciousness and Quasimodo lifted her up over the cathedral. I was six, and I was sobbing. Why was I crying? I don’t remember at all, I didn’t understand what unrequited love was, but I knew that this was a strong emotion and I had some response to it.

Now, this type of reaction would carry with me my entire life; and I would spend half of my adult life trying to stifle it. Sensitive was a word that I heard very often after this movie. I would cry, scream, express emotions at inappropriate times, usually. I would hold emotions in until I couldn’t take it anymore, and then explode. I was a rollercoaster; most of this was puberty and hormones finding their home, but I can still be a little unpredictable with emotions.

I hated that people called me sensitive. Women in my family aren’t sensitive, they are strong. They are bold, and they don’t let emotions hold them back. I felt like none of these things when I was growing up. I felt disconnected, I felt like I was a black sheep, and I thought that everything that I was annoyed my family. Completely disconnected and totally lost in life, I sought out different ways to cope with these feelings.

I was friends with people that I probably shouldn’t have been friends with in high school, I started (not excessively), drinking, and most of all I started smoking. My mother, my grandmothers, my aunt, and my uncle were all smokers at some point in their lives. Somehow, in my delusional mind, I made the connection to smoking with a family thing—maybe that I would belong or something. I was so lost that I tried everything that I could.

So, smoking and I have had a relationship for the past ten years, on and off. Mostly on. After I mended my relationship with my family and my mother, I started thinking “Why am I still doing this?” It didn’t make sense, because I was doing something that was hurting me. But I thought it was helping me. At this point, smoking made gave me a lot of outs in life—if I felt uncomfortable or annoyed, I could step outside, if I felt awkward I could leave, it was a moment of quiet in my life. It didn’t make sense at all, but to me it did.

My friend, Judy, has been there through the whole smoking ordeal—and I have put her through a lot. I used to lie about this habit, and still partially do, to everyone. My family, my friends, students, coworkers. Because to me, this isn’t me. This is not something that I am, or something that I do. This lie has hurt a lot of people—including myself. But, lying about it hurt a lot of people in my life. It especially hurt my relationship with Judy. I lied about it constantly, and I just never listened to her. Partially, because it was because I wanted to do my own thing, and sew my oats. At that time, I was disconnected with smoking, because I was hiding it the best that I could, but it wasn’t really that great.

So, recently, I have been thinking about giving this habit up for good. It just doesn’t make sense for me—I have been working on me, who I am, and what I stand for. I had this habit, but I was going to yoga, I was working out, I was trying to eat healthy, but I was still smoking. I would break off of my cigarettes, but then I would experience something that would send me back to my habit. Fibro pain, my father’s death, stress, nervous breakdowns. I was sifting through so many things, that I didn’t know which way was up—who was I?

Since I started this “journey” (that I haven’t been consistent about documenting), I have been doing a lot of thinking. Mostly about who I am, and embracing myself completely; faults and all.  And, I have been trying to answer this disconnect this question about why I still have this habit that I swear I will stop, but seem to pick it back up. I have learned to cope with my own stress (I have really tried to bad stress in my life completely, because of the fibro), I have come to grips with my father’s death (and still go back and forth with grieving), and all the ups and downs in life I have learned to deal with it all.

So, how do I connect the dots now with smoking and my life. Well, there is no connection. For the past few days, I have been feeling low energy. I feel like I am giving out more than I am taking in The kids, people that I work with, there are things that have been out of my control that have been taking a toll on me. Like I said before, I have always been sensitive and I take on a lot from other people. A lot of problems that are not my own, I seem to take them on.

One of the girls that is in my grad class seems to be having a hard time, and I don’t know the whole story but I got a little stressed out for her. I don’t even know the whole story, but I felt so bad for her that she was feeling bad. I couldn’t make sense of it all. It was totally misplaced and weird, because the pain became my pain. How does this make sense? It doesn’t. Somehow, now smoking and stress has becoming to feeling stress and pain for other; overly empathetic. I felt that strong urge to start smoking again because of the pain that I was feeling for another person.

I have been thinking about this a lot the last few days, and I think that I found the connection for my disconnect. I experience and feel pain that is not my pain to feel, so I go back to something that should not be part of me. So, now I am struggling to put this habit down—the last few days I have slipped with letting this habit go. I pick it up, but them immediately regret it. It’s like I go into a trance when I want a cigarette. It’s all I think about, I legitimize it, and I make it reasons why I should do it. I know that I shouldn’t, I know that I don’t need it, but for some reason I think that if I just do it a little bit—it won’t be that bad.

But, now it’s hurting me in so many ways. It hurts my body, physically and it’s hurting my emotional game as well. I am relying on something that does not give anything back to me, at all. I have this abusive relationship with smoking, I know that it hurts me and doesn’t respect me but I keep going back to it and cannot break up with it. But, I want to make that change. I want to make that move. I have all these plans to be healthier and get better. I ordered all these vitamins, I have doing yoga, my prayers have definitely been off, but I think I need to fix that when I feel the urge to smoke. I need to be patient with myself, I need to forgive myself for the times that I have hurt myself, but that doesn’t mean that I need to continue down this road or make this my life.

Time to break up with the bad,  and get in a relationships with the good.

The Release Project: One Year

Today is a hard day—regardless of how well my day does, it is going to be a hard today, a year ago my father passed away. I cannot believe it’s a full year; there were months when the 7th came up and I thought, “Wow, 4 months.” I couldn’t imagine how I would feel when a year came around. Well, not I am here and I am okay. But, it’s hard. Thank God that I am on Spring Break, because I don’t think I have the headspace to be able to give myself of the kids—and that’s okay. Both my mother and my aunt took a day off from work.

We, along with my mother’s brother, went to mass this morning. 8 am mass, quick and painless. But, I remembered sitting at mass days after my father died, and even up before that. Mom and I would go to mass before we would head to the hospital to see Dad. So, Uncle Kevin and I took up the gifts, and it was nice to be in a safe place to start my day. I felt my Dad there, not that I don’t with most things that I do, honestly. But, I especially found him during the “Our Father.” Mom and I were standing next to each other, and there was another woman down at the end of the pew. She was older, I have seen in her church before. But, without warning, she came over and held my mother’s hand.

Which, most would think is a sweet gesture, but you don’t know my mother. She loves her space, she loves her bubble, so a woman that she didn’t know grabbing her hand during prayer freaked her out. Seriously, you would have thought she was sitting next to a serial killer. I laughed, Father laughed from the altar, and I leaned in and said, “That’s Dad. Teasing you.” It made my mom laugh. Which, on a day like this, was a welcome relief.

I think until I start to lose my mind, I will replay the days that my father went into the hospital every single day. I will think of the people, of the support, and of the love that was shown to our family. It was, simply, amazing and awe-inspiring. It was such a testament to my dad and how he lived his life—he would have been humbled. It helps when I remember those days when Dad got worse, and it makes it easier to heal.

I went to working not realizing anything. I went to class that night thinking that he was okay. I came from class and realized that it was quiet. Tommy was sitting at the kitchen table, Matthew was sitting in the family room. Matthew tells me from the kitchen, “Kate, dad was in the hospital.” So, my first instinct was to say, “Dad, why were you in the hospital.” Tommy responds, “He’s still there. Dad has a stroke.” Pause. A long pause. What was going on? What happened? A stroke, what does that mean? Is he going to be okay? Small stroke? What’s the difference anyway?

I ran up to my mother’s bedroom and asked her if it was true. My emotions ranged from angry, pissed, sad, confused, concerned. I didn’t know what to say, or what to do. Why didn’t anyone call me? “What would you have done, just sat around and waited?” I didn’t understand. I didn’t know what to do. I texted, I called, I sat and I thank. I was told that he was going to be okay, but something in my stomach told me that I need to start preparing myself for something more.

I didn’t know what to expect from this whole thing. I was told at the time, and we all firmly believed that Dad was going to be okay. I mean, people have strokes all the time. Tuesday came and went, I went to see him and he said that he was going to be okay. He knew that I was worried. One thing that I miss about my Dad was that he knew what was bothering me before I even had to say anything—he always knew when I was upset or angry. And, he offered a word of practical wisdom and comfort. This time, he just said, “It’s okay, Kate.” His speech was slurred, he was pissed that he was in the hospital, and he wasn’t hungry. I was so afraid to leave him.

That day he was supposed to get an ECHO and a CAT scan. Before I left, he had the ECHO, but no CAT scan. Wednesday morning I was getting ready for work, and the phone rang. My dad fell, and he still didn’t have the CAT scan. I went to work, but something felt off. It didn’t feel right. I was at work for a little bit of the morning, and then I decided to leave. I had to get out of there. I went straight to the hospital, and my father still didn’t have the CAT scan. Finally, after I stopped home and got changed, my father went in for CAT scan. We waited for what felt like 6 hours, when finally, the doctor came back. My father had had a stroke, but it wasn’t a normal stroke. It was a brain stem stroke. His neurologist explained that two of his arteries were not pumping blood to his brain, and that he kept having a series of strokes.

It didn’t sound good, and the options that he was given were not great. Whatever option he was given, seemed to end up with his as a vegetable or he would die. My father decided, before he know this all happened, that he would operate if needed. It seemed like the best options; the last that I saw my father, my real father was when they were wheeling him out. He was making jokes with the nurses and the transport service, but he was scared. I never saw my Dad scared of anything—but this I could feel. I was scared, too.

So, he had the surgery that was going to unblock his arteries, which was surprisingly very short. It seemed like it should have taken more time. But, when you are in a situation like this, you are constantly in a time warp. You have no idea which end is up, and you are focused on being there for your family. So, Dad made it out of the surgery, and had oxygen—but he wouldn’t keep the mask on. Which greatly frustrated his nurses. I don’t know what the protocol for patients after surgery, but my dad badly wanted to talk to us and see how we were doing. That was my Dad; amid facing a life or death situation, Dad was worried about us.

Dad struggled and, true to form, did not listen to the nurses. He had to be restrained and intubated. My father was incredibly stubborn—which was both a positive and negative quality in his life. It meant that he had the courage of his convictions, but it also meant that he never backed down from a fight and would never compromise on certain things. It was a quality that I admired about my dad, when it was in a positive light. However, he was picking the wrong time to be stubborn. He wanted to talk and be with us, but he wouldn’t take care of himself.

So, he had to be sedated in order to be intubated (which, for the record, I kept calling incubated…ugh, Dad would have laughed at that one). However, apparently, the sedation wasn’t enough for my dad, and he woke up and extubated himself. Yes, my father pulled the intubation tube out of this throat. Now, not even havening being intubated in my life, I told my friend Linda, who had a heart transplant and no stranger to intubation, she was shocked. I could tell from her words that this was not a smart decision, and how much that probably hurt my dad. *Sigh* That’s my Dad.

So, that had to sedate my father again, this time…my father would not wake up from the sedation. Between his blood pressure, which ironically was keeping him alive at this point (his blood pressure was so freaking high, and he never wanted to take anything for it *insert eye roll emjoi*) and the fact that he keep having a series of strokes, nothing looked good. In fact, at this point he was most definitely going to die.

Now, at this point, my mother and I have been at the hospital for in an out of week—people kept coming in and out, it didn’t seem like anyone was going to work, but there was always someone there with us. That Saturday, the Saturday before he died, I was getting a little stir crazy at this point—the cousins and my aunt’s and uncle’s were steadily filtering in and out of house, so when Saturday came around, we figured we would all hang out together. I decided that I wanted to go to mass. St. Patrick’s was also having 40 Hours, so if I could get to confession, adoration, and mass all in one shot that would have been amazing.

So, I went, hoping that no one would join me. And, I sat and prayed. I prayed for my father; that he would be released from his pain however it was in God’s Will. I wanted to understand, I wanted to be happy that my father wasn’t going to suffer any longer, but I couldn’t. This was my dad. I, at that point, was 26—I couldn’t believe this was happening to me. I didn’t expect to lose my parents until they were in the 90s, not when my dad was barely in his 60s. That selfish part of me took over. I was angry, I wanted answers, I wanted to believe that this was how it was meant to be but I couldn’t.

I went to confession and it was the most honest confessions that I have ever had in my life. As an adult, I have always viewed confession as a sort of therapy; you tell the priest was is bothering you and hurting you because it is taking away from the person that God wants you to be. The only time I had a priest not understand that was when a priest told me that I should see a therapist—wow, thanks, Father.

But, not my priest. I told him how angry was I was with God, and I explained that I am trying to see this in the better light. But, I can’t. That my father was dying and I was sad. I was so sad. He would be missing so much. He wouldn’t be there to walk me down the aisle, meet his grandchildren, see my brother graduate high school. There is so much that he would be missing, and I was mad.

I told him about losing my grandmother, and how much my faith was rocked when I was college. How I walked away, how I shut out God from my life because I couldn’t understand why He would take someone from me. Part of me expected to hear “Go to a therapist, talk to someone.” But, Father and I had a conversation. He told me that I am allowed to be mad at God, right now because it’s expected. I can be mad because I am hurting, but He knows that I will find my was back to him when I was ready. I didn’t want to lose my faith again, because I have seen the amazing things that faith does for people. What it has done for my grandmother and my mother. That maintaining a close relationship with God helps us overcome difficult times in our lives.

I left confession feeling like a deflated balloon. Not because I thought it didn’t help me, but because I just felt exhausted from pouring my heart out. When mass started, I started to cry and I cried until mass was done. It was a release, it was grieving, it was time that I had to myself to process my dad’s death. After mass friends of my dad and people we know at church came over to talk to me, and I lost it again. I barely knew these people, but I couldn’t help be tell them everything that was happening.

God must have heard my prayer that afternoon, because from that moment on I relied on God more than I ever had before. In the time after my father’s death, I went to mass every morning. I put my brother on the bus, and went to mass. I felt comfortable and safe. God had seen me at my worst, but was helping me heal and get through those long and hard days.

My mother always told me what faith was got our family through, and now I know exactly what she is talking about. I don’t like my family or friends see me break down, I never let them see me cry. Which, was part of the reason why my family thought that I was internalizing my father’s death. To an extent, I probably was, and still maybe. But, I really can’t tell. My father’s death was certain traumatic for me and my family—to be dealing with this unexpected situation is never easy.

My friends thought that I had PTSD, which I thought, and still think, is ridiculous. I work with Veterans who have fought in Iraq and Afghanistan. THAT is traumatic—losing a parent is awful, but I don’t think the situations are comparable. But, then again, why does it even have to be compared? Trauma and sorrow are different for everyone; it doesn’t matter what the situation is.   It goes back to the Lenten reflections that we don’t know what another person was asked to walk through.

Which, might be why people think I downplay my dad’s death. And, I don’t at all, with my family and my friends. They know what I am hurting, they know what this has been a hard year, and they know what when I need them they will be there. But, I also don’t know what other people are asked to walk through. Every situation, every loss, every hard time, is a burden for someone. Which sounds very vague, but that is because what someone goes through is a personal part of their lives. It is a part that we might feel comfortable showing everyone, but only want to show those who are really close to us.

I think that this comes from my dad—empathy, and being there for someone when it counts. Dad was, at times, not much of a talker, but that is because I have learned that my father demonstrated by actions, rather than words. There was never a lecture on how to treat people in your life or what it means to be a good person, but Dad simply lived it. I think that it was more important to Dad for us to see him doing things for other people and be a living proof of these qualities that he wanted us to have. Not because he wanted to be put on a pedestal, but he wanted to see his children to become good people and care about those around him.

Aside from being humble, Dad was also very generous. He showed us that to give up your time for other people can be the greatest gift that you could give someone. When my father was able to do something for another person, he always did it. Whether it was fixing up a kitchen or painting, my dad would be there to help out. He never asked for any praise or acknowledgement, but whenever he would make someone else’s life a little easier he would do it. These acts that Dad did showed us how important it is to give of yourself to other people because it is what you do for the people that you love.

The best quality that Dad showed to us was unconditional love. My dad was always proud of his children, and our parents always trusted us to make the decisions that were right for us. He never tried to persuade us into anything that we could not put our full passion into—he wanted us to love what we did. For me, it is hard to explain how Dad showed us unconditional love, because it was something that was just part of him as a father. Regardless of what we did in our lives or how many times my brothers and I riddled him with pointless, hard to answer questions, he showed us that as long as we were doing what we loved with the people that we loved, not much else in the world mattered.

I am going to miss the nights that I sat with at the kitchen table with Dad and pestering him while he watched “Diners, Drive-Ins, and Dives.”. It was at that table that I learned the important values that he wanted to teach us kids. He showed me, but not necessarily told me, that to do things in love is the most important things you can do in your life. He taught me that although it might not always be reciprocated or acknowledged, but the love that you put out will always finds a way back to you.

In our faith, we are taught that love conquers all things, even death itself. While we mourn my Dad’s death, his love for my mother, for my brothers and me, and the rest of his family is a gentle reminder that we will always carry him and his memory with us in our lives forever.