death, faith, Going Solo: Single Parenthood, life lessons, Losing Dad, loss, parenting, religion, Uncategorized

dear dad.

I wrote this letter today, on the eve of the 7th anniversary of my dad’s death. I’m sharing it because it made me feel better and maybe it will help other people who have lost someone close.

Dear Dad,

It’s been seven years since we said goodbye to you. Seven years since we sat around your bed and told you it was ok to go and that we would be ok. I remember that day in the car after your doctor’s appointment a couple months before you passed  when you told me you were ready to go, but you were worried that we weren’t ready. You were probably right. I can only speak for myself, but I think we have all been managing as best we can, just with an ache in our chest that won’t seem to go away. I’d give absolutely anything to get you back or to just chat for a few hours. Even though we knew you were leaving us, there were so many things I forgot to say. There were so many questions I forgot to ask.

I’ve struggled with that question of why good people like you have to die so early when some really crappy people get to live so long. It’s a hard question and it’s left me with a pretty cynical and unfair perspective of the world. It’s left me with a lot of anger towards God. Maybe those people are still around because they need more time to figure out howsleeping to get things right. Who knows? You told me once that God is ok with us being mad at him because it means we are still engaged with him in some way(that probably isn’t verbatim, but that’s how I understood what you said). God and I haven’t been right since you left, but I’m still trying.

I heard Anne Lamott speak a couple years ago and she said when cancer takes someone from you, it’s like an atomic bomb goes off in your life. She couldn’t be more right. For me, it meant running a lot, then hours of yoga, then so much alcohol that I started to think it was ok to put vodka in my coffee in the morning. I would say I should have stuck to the running and yoga, but the drinking led me to get pregnant unexpectedly and though that was pretty scary at first, becoming a mother has forced me to grow in ways I never thought possible. I became a mother at 35. Talk about an atomic bomb! The nurses actually said I was of “advanced maternal age” and whispered it every time they said it like I had leprosy or something.

I named my daughter, your granddaughter, Isabella Grace. I read that the Hebrew meaning of the name is “God is perfection.” It’s such a perfect name for her. I chose her middle name because as she was growing inside me, I felt like she was God’s grace for everything I had ever done wrong in my life. We have frustrating moments from time to time, but no matter what, we tell each other “I love you” at least a dozen times a day. She tells me I am beautiful every morning and I think I’ve actually become more beautiful inside and out because of her. She brings out the very best of me.

We moved to Philadelphia and are living in the city now. She does really well with city living, but she loves the country and our visits to Central PA. You can tell it’s in her blood. She loves horses and animals in general. She especially likes to pretend she is one. This makes her come across as a little weird sometimes, but I absolutely love that about her. She doesn’t have a father in her life which is hard for me sometimes since I had such a good one, but she is surrounded by so many people who love her that she doesn’t seem to mind. She is an incredible artist and likes puns, so I know you would really like spending time with her. Sometimes she smiles or laughs and I feel like I’m looking right at you. Today was an emotionally rough day for me and I went to pick her up from her art school. I walked into the room and she was laughing and dancing to music and just fully enjoying every ounce of life without a care. Then, she saw me and ran across the room and gave me a huge hug. That made me think of you too. I wish you could meet her. I think you two would really like each other. I tell her stories about you all the time.

Aside from Isabella, my other big news is that I am finally working full time at a theatre. I’ve been there just over four years. It’s not always easy and the pay isn’t impressive, but I love the work. I think you might be able to relate. 🙂

The trees are changing here and it’s so beautiful. I remember that day just before you left when we drove through Cumberland County to see all the beautiful colors on the trees. I remember the brisk fall air and the feeling like life would go on and things would be ok. I hope the trees change where you are and that you are able to hike and fish and read all day. We sure do miss you here.

Love,

Rebekah

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Losing Dad, Uncategorized

grief is a jerk.

Today I was driving down a tree lined suburban street. The weather was perfect, the sun was out, and it was still morning. I pulled up to a stop sign and an older gentleman waved to me to indicate he was about to cross in front of me. I smiled and waved him on. I watched him as he slowly walked in front of my car. He was tall, handsome, and probably in his early 70’s. He was wearing white socks pulled halfway up his calf and white sneakers. His face was wrinkled from years of smiling. He was exactly what I imagined my dad would look like today. And grief, that sneaky little jerk, made my heart swell up and tighten my chest and made the tears burst from my face. The ugly crying began and I lost control. Just like every other time grief sneaks in, I was completely unprepared for his visit.

When you lose someone you love, people start talking to you about the stages of grief and even giving you books about the stages. They make you think that you just have to 

FullSizeRender_3work your way through each stage and then you will be good to go. I feel like the stages of grief are more like the stages of cancer. The moment my dad took his last breath I felt a dull ache in my chest. From there, things inside just started rotting little by little. It didn’t effect just one part of my life, it slowly crept into every inch of my being. We had more than three years to prepare for my father’s inevitable death, but we could have had twenty years or one day. It made no difference. Just like there is no preparation or warning to what happens to your body after childbirth, there is also no way to prepare to lose someone. Like cancer, grief is this little ass hole that just goes around hurting innocent people and flipping their lives upside down.

We are closing in on 6 years since we lost Paul Wilcox. I honestly don’t feel any better about it. You can still find me crying, “It’s not fair!,” when I look at slideshows of my dad. I still hear his voice and that contagious laughter. I still want to wake up and find out it was all a dream and see him walk through the door. FullSizeRender_1I still want to see him lift up my daughter and swing her around the room or even just read her a book. I still have moments of shock, denial, and bargaining. I still see sweet old men with their socks half way up their legs on a hot day and burst into tears. The stages of grief keep looping around. There is nothing final or linear about them.

Grief is hoping you never have a wedding because the thought of walking down the aisle without your dad is too much. Grief is buying figs at the store even though they are

FullSizeRendertoo expensive and you only kind of like them, but they remind you of your dad’s fig tree. Grief is watching your daughter blow out birthday candles for the fourth time and still wishing your dad was one of the people standing there singing to her. Grief is finding it hard to go to church because you can’t go there without thinking of your dad and all those Sunday mornings of him standing in the pulpit. Grief is wishing you had asked more questions or taken more videos or spent more time listening back when you had time. Grief is wishing you had said “I love you” just 10 more times.

The best explanation I have heard to explain this unfortunate part of life is that losing someone is like losing a leg. You do learn to walk and run and dance again, but you do everything differently now. You still feel pangs of pain from time to time and you still long for your missing limb and reminisce about the days when you felt whole.  

No matter how grief hits you or no matter how long it stays, I pray you let it do it’s thing. Even when it is painful, it reminds us that we once loved and loved deeply. We loved someone deep enough that even years after they are gone, we still remember that love and long for it.

 

dad fishing

“Down the middle drops one more
Grain of sand
They say that
New life makes losing life easier to understand
Words are kind
They help ease the mind
I’ll miss my old friend
And though you gotta go
We’ll keep a piece of your soul
One goes out
One comes in”

~Jack Johnson

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Bad Ass, Going Solo: Single Parenthood, life lessons, Run Momma Run, Uncategorized

back to life. back to reality

Five years ago, I would have been ashamed to post this photo. While 4 miles is no easy task, the time it took me to complete them tonight was about twice what it used to take me to run four miles. Tonight I had to run, jog, and walk to get there. Also, due  to toddler difficulties, I had to do it on a treadmill. Again. After 10pm. Five years ago, I ran at least 5 miles 4 times a week and 10 or more on weekend days and biked the 22 mile greenbelt around Harrisburg at least once a week. But this isn’t a story about a runner who is trying to win a race or be the fastest or show people how good I am at running. This is a story about someone coming back to life. It took me three years to slowly fade away and it will take time to come back.

After I had my daughter, I got back to running, lost more than all the baby weight, and felt absolutely amazing about life. Then, for reasons that made sense at the time, I decided to move to Philadelphia. In many ways, things have gone well for me here. I bought my first house, I found a job I love and fall in love with more as it grows and changes, I connected to a church community and a parenting community, and I began building a village for my daughter. But some of the reasons for moving here turned out to be empty promises and were emotionally difficult to deal with. In the last two years, I have almost completely stopped running, my diet has been completely out of whack, and I have let depression win on more days than I’d like to admit. I turned down social invitations choosing to stay home and secluded instead. My body and my overall health has suffered as a result. Some friendships have suffered as well. I focused so much on who I used to be that I forgot to become her again-in a new improved state. And worse, I forgot to enjoy who I was at the present, double chins and all.

About a week ago, I realized that my daughter would be four in a month. Four. She is starting to recognize my behaviors and even imitates them sometimes. She recognizes when I am sad and she asks me about it. I want her to see the best me that I can be(hokey I know, but it’s true). I don’t want her to start imitating the me who sits in front of another episode of Scandal while eating a block of cheese and drinking a bottle of wine. She deserves to know the me I was 5 years ago when I found out I was pregnant the day after I ran a half-marathon in Nashville. The excited, giggly me who did not give a fuck what anyone thought of me. The me who did my thing, painted horrible paintings, but loved them, the me who laughed obnoxiously out loud multiple times a day, and the me who ran everyday because it was the one thing that made me feel my dad’s presence. I want her to see the me who at 35 found out I was pregnant and was going to become a solo parent and just said to myself, “OK Bek, let’s do this!”

On Mother’s Day I was still up at 11pm taking care of a messy kitchen and a sink full of dishes. I caught myself smiling. I realized just how wonderful things really were. I was standing there in MY kitchen, in MY house, washing dishes from my incredible daughter. I was overwhelmed with gratefulness for everything in my life. When I was running that half-marathon 5 years ago, I never would have imagined that I would be standing in a kitchen I owned washing dishes from a kid I had. The excuses I have used to avoid life have only clouded my view of the wonderful life I have been gifted.

That’s all it took to make me decide to get back to it. I promised myself that I would run, jog, or walk at least 2 miles a day for two weeks. At the end of that two weeks, I will make a new promise. On Sunday morning, I will be running my first race since that one in Nashville in September 2012. It is a 5K and I am already a little scared. The thing is, I am also excited. Bella will be with me in the jogging stroller the whole time. And soon, she will be running beside me. And even if I am the last one across the finish line, I will still celebrate and be grateful that I am able to complete 3 miles and do so with my daughter right in front of me cheering me on.

I leave you with an excerpt from Jen Sincero(an incredible author who I highly recommend) that I have been focusing on this week.

“You can’t see the silver lining through victim goggles.”

“Have faith that you and the Universe have created everything for your growth and be grateful for it. No matter what. Get practiced at making gratitude your go-to. Notice the 8 trillion things around you at all times that you can be grateful for, and feel into the grateful expectation for all the things coming your way. The good, the bad, the ugly, The salsa stain you just got on your new white shirt, become a gratitude machine for all of it.”

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life lessons, Losing Dad

Dad’s Birthday 

These are my wonderful parents. The picture was taken on 11/22/1998, my 21st Birthday. My parents came to Philly to take me out for my birthday because that’s the kind of parents they are. It is one of my favorites because you can see the true love that we all got to see when they were together.
Tomorrow would have been dad’s 69th birthday. It’s the hardest day of the year for me. I revisit the anger, denial, and deep sadness that came from his sickness and eventual death. That physical ache in my heart shows up and I can’t eat or breathe right. The gaping hole that was left when we lost him pulses to remind me that it will never be full again. The crying that is accompanied by hyperventilation and then complete fatigue returns. Each year, it is his birthday that makes me feel like I’ve lost him all over again. Grief is funny that way. It likes to creep up on you and remind you that it’s still there to torture you.

My daughter never met her grandfather. However, I tell her so many stories about him that I sometimes have to remind her that he is gone. I like that this is the case. To her, he is still very much alive. He always said he would live past 100. In some ways, he was right. He lives in the old hymns. All I have to do is listen to “Come Thou Fount,” close my eyes, and I can feel him there singing along with me. He is in my head during a snowstorm when I realize my gas is on “E.” How many times does he have to tell me not to let it go below half in the winter?! He is in my daughter’s smile whenever she is really happy and her whole face lights up. I see him in that joy and excitement for life that fills her every being on a daily basis.

Because of this, I let her decide what we will do to celebrate him tomorrow. She said we should go for a hike and have a “Charlie Brown Birthday party.” So, we will do just that. Or, we will go for a hike, eat peppermint patties, and then search the city of Philadelphia for a cupcake or cake with Peanuts characters on it. I think my dad would approve!

Happy Birthday Dad! We love you and miss you tons!!

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gardening, Going Solo: Single Parenthood, Uncategorized

raw and open

Eight years and a few months ago I told a friend that I couldn’t imagine being happier about life and more excited about my future. I felt amazing. I was in the first semester of Grad school, I had just moved into a new house, I had gone from being a couch potato to running races and practicing yoga regularly, I had a new job as the executive director of an organization that brought me joy, and I was in the beginning stages of a new relationship with the first man I ever loved. I felt like I was on top of the world.

Then, like a sledgehammer to the skull, we got the death sentence diagnosis for my dad. He was dying. That’s it. There was no hope given. They could help him live a couple more years, but cancer would kill him and it would kill him soon. My dad. The man who lived his life serving others and would literally talk about what he would be doing when he was 100. He enjoyed life so much that it was contagious to be around him. He had already had cancer twice before and would joke about it. “I don’t get sick, I just get cancer,” he would say with pride.

A church friend recently talked about a garden being the metaphor for our lives and God being the Master Gardener. I have taken this idea and used it to help myself work through this season of my life. As I have highs and lows with my literal garden, I see the parallels with my life. Before the diagnosis, my garden was lush and full of herbs, flowers, fruits, and vegetables. Heck, there were freaking butterflies and honeybees fluttering around. You get the picture?

My dad’s diagnosis was the first nasty weed. What followed was three years of watching my father struggle and hope and eventually die. My relationship of three years, the one that was supposed to last forever, died four months later. It was a relationship that might have lasted had it happened at a different time in my life, but sometimes grief has a way of killing things in its path. Three months after my relationship died, I  jumped into a summer fling with a man who I thought I knew and who I thought was an old friend, only to find out he was a complete stranger, was not at all who I thought he was, and I was left to face a pregnancy and eventually parenthood, alone. My lush happy garden slowly rotted and turned into a heaping compost as I blamed the Master Gardener and kicked him out.

Even moments before my daughter was born, I was sitting in the middle of my compost pile thinking the garden and life I once had would never happen again. I was admittedly, angry, hurt, defeated and hopeless. Then, the moment they put that baby girl on my chest and I saw those crystal blue eyes, a small but strong bud popped out of my heap of mush and began to bloom. Trying to keep this “bud” alive and blooming has required months of fighting a broken legal system, three years of pinching pennies and constantly worrying about money, learning how to ask and accept help, and inviting the “Master Gardener” back in.fullsizerender-3

A few days ago, in my actual garden, I spent the entire morning pulling up weeds, removing broken glass, ant hills, and dog poop, and pulling up dead tree trunks. It was the end of a weeks-long project that I was starting to think would take the rest of my life to complete. As I stood in the sun covered in sweat and dirt, I felt the most amazing satisfaction seeing the raw and open earth that I uncovered. It was ugly and beautiful at the same time. Aside from a single strand of purple Morning Glories, everything that had been there was now gone. I immediately started to cry. This garden was me.

My neighbors told me that this garden was once home to beautiful grass, vibrant rose bushes, and lush green trees. After years of trials and neglect, it became the weed covered trash-ridden lot that I purchased a few months ago. It was so bad that one of my neighbors suggested it was beyond repair and I should just fill it with concrete and call it a day. What it is teaching me, however, is that nothing and no one is past redemption. Like my garden, I reached a point in my life where I had to realize that in order for that one flower to grow and flourish, I would have to rip out all that was old, dig up the soil, remove the trash, and start again with new seeds. I would need expert advice and help with the hardest parts of the job. Most importantly, I had to stop focusing on what once was and what I thought it “should” look like. I have to accept what has happened, mourn any loss, and focus on each seed as new life grows and a whole new garden appears.

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gardening, life lessons, Losing Dad


FullSizeRender (1).jpgA few weeks before my dad passed away, I caught him eating a raw potato. A RAW potato. I jokingly asked him if he’d like me to cook it for him. I will never forget his response, “No. I like it this way. It tastes like earth.”

I lived in six different houses in six different towns growing up. Each one of them had an ample amount of Earth. At each house, my parents were adamant about having a garden, fruit trees, and plenty of green. My mom covered the house with plants of various origin and my dad focused on vegetables and fruit trees in the yard. From birth, I have watched the magic that happens when a seed becomes a sprout and a sprout becomes a plant, a flower, a vegetable, or a tree. It has always amazed me and been all the proof I need that there is something greater than myself. I remember living in York County, Pennsylvania, where we had a huge vegetable garden, and hiding between two rows of peas with my best friend. We would lay in the dirt and giggle as we filled our bellies with fresh sweet peas. There is nothing like biting into a crisp pea pod on a hot summer day. It tastes like Earth.

One of the reasons I love the garden and gardening is because it is one of the few places I can still sense my dad’s presence. Just as I can feel him smiling every time I open up a new book, my dad also lingers in the sprouting of a new seed and in each shovel full of Earth as I turn it over to start something new. When I found a house in the city with a big back yard, all I could think about was the garden I would be able to have. It would be the perfect way to honor my dad and share a part of him with Bella.

I definitely have my work cut out for me. In the first year of Bella’s life, I celebrated keeping a human alive while I mourned each plant and vegetable as one by one, they died a slow and painful death. Now I have a toddler that I still have to keep alive(not an easy task) and a yard full of weeds and random treasures that must be dug up and sifted one shovel at a time before I can even think of sowing any seeds. The process is slow and has required quite a bit of texts to mom, consults with experienced urban gardeners, and googling. I’ve also discovered that, for the most part, my gardening will have to be in containers and raised beds; something totally new to me and not exactly what I had hoped for.

There is actual scientific proof that having contact  with the earth through standing in your bare feet, sitting, or lying down on the earth, known as earthing or grounding, actually improves your physiological and electrophysiological health. In fact, when stressed or depressed, direct contact with the earth has been shown to improve your symptoms. I suffer from anxiety and depression and have actually been told that regularly walking through grass or soil will eventually improve my symptoms and balance the cortisol levels in my body. It makes sense. I spent much of my childhood barefoot and covered in grass and mud. There were many times my parents didn’t know where the earth ended and I started. “Earthing” is in my blood, but I have not done much of it in the past few years. It is a therapy I am willing to try and willing to create space for in my backyard.

This piece-of-earth project is not only for me. I want Bella to have the opportunity to ground herself daily. I want her to know what a tomato seed and flower look like. I want her to remember happily hiding in the rows of peas while she bites downFullSizeRender.jpg on a piece of earth. I truly believe an essential part of good parenting is figuring out a way for your child to connect to the earth somehow. Most people my age grew up “earthing” daily and we didn’t even know that what we were doing was actually beneficial to our health and well-being. Today, however, many of us have to work to make that happen for our kids. We are fighting against computers, and smartphones, video games, and bigger flatter TVs with more to entertain our kids every day. We need more hikes, walks in the park or on the beach, and weekend camping trips. And, if we have the space, or even just a pot of soil in the kitchen, we can fight that pesky technology with a nothing but a seed, some soil, and a little water and sunshine.

So, despite the fact that we may not see our first sprout until sometime next year, I’m looking forward to the hours of digging and weeding that Bella and I have before us this fall. I’ll be doing it with my dad’s old garden tools while I think of all his corny jokes and remember how excited he was the first time his fig tree produced fruit. Hopefully, by this time next year, I will be telling you about our very first potato and how Bella and I sat in our garden and ate it raw while we talked about Grandpa Wilcox and how truly delicious the earth tastes.

 

“For the beauty of each hour of the day and of the night,
hill and vale, and tree and flower, sun and moon, and stars of light;  
Lord of all, to thee we raise this our hymn of grateful praise.”

 

 

It Tastes Like Earth

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Going Solo: Single Parenthood, life lessons, Losing Dad

bella blooms.

I’m not going to make it a habit of blogging more than once a week, but since I am determined to do this and do it right, I think I should provide a little background to the blog as reference. I started by moving my old blogs over to this site so I have everything in one place. While writing has always been my passion, I started the blogging five years ago when I found out my dad had only a few weeks left to live. It helped to talk about it even though it often exposed some pretty intimate emotions publicly. As someone who has suffered on and off with anxiety and depression, I have a strong belief that being public about emotions is healthy and much better than bottling things up until we break. Or worse, faking happiness and perfection.

The blogging continued to be helpful through my pregnancy and my favorite part of that process was my inbox full of stories from other parents.  I felt like I joined some new club and it was wonderful to find out that no one in the club was perfect and the stories people shared were mostly about times they had royally screwed up. Personally, I feel like those are the kinds of stories we should share more publicly. My social media feed is full of posts about how great and perfect everyone’s life is, but hearing the weird and unpleasant stories, especially when we can laugh about them, is richer and a little more fun.

It is what makes us human.

I’ve been on a hiatus from blogging for a variety of reasons, but I am excited to get back to it. I live alone with a 3-year old, an old grumpy dog, and a cat who was born without balance or grace. As if that isn’t enough, I am a parent and a person who constantly makes mistakes, but is able to laugh at myself daily and walk away believing I am still an ok person despite my numerous flaws. My goal for this blog is to share a little about solo parenting(both toddlers and fur babies) and a little about my attempt at bringing the country girl inside me into my very Philly back yard.

Six months ago, I bought my first house. It is what I consider the best of both worlds. It is still less than five miles from the heart of Center City and no more than a 10 minute drive. Yet, it is still far enough out of Center City that we rarely have to deal with tourists or politicians disrupting our daily lives. The house is an old Philly row home that is original on the outside and completely flipped on the inside. It feels like a brand new house, but unlike many of the new condos popping up around the city, it was built in a time when things were built to last. It has survived over one hundred years of hurricanes, blizzards, floods, and heat waves. I was looking for a classic and although I originally wanted everything on the inside to be the original work as well, I must admit I am starting to like the facelift the house had before I bought it. I’ve never lived in a house where no one else has used the appliances or bathroom, or even walked on these floors. It makes it feel even more like it’s really mine. The biggest thing that sold this house for me, however,  was what was outside: a huge fenced in backyard that is rarely found in this area. I have a raised lawn that is 30’ x 10’ surrounded by a substantial patio all shaded by a massive Magnolia Tree. It is not the acreage this Central PA girl would prefer, but it is just enough to give me a place surrounded in green.

So, the down933F7610-DD2A-4D86-B54F-AD3BF5C9190Cside to this yard is that, like the house, it was abandoned for 6 years. Squatters filled it with garbage and with each rain, more “treasures” surface. To date, I have found diapers, a beheaded statue of Mary, shattered wine glasses and China, Christmas ornaments, broken toys, the rusted contents of a tool box, nails, cigarettes, cobblestones, pieces of a railroad, casino chips, bricks, and other random trash. Now you are probably wondering why I would want a house with a yard in this condition. The fact is that when I came to see the house, I looked outside and saw the incredible potential for the space. As I sift through it one shovel at a time(using my dad’s gardening tools), I find interesting pieces of the past and the good earth that still lives below the surface. My goal with this space is to fill it with clover and surround it with a container garden and some raised beds. This project will take a long time and since I am not an experienced gardener and barely have any idea what I am doing, I expect things to get interesting and most likely frustrating.
I see the yard as a physical representation of my life. I think that’s why I love it so much. I have also gone through some rough years and have some garbage to clear out of my life as I begin growing something new. So, as I figure out how to keep a kid, two pets, and some plants alive and growing, I’ll fill you in on the fun parts. 

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