Life in the After

I don’t know what to call this space – these days that unfolded “after Dad died”. I don’t want everything I do or think about to be marred by his death because the focus is misplaced. Plus, Dad wouldn’t like it. Shall we just call it After? First we had Before, now we have After. I don’t know how else to bookmark the days.

This Thursday makes three weeks since Dad passed away, and though I seem able to move through the day with ease a lot of the time, there have been moments when I felt nearly paralyzed with indecision or frozen with a blank mind. I have work to do, and yet, I could easily stare at a wall for an indefinite amount of time. I could sit on the porch and watch the birds, or I could start working on something at my computer only to give up in five minutes to gaze out the window. It still feels like my brain is floating in a jar on a shelf.

In this After, we followed through with a few pre-made plans, and those activities have helped to distract me, forcing me to think of other things instead of dwelling in this headspace.

Last Saturday, I joined Chuck on a quick trip to the hunting lease. He needed to check his game cameras, and I needed to leave my house to breathe different air. The hunting lease is a beautiful piece of property, despite what ultimately happens there, and riding around in the forest gave me the temporary peace of mind I was looking for.

As soon as I came home, the haze returned.

Similarly, we spent this last weekend in Chattanooga, as I already had plans to take senior photos of Grace and Ethan. I didn’t want to cancel on account of grief because I knew leaving the house would be good for me. Staying in a hotel and reading a book next to a swimming pool was the change of scenery – again – that I needed.

Seeing our friends though? Invaluable! We even saw Hayli, whom we haven’t seen in more than a year.

We laughed and enjoyed the heck out of each other, and I was grateful for every moment, but sure enough, as soon as we got home, I felt sad and irritated.

I realize now that working from home while also grieving is proving to be a challenge. If I worked in a traditional environment, I could take some bereavement days. I could cash in on vacation days. Or, I could go to a place and do the work there; then I could come home and crawl into bed. I could separate these two things, untangle work from home.

As a freelance writer and teacher, I don’t have that option. Sure, I built the life I wanted, but here in-lies the newly-discovered flaw: When you need your home to be a place of refuge, it can’t be a place of refuge when you’re behind on grading papers or on deadline for a magazine. Instead, home is a place of multiplying levels of anxiety, particularly when the boys need something basic, like dinner.

Currently, all I really have to look forward to right now are breaks from school (fall break, holidays, etc), but even then, I’m planning to work ahead for my classes and help Mom clean out Dad’s home office. Both tasks need to be done, so it is what it is.

I know grief is a weird animal that presents itself at different moments in different ways to different people. Right now, grief is most prominent on Thursdays. My body subconsciously counts the minutes and recalls the last day moment by moment leading up to 9:45 p.m. Leave it to my goofy brain to grieve on a schedule.

And yet, grief is lingering in the background every other day, too. It is the ghost behind me, the court jester in the corner of the room. Grief is both a memory and a nightmare – remembering our rides to and from school together in Chattanooga, then recalling how horrible his breathing sounded in his last few hours. My memories bring comfort, then pain. The cycle continues.

Anger is there too, cozied up alongside grief. They are quite a pair! I am furious that we’re entering the most beautiful season in Tennessee and Dad won’t be here to see it. I am angry that Thanksgiving, Christmas Eve, and New Year’s Eve are all on Thursdays. I am haunted by how horrible last New Year’s Eve was and preparing for this one to feel even worse.

People have told me, based on their own experiences, that grief unfolds at random times. It can be months and years before I truly process and understand my own feelings on Dad’s death. I believe this to be true, but what in the world will these months and years even look like? If 2020 has taught me anything, it’s to expect the unexpected.

We’re about to enter my favorite month, and wouldn’t you know – OCTOBER STARTS ON THURSDAY. As I raise my fist to the sky in protest, Dad’s voice booms in my ear: “Buck up, Kid!”

All I can say in response is, “I’m trying, Dad! I’m trying!”

The flawless faces of beautiful children

I am a lucky girl. When “playing with my camera” takes me to a sprawling property, situated in front of these beautiful faces, I cannot complain.

It’s not hard, really. Engage the kiddos, chat with them, be silly. I’m not scary or overwhelming, so they don’t mind when I require a little of their time. For these siblings in particular, they are used to me and my lens in their faces.

And now, I’m getting to know their friends, which is a treat like none other! When a friend connects you to another friend, it is the dearest compliment.

I sit here with a ton of gratitude, not only because people trust me with their family’s photos, taking up their time and a little bit of their money, but because what started as a hobby (and continues to be a hobby) has turned into a gift I’m able to give others. I love it. My work doesn’t stand against the work of professional photographers whose creativity is their livelihood, but it’s good work. It’s beautiful. It’s honest.

Thank you again.

If you’d like to book a photo session, do let me know.

Where November went

It has been the strangest month, and I blame the election for stealing half of it. While on the phone last week with my sister, she said something about “Thanksgiving” and “next week,” a combination of words that jolted me out of whatever timeframe I thought I was in. I didn’t realize we’d already arrived at Thanksgiving, a sign that 2016 was heading rapidly towards its finish line.

If you don’t live in my part of the country, or even in this specific region, then you probably didn’t realize that east Tennessee (and North Georgia) is in the midst of a terrible drought. We’ve gone weeks without rain, and that gave a few people the idea to start wildfires. For weeks we’ve been under a cloud of smoke, and just when it looked to be improving, another fire started just ten miles down the road, close to the eastern edge of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park.

A week ago we had a brief drizzle, but it wasn’t enough to douse the fires.

rain-on-nov-15

Over the weekend we had another rain, but it too wasn’t enough. Driving home from the orthodontist yesterday, the smoke from Walland was still wafting. The fire is painfully close to an elementary school, many homes, a historic Bed and Breakfast, and the place where we board Major. There are many people and animals in harm’s way.

Then, yesterday afternoon we got word that a school bus accident in Chattanooga resulted in the death of five young elementary students, potentially six, with many more injured and in the hospital. How does that happen the week of Thanksgiving? How does that happen at all?

The bright spot of this month so far has been getting together with some of our dearest friends (our Fred and Ethel Mertz) and photographing a beautiful, intimate wedding.

amy-and-me-2016

It’s a reminder that there is still love in the world. There is still happiness and friendship.

jem_6693-low-res

And somewhere, I have to believe, there is hope.

In your prayers around the dinner table on Thursday, please remember Chattanooga, the Tennessee Valley, and our country.

The sweetest little wedding

When a former high school classmate of mine mentioned on Facebook that she was looking for an inexpensive wedding photographer, I threw my name in the hat. Since I work alone, the small, intimate weddings are just right. I can dart around discreetly and tend to the details. Bigger events require two and three shooters, so as long as it was going to be small, I could do it.

So I did.

DSC_0044 wm

DSC_0090 wm

DSC_0064 wm

DSC_0162 wm

DSC_0199 wm

DSC_0216 wm

DSC_0274 wm

DSC_0332 wm

DSC_0391 wm

I went nuts with my camera, so there are eight million more to edit, but it’s a good problem to have. I’m grateful. 

Friends and Ryan Bingham

We ran off to Chattanooga this weekend for a much-needed refueling via long-distance friends. The kids played, we played. Everyone was exhausted by the time we got home yesterday afternoon. As usual, being in Chattanooga was hugely nostalgic.

In between the frivolity was a funeral on Monday for Corey’s grandmother, the sweet woman who let me sleep over on a weekly basis when I was 14 years old. She was tiny but feisty, and she lived a long happy life. It was important that I pay my respects and be with my best friend on a difficult day.

I’m not sure if it’s irony or just good timing, but we had long-standing plans to attend a Ryan Bingham concert with Corey in Chattanooga on Monday night, so after all the tears and hugs that afternoon in Atlanta, we enjoyed a couple hours of good music and great company.

For the record, he’s even better on stage.

Ryan Bingham

 

Party Day Trip

We scooted down to Chattanooga on Saturday for Grace and Jake’s  birthday party. These children belong to some of our favorite people, so not only did the kids get to play together but I got some Amy time. As a rule, spend as much time as you can with people who make you laugh. ♥

In other news, this is what happens when I ask my husband to take a picture of my friend and me. Jennie and Amy with ChuckHe can’t always help himself. He comes by it honestly.

Jennie and Amy for realMatching tattoos! With glitter!

Matching tatsMustache stickers are in. And if you have two mustache stickers, then you can really look like Tony Stark.

Tony StarkOh yeah! The birthday kids! →Grace and Jake←

Grace and Jake's bday party

What used to be home

I was in Chattanooga yesterday for a memorial service and found that I had a little extra time to drive around the city we used to call home. While still very nostalgic, this place isn’t home anymore. It’s where Chuck and I met, where we graduated high school, where we got married and where we started a family. It’s the city where so many of our major decisions were made. And while I can pinpoint a slew of little special spots in Chattanooga that hold a sweet memory for me, home is where we are now. This city, this house, these people. It feels good and right and long term.

Happy Weekend to you, and Go Vols!

Chattanooga

When a hotel room costs only $8, it’s kind of a waste to not stay in it. Actually, the hotel room was free. We paid $8 for overnight parking downtown. (Chuck’s hotel points covered the rest.)

So off we went to Chattanooga for a whirlwind Halloween night. We trick-or-treated with Ethan and Sidney and enjoyed a quick swim afterward in the hotel’s heated saltwater pool. The kiddos zonked out after many failed attempts to dig through their candy sacks.

Guess who was tuckered out after the big night?

This morning, since we didn’t have anywhere else to be, Chuck and I ran (separately) through downtown Chattanooga. It was a chilly morning, a little foggy, but otherwise perfect for a jog through our old stomping grounds. Once we were cleaned up, we took the boys for a walk around town and headed to lunch. Major props to the city planners because Chattanooga is more beautiful than it’s ever been.

After lunch, we headed home to the mountains. If I haven’t said it before, or in case you weren’t sure, I am very, very, very happy to be in east Tennessee again.

A Chattanooga Recharge

We left for Chattanooga Friday afternoon and I have to say – it was the most amazing weekend. The weather was absolutely perfect in the Tennessee Valley, which meant nearly everything was done outside. Playgrounds, grilling out, and a fabulous run along the Riverpark Saturday morning. (Oh how I’ve missed that!) But what made it especially wonderful was everyone we got to see.

Friday night Chuck and I stole away for dinner (at J Alexander’s) and a movie (Limitless at the Majestic), which we haven’t done in, oh, say a year or two. Seriously. After we reintroduced ourselves, we had a good time – especially in the VIP theater room. Recliners, drink menus, waiters, the whole bit. I never realized how fun it would be to watch a movie while sitting in a recliner. I’m sold.

Afterwards we drove around North Chattanooga to see what’s changed, what’s new and what’s still the same. Why oh why didn’t we buy a house in North Chattanooga all those years ago? What used to be the questionable, up-and-coming part of town 12 or 15 years ago has become the hipster epicenter with gorgeous remodeled craftsman homes, walkability to restaurants and entertainment and an amazing view of the cityscape and river. I went for a run Saturday morning and parked midway down the Riverpark so I could run towards downtown. It’s the same pathway I trained on for six half marathons and one full, 26-mile race, and it was just as beautiful as ever.

We spent Saturday afternoon at Matt and Amy’s house, our Fred and Ethel Mertz, and I also got some one-on-one Amy time Sunday morning for coffee and shopping. Later in the afternoon, Jeremy and I scooted off to another park to meet his biological aunt, uncle and cousin, which is something we discussed prior to arranging. (More on that later.) Jeremy was thrilled to meet them and I was happy to see him happy. Here’s a snapshot of us waiting for them at the playground.

Saturday night was a long overdue dinner with Karin, and Sunday morning was coffee with Amy followed by lunch with Kathryn (my high school bestie). When it was all over, I bid a sweet farewell to Chattanooga and got back on the road towards the Foothills. (Chuck and the boys left for Knoxville with Bill that morning.) I probably smiled the entire way home. This weekend was just the recharge I needed.

While Chattanooga is a really great town, I’m happy to be home in the mountains. It’s hard to explain how a place you’ve never lived before feels like home, but that’s exactly what’s happened. Like I told my dad on the phone a few weeks ago – as an Army brat, home was wherever the Army sent us, and after Dad retired, home was wherever my parents lived. I’ve never had an actual hometown. Until now.