I don’t know how to start this letter. If I’m being truthful, just the thought of writing it had my stomach hurting all morning. It’s one thing to think these thoughts internally, pray my prayers in the morning…but I can physically feel the weight on my chest as I write it out. My hope is, I’ll write it, others will read it, some will know exactly what I’m feeling, and the weight will be lightened because it’s shared.
There are still tears. Just about everyday. I don’t mean to cry, I certainly don’t want to, but I do. Alone. I’d like to say that it hurts less, but if it does, it’s only slightly. I guess the only difference is that I don’t break down sobbing everyday now. Just tears. Tears that I quickly wipe away before anyone catches me because crying isn’t my thing. I guess there’s a part of me that feels embarrassed that I can’t keep it together when I think of you, one year later. It’s like, we’ve seen or heard some people, so reflective and peaceful about death. Their words and demeanor, it’s comforting and reassuring. They speak about how they smile when they think of their departed one, how they see signs/reminders from their lost loved one…it makes you almost believe that you too can be this person. Like it’s attainable to reach that point.
I am not at that point.
The sadness is still very real and very present.
I know that’s not what you intended when you left. I know it hurts your heart, watching how hard we’ve taken it. Aunt Susie. My Mom. Everyone. And I don’t mean to make you feel sorry for going. I know the alternative wasn’t what any of us wanted either. No one wanted to see you in pain. No one wanted to see you small and defeated. Not when we knew/know who you really are.
You’re a lion.
I’m so sorry for the years that passed when our communication wasn’t as frequent as it should have been. I was a stupid girl, living her early 20’s with her priorities all out of order, and the delusion that her people would always be around. I regret every visit home, up to Michigan from Nashville, that I didn’t come see you or at least call you. Every time you heard from my mom that your goddaughter was in town for the weekend …after the fact… I’d give anything to undo that.
Thank you for loving me and supporting me anyway. Thank you for still asking Mom about me. Thank you for being my first big donation when I fearfully launched a Kickstarter campaign to record an album. An album that I am SO thankful you finally got to listen to before you left.
Thank you for being there for my Mom. I know it was your support that got her through some of her most difficult times. I’m very grateful that I have a brother to talk me through life too. (And sisters, of course.). Thank you for the reminders, even when I was frustrated and complaining, “I hear you, but it doesn’t matter. That’s your mother.” I now see that you said that not only because it’s true and you loved your baby sister, but because you would’ve given anything for the opportunity to be “frustrated and complaining” about your mother again. I’m sorry it took decades to get it but I get it.
I feel blessed that we reconnected before everything went wrong. Before Uncle Corky. Before your diagnosis. It’s the only solace I really find after your death…that I knew how important my relationship with you was before it was threatened. And in that reconnection, you got to meet Jon. You got to see the beginning. The start of a better life and of a better Rachel. Although you didn’t know, I didn’t know, and I’m pretty sure he didn’t know then either just how good him & I would turn out to be. I wish you were going to be sitting right beside Aunt Susie at my wedding. I’d give anything to hear your thunderous voice make jokes about how I better sprint down the aisle before Jon changes his mind. Because we all know you’d say it, ha.
I can’t believe it’s been an entire year. It’s been both the longest and shortest year of my life. So much has happened since March 24, 2017 and yet, I can remember every detail of this time last year. The weeks leading up to it, the weeks that followed…how when we left the hospital room that night, I was so sure you were going to miraculously pull through despite how dire it looked. How I went out to celebrate Fat Tuesday in Hamtramck a few weeks prior, leaving you a semi-buzzed message on your answering machine. I just wanted you to know how ridiculously Polish I felt that day because I thought you’d get a kick out of it and be proud. And you were. You always brought me back to my roots, whether you meant to or not. And despite the deaths and the distance on the Polish side of our family, it’s still half of who I am. And I feel it’s pulse stronger in my veins now than ever. I know that’s you.
This year I celebrated Fat Tuesday at Polish Village again. I raised a glass to you and tried desperately to recreate last year’s experience. Consequently, it fell short.
There is no going back.
There’s a huge part of me that feels guilty in moving forward, like it means you weren’t here. If I feel that way, I can only imagine how Aunt Susie, your son, your sisters must feel. But again, I know you most certainly don’t want the alternative for any of us either. Stagnate. Or declining. Constantly sad or guilt-ridden.
So a year later… I can’t promise not to go there, but I can promise not to stay there. And maybe that’s good enough for now. Staying sad a little less each day.
Tonight, a big group of Siniarskis will assemble for our first family gathering that didn’t involve a wedding or a funeral in a long time. I’ll be proud to sit with them. I’ll be proud to honor you. And we will save you a seat…and a pierogi.
I woke up in my own bed for the first time in 8 days. My bags that had been unloaded from my frozen over car the night before, awaiting me still by the kitchen door. After an 8 hour drive home in a snowstorm, hauling my belongs upstairs to unpack was low on the “to do” list that morning. So while my fiancé slept in, I made a pot of coffee and unpacked my essentials onto the kitchen table.
Journal. Pen. Jesus Calling. MacBook. Library book. Note pad.
Between the early morning sunlight coming through the kitchen window and the fresh bouquet of roses he had gotten me the night before, the ambiance of my “work space” swelled my heart. So much so that I tried to capture it’s peaceful perfection with a photo.
I dove into my quiet time by writing my first blog entry of 2018. A long stream of consciousness that explored my previous week in Nashville.
I discussed how I felt out of place with familiar friends in scenarios I’d been in hundreds of times before. How I was no longer emotionally drained from but just tired of seeing/hearing people I love making excuses for other people and being unhappy. How grateful I was for the perspective from “this side”…a side that I feel I barely survived long enough to make it to and now that I’m on it, I’m as alive as I’ve ever been.
And where I’ll quote the blog entry I wrote last Sunday (but never published) and this one that I am writing now is when I said…
“It’s funny, really. I was so ready to get back to Nashville as soon as possible. Thanks to the holidays, I had been in Michigan for 40 days straight. The restlessness was real. I was starting to feel like my days were not my own anymore. Like my “job” was to drive 45 miles each way to help my family out with whatever they needed that day, no matter how big of a deal it was or how mundane. I was ready to put some distance between us.
My car and I weren’t within the Nashville city limits more than 10 minutes before it felt like my timing was completely wrong. I was supposed to be in Michigan.”
I drove into Nashville early on a Friday evening. I had seen my Granny the night before and promised to call her once I got to Nashville so that she wouldn’t worry about me. I was driving down Interstate 40 when I called. She answered the phone and it sounded like she was gasping for air. She couldn’t get any words out. I immediately hung up the phone and called my family to get over there. When my aunt arrived less than 10 minutes later, an ambulance was right behind her. She’d had what they thought was an asthma attack. Her first real one. So new to all of us, in fact, that no one could locate her inhalers because my Granny was so insistent that “they don’t work”. Once her breathing calmed down and her vitals came up normal, EMS left and my family sat with her awhile with the promise to take her to see her doctor next week. They assured me she was OK.
I, however, was not OK.
To make matters even worse, the very next day, my mother was fit in for a last-minute surgery. Her second one since Thanksgiving. Nothing life-threatening, but still requiring a few days in the hospital.
The rest of the weekend, the rest of the week, really, just dragged on. I didn’t want to be there. At all. I wanted to be home. Music. My friends. Being out and about in my city. All of it felt as trivial as an Instagram “like”…
My phone blew up daily. Updates from family members. Check-ins with Granny. Check-ins with Mom. Walking siblings through some huge life decisions. My “job” of my family followed me over 500 miles south. I wasn’t off the hook. And I couldn’t have been more grateful. I concluded my blog with some bullet points of things I learned in that week away…the last one being…
Family is everything. Without them, none of this matters.
So after my 8 days in Nashville (and being held captive an extra day thanks to the winter storm), I drove back on a Saturday. My very first stop once I crossed the Michigan state line was to Romulus. To sit on the floor by my Granny’s recliner. To hold her hand. To smother her in kisses. To jokingly tell her she doesn’t have to scare us all with a medical emergency to get me to come back to her faster.
So let’s go back to last week.
Peaceful. Quiet. Contemplative. Thankful to be home. Writing, reading, drinking coffee and looking out the window. Everything felt good again.
Later on that day, the Williams’ met for dinner at Olive Garden to celebrate my mom’s birthday. I got to kiss on my nephews and niece. Hug my parents. Stuff myself with pasta and go home to enjoy a lazy night of Netflix with my fiancé that was over a week overdue at this point.
Then the phone rang.
My Aunt Kathy was rushing my Granny up to Urgent Care because Granny couldn’t breathe again. Then… They are admitting her to the hospital. We are about to drive her up there. Then…she is going by ambulance because it isn’t safe to personally transport her without her on oxygen.
Even simply typing this right now, I can still hear the ringing in my ears.
At 90 years old, you cannot catch pneumonia.
I knew that.
We all know that.
And just like that, a bomb exploded on my “peaceful perfection”.
I spent the next 6 days living in hospital room 553…
…sleeping on a window seat “bed” (gym mat) with a paper thin blanket to protect me from the drafty window I was pressed against. Waking up every hour on the hour while a whole roster of nurses and techs came in to check whatever it was they needed to check whenever they needed to check it. Holding her up when she’d cough her lunges out, her back and ribs aching so badly that she couldn’t get comfortable again for hours. Watching them stick needles and IVs and leave bruises all over her frail and aged arms. Helping her in the bathroom and making jokes so that she wouldn’t feel embarrassed. Spraying down and brushing her hair when she got self conscious about her “bed head”. Trying to be the translator between her and the nurses because she couldn’t hear them 80% of the time. Helping set up and clean up every meal they brought to her. Staying quiet in the corner while she desperately tried to catch a nap whenever she could. Kissing her forehead a dozen times in a day.
**Now this is not to say that other family members did not dedicate long days up there as well. Because they did. I was just the one who took it upon themselves to take up residence in the room too, ha. **
Our days. Our heads. Our hearts.
Tried to write what I was feeling and couldn’t. Tried to learn dozens of songs for a rehearsal that I never made it to. Tried to text and email people back but didn’t know what to say. How could I plan anything…meetings, shows, studio, work-outs, dinner with my fiancé…when I really didn’t know what was going to happen.
Thanks to the good Lord above, her lunges cleared up. She started to get better.
Once she could walk down the hall with a walker, maintaining an average oxygen level, they let her go home.
She is tired. She is beat up.
She is a fighter who’s still fighting.
There are a lot more things to figure out and a lot of hard conversations to have amongst ourselves and with Granny. Some tough questions to ask ourselves, when we’re alone and processing. A reality that will be difficult to accept, but is already here nonetheless. A reality that is thankfully far less crushing than the alternative, so I’ll take it.
I performed with a band in Detroit last night and tried to stay in the moment the best I could, trying to remind myself that this is what I do when I’m not obsessing over my Grandma, haha. I was blown away by the support from the musicians and even some people in the crowd that had heard or read on Facebook about my Granny.
One woman in particular said, “At 90 years old, every day is a blessing.”
So for those of you that are late to the party… I’m engaged.
Yes, I know.
Start praying to your God because the apocalypse is near. Ha.
Thirty-one days ago, I said “Yes” to a guy who kneeled down beside our bed with a big diamond ring. While I sat there, makeup-less and sporting bulldog pajama pants, completely stunned. It was without a doubt, the easiest “Yes” I’ve ever given in my life. Granted, I would’ve much preferred to look stunningly beautiful in some lavish treehouse where stardust was sprinkling from the sky…but hey… it was still sweet. And caught me completely off guard. Quite the feat.
And the beauty of it was, I never had even a moment’s hesitation.
This is it.
This is my human. I found him. And even better…
My human WANTS to be tied with my crazy ass for the rest of his life…like, he thinks HE’S hit the jackpot with ME. Clearly, he’s insane. Lucky for me.
And it’s been a blissful month. Strange, in some regards. And definitely, a huge reminder to myself (and those around me) that I am rather far removed from the typical girl’s frame of mind with being “engaged”.
First of all, please let me preface this with… I AM SO HAPPY WITH THIS MAN! He is the only person I could ever say/think/feel ‘forever’ about. He’s the weirdest, most generous, down for an adventure dude I’ve ever known and he makes me better without ever asking it of me. I literally cannot believe that someone knows all my bullshit…my hot mess of a past…this “wrecking ball to the self-esteem” dream I continue to chase…the balance in my checking account currently…my obsession with my larger than life family…supporting that I live in another state 50% of the time…the reality that I’ll never love his dog half as much as he does…my inability to apologize most of the time…(you catch my drift)…and yet…
He will stand before anyone and everyone and promise me the best and the rest of his life.
Holy shit, ya’ll.
Just typing that (and the 3 glasses of wine I’ve had) is making me tear up majorly at the moment. I never thought I’d see the day that I’d get engaged. And to be completely honest with you, I was more than okay with that. Because a ring on my finger was never a part of “the dream” (just ask any guy I’ve ever dated/family/friends). I never envisioned what a wedding would look like. (Or owning a house. Or having children. Or basically, anything that a normal adult would see for their lives.) Simply put, that was never in my “check” boxes.
So to be wearing a ring of my finger for the last 31 days, and to have not lost/misplaced it yet, is truly wild. That being said…
Being engaged is fucking weird.
People congratulate me constantly…for what? I mean, I too am happy that I have this guy and that I’m no longer wasting time getting wasted with douchebags. Because those that know my story know that it ain’t been the prettiest. I’ve been through some real shit.
But to congratulate me feels odd…like I accomplished something super impressive…the impressive part was finally allowing someone deserving into my world and loving him back. The ring is just a beautiful bonus. But even still…
I’m only part way to the finish line by Pinterest’s standards.
Because apparently there’s this whole wedding thing to plan/obsess/lose my shit over.
And the unavoidable “so you’re going to have children?” conversation.
Let me say this.
I can’t not roll my eyes at the word “fiancé”. Nor do I care about a date, a dress, a venue, color schemes, the selection of the wedding party, keeping my nails well-manicured to show off my ring, picking out baby names, or anything else that isn’t about one thing and one thing only…
Me & him. Him & I.
The ones doing forever.
So yes, I did wait almost a week before I announced my engagement on social media. Yes, we still haven’t changed our Facebook relationship status. Yes, you will have to ask to see my ring because I won’t think to flaunt it for everyone I see. Yes, it’s true, we don’t have a date or a plan yet and we are totally okay with that. And yes, if him and I were only thinking of ourselves, we would’ve eloped yesterday.
And yes…the moment I realized I didn’t care about the attention or validation like I thought I was supposed to was when I knew…
This shit is real, this is right…
This is cemetery plots side by side.
Bring it on, baby.
And a whole-hearted “THANK YOU” to the followers of this journey…sweet Lord, we’ve seen it all and I love you for loving me through it ❤
When I was 7 years old, my best friend was diagnosed with leukemia. Of course, being so young, I had no idea what that meant. But I could tell by the look on my parents’ faces and her parents’ faces, it wasn’t good. Elizabeth and I met in pre-school. Shortly after, our mothers got us involved in the same dance company, where we would drive out to New Boston…her and I being the youngest girls in the class. We were ballerinas one day and gymnasts the next, all the while having no actual clue what we were doing…simply following whoever’s lead to whatever Disney song we were to perform to. One of my fondest memories is when we were backstage for our very 1st dance recital. Our mothers were fluffing our hair and applying our makeup and calming our nerves. My mom said as she was leaving us backstage, just a few songs away from taking the stage, “I’m going to leave some makeup right here for you, if you think you need a touch up on your lipstick.” Needless to say, as 6 year old girls we DEFINITELY thought we needed a self-imposed “touch-up”…lipstick, blush, blue eyeshadow. The whole works.
Sleepovers and pool parties and dance class and then, all of a sudden…she was sick. And just like that, her long hair that nearly to the ground was gone. Then it was us in matching head scarves as we learned to roller blade in my driveway. The slumber parties started to decrease and the worry in her mother’s face was more apparent.
We had just moved into our brand new house. My bedroom was all pink except for this old, ugly recliner that used to be my grandpa’s, sitting against my window. I remember being asleep and hearing the phone ring in the middle of the night. I sat straight up in my bed and waited for any kind of sound to follow. My mother came in a few minutes later, sat me on her lap in that hideous recliner and broke the news to me that Elizabeth had passed away. I remember sobbing until I was sick. It was a week before my 9th birthday.
I can recall being paranoid throughout her battle and after her death. I was in grade school, reading fiction chapter books about teenaged girls fighting cancer. I took every bruise, every time I brushed my teeth too hard my gums bled as a sure-sign symptom that I too had leukemia. Thankfully, I did not.
A couple years later, my Uncle Joe, my mother’s oldest brother, was diagnosed with leukemia. At this point, I felt more prepared with what to expect. I knew it’d be hard. I knew he’d go bald. That was as far as I got in my “mental prep” before he too passed away.
It was around that same time that Elizabeth’s father, Bob, relapsed and fell ill with leukemia. We lost him too. I can still remember sitting at their house after the memorial, not taking my eyes off her mom and her little brother. It was at this point, not even a teenager yet, that I started to understand the frailty of life.
I’d lose more people to cancer in the years to come and they’d all hurt. They’d all seem unfair. But the “leukemia cloud” would seem the darkest.
Last summer, my godfather, Uncle Mike, was abruptly diagnosed with leukemia, just weeks after we lost his brother to liver cancer.
I’ve written about this before but holy shit…writing about it again still feels like repeated punches to my chest. (As I’m currently sobbing off my eyelash extensions and pouring more wine.)
I was so sure he was going to beat it. I really was. It had been 20 years since this disease left it’s 1st hole in my life, surely we’ve come so much further now… He wasn’t a small child. He was my lion. When I saw him just an hour before he passed, laying in his hospital bed, I knew…his victory was not the one I had been pleading with God for. It was Heaven.
I cry for him almost every single day. I cry for my mother that has had to bury 3 brothers. Two of them dying within a year of each other. Two of them dying of the same disease. I cry because I’m afraid my aunt, Uncle Mike’s widow, will think she is alone and that we are “his family”, when I feel like I belong to her just as much as I belonged to him. I cry for all the emotions his death brings up in me and my long history of loss to leukemia. I cry for Elizabeth’s family, who I’ve lost touch with for no real reason except that we just did.
A few days ago, I was contacted by someone from a local chapter of The Leukemia & Lymphoma Society, asking if I would like to volunteer. Somehow, she had come across my blog and the entry I’d written months ago about the loss of my godfather. To say I was moved would be an understatement. To have my honesty recognized is beautiful enough. But to be called upon to play a part in such a worthy cause truly feels like God talking to me. So I’m listening.
I’ll be walking and volunteering my services for Light The Night in Ann Arbor, MI on September 30th. I need this light, literally and figuratively. I need to stand amongst survivors and those standing for lost loved ones. I need to honor this fight and this hurt. I need to shine a light.
My birthday is this coming Friday. And I can’t think of any better way to commemorate another trip around the sun than sharing my story and supporting this cause. Please help me join in bringing light to the darkness of cancer by donating towards my fundraising efforts to support The Leukemia & Lymphoma Society’s Light The Night. Money raised through Light The Night allows The Leukemia & Lymphoma Society (LLS) to fund treatments for patients who are suffering from all forms of blood cancers. The impact of LLS supported research goes beyond blood cancers. The discoveries made in blood cancer research have led to break through treatments for many cancers and other serious diseases.
This morning hurts. I can feel it already even though it’s only 8AM. It hurts like yesterday, and the day before that, and the day before that. I’m not really sure how to begin explaining it because it’s highly possible that no one will relate. But maybe some of you will. I have been trying to find the words for what I’m feeling for weeks now… And again, I’ve fallen victim to the train of thought “I should write about that…Make time to write about that…You can write about that tomorrow…” and then I don’t. It just gets added to my brain’s ever-growing pile of Post-It notes. Aside from being distracted, I know there’s a part of me that didn’t want to write this blog because I’m weary of giving a public voice to the crippling fear inside my head. I don’t want to jinx anything. I don’t want God to find me ungrateful. I don’t want anyone to find me ungrateful. I’m so grateful sometimes it feels like it’s too much “gratitude” and my chest might literally explode…maybe that’s my problem.
My Granny is 90 years old today.
Yes, you read that correctly…90.
I am completely blown away with amazement and adoration for this human, who clearly, has stood the test of time and is still looking as beautiful as ever.
Anyone who knows me knows of this unwavering love I have. It’s a love I make quite public, whether it’s on social media/up on a stage/hanging out with friends/pouncing on her & annoying her with compliments every chance I get. People see it and think, “How sweet, she’s so close to her Grandma.” I wish it was as black & white as that. But I know better. God definitely knows better. It’s a love that has without a doubt saved me from myself on more than a few occasions throughout my short lifetime. A love that was so deep-rooted inside of me that even in my lowest of times (and they were low indeed), I was reminded that even in all the bad, I had a soul that was good… I still wanted to see, hold the hand of, hear the voice of, take care of my G and make her proud.
When I think of “the pillars” in my world, God and my Granny. I established a relationship with the Lord by going to church with my Grandma, starting around the time I was in 5th grade. And in turn, God has heard me pray/sob/plead/rejoice over her every single day since. She is without a doubt my 1st and most important prayer request. Keep her safe. Keep her healthy. Keep her happy. Let her know You are there so she won’t be lonely.
This past Saturday (August 26th), we threw my Granny a surprise birthday party. We reserved a little banquet room at a restaurant not far from her house. The party fell on my parents’ 34th wedding anniversary, so the “lie” to get Granny to attend was that my Dad was throwing my Mom a surprise anniversary party. My sister and I put in the time making sure the decorations were perfect. Photo collages, big balloons, enlarging and framing photos that were nearly 70 years old, making table centerpieces that featured photos of Granny from a woman in her early 20’s to this past Easter Sunday. Family, friends, neighbors all gathered to celebrate the life of this woman. She was certainly surprised. Then overwhelmed. Then a little nervous. Then realized that she had no choice but to be the center of everyone’s attention so she went along with it, ha. We showed her all the pictures we’d “borrowed” from her old photo albums and copied to include in collages and centerpieces. She laughed as she pointed out who/what/when/where/what they had for lunch that day with all the photos we’d acquired.
Seeing my Grandma young, freshly moved to Detroit and living in a boarding house with her exciting girlfriends…posing with her brothers while wearing a headscarf, youthful and playful and proud to be their sister…her and my Grandpa their first handful of years as a married couple…with my Dad and my Aunt Kathy as young kids, big glasses, big hair, and always at least one dog in the photo…
My Grandma was someone and something other than my Grandma in her lifetime. The proof of this moved me in ways I can’t adequately describe. It’s beautiful.
I was equally fascinated as I was saddened. Sad, that my Grandma has lived alone for the past 25 years on that very same property as these old photos were taken. Or that she doesn’t see and laugh with her girlfriends like she used to. Or that she only has one remaining brother now, her youngest brother, my Great Uncle Johnny down in Tennessee. Or that they took away her license this past spring, so loneliness feels more isolating…Because as much as these photos document what a big life she’s had, it also serves a reminder that “the good ol’ days” are a thing of the past.
I knew at a very young age that I was called to be my Granny’s best friend after my Grandpa tragically passed. I’d volunteer myself every Sunday to attend church with her, sit beside her in the back pew and hold her hand, spend the day with her, invite her to every single dance recital/choir concert/cheerleading event/musical, etc. (And she was at every single one of them, with a bouquet of flowers.) When I moved away to Nashville, I made a point to call her twice a week and never go more than 2 months without seeing her. I volunteer to fly her or drive her to Nashville and transport her 90 minutes to Hohenwald to see her family. I don’t list these things for a pat on the back, I really don’t. I summarize my closeness to my Grandma because it was something that was so natural, so easy, and so understood. And honestly, it might be one of the ONLY concrete things I’ve ever understood in my life thus far.
She was and still is my constant…my unconditional. I went through some tough tough shit as a kid. I then willingly allowed myself to go through some shit as an adult. And with every fracture to my heart, there was my G…even if she didn’t have all the facts, she didn’t need them because she always came through, no questions asked. She picked up the phone. And unbeknownst to her, she picked up my pieces.
A few weeks ago, I started trying to pray through my fears. Every time I’d get choked up, I’d ask God, “Please allow gratitude to overpower grief.” And it would help calm me down. For this last week, I’ve continued to pray the same thing but alas… tears. Every day. And what am I grieving? She’s still here. Yes, she’s slower, she’s sorer, she’s sadder…but she’s still funny, feisty, grumpy, and loves tappin her toes and snappin her fingers to some Josh Turner all day, errryday. I looked up the term “anticipatory grief” and I hate it’s definition. Maybe I hate it because it sounds like bullshit. Or maybe the thought of waking up to a world where she’s not here really is something to fear with every fiber of my being.
They say to cherish your loved ones. To let them know how you feel and how much they mean to you. To never take a day for granted.
So, what do you do when you’ve lived for someone making sure there was nothing left unsaid…or undone…or unloved…?
I don’t know the answer. Maybe that’s why it hurts.
So I guess I’ll just continue with what I DO know… Saying. Doing. Loving.
I have literally thought to myself and/or said out loud to others, “I really feel like blogging” and yet… nothing. For quite awhile now.
That is always a huge indicator for me. I write when I have something that needs to be said. When the desire to write my heart, read it back, and allow myself to process is more overwhelming than anything going on externally. And sometimes, there’s just too much that needs to be said. So, instead of flushing them out and tackling these topics one by one, I stay silent. The chaos stays internal. The blog stays unwritten.
I’m currently 3 songs written, 2 hours of Golden Girls watched, and a bottle of wine consumed today so… here we go.
I left Detroit on April 22nd. That means, it’s been a whole 30 days since I’ve seen my dogs, my family, my porch swing, and my bed. It has been 20 days since I have seen my boyfriend. This probably seems extreme to a lot of you. To some of you musician/gypsy spirit types, this seems relatively normal. I rest somewhere between the two.
I make sacrifices all the way around, some days seeming more worthwhile than others. The documentary that initially prompted my split location finally wrapped filming 5 weeks ago, so now the “I have to be in Michigan for this” is up. Clearly, life is much different than it was 18 months ago when I made the decision to give up my ever-dramatic, forever busy, at times volatile, full-time living (and distracting myself from) “the dream” in Nashville.
I now live in an “old lady bungalow” in the suburbs with the greatest man I’ve ever known and all of our doggie children. I have a baby niece and nephew that I’m completely obsessed with. I have a Granny that turns 90 years old in August and lives 5 miles away from the rest of my family. I have an Aunt that probably doesn’t “need” me, but regardless, I feel called to be there for since the loss of my Godfather. I have a few friends (new and old) that truly “get me” and I’m grateful. The desire to create music and share it with Detroit remains strong. I’m “one of them” and I yearn to contribute in a way I haven’t just yet.
However, Nashville brought me up. It’s brought out the very best and the very worst in me. I’m now at a place where I can recognize where I was and who I’ll never be again, no matter how alluring it may seem at times. I am not that girl anymore, praise God. And I’m SO thankful that I can have that realization NOW and not on my 2nd stint in rehab or with a couple kids under my belt. Nashville, for all it’s hardships, is also where so much of my light is…it’s where I’m the most creative, the most productive, the most inspired. Re-working my boundaries and my social circle has been a lot, but I’ve already seen the benefits. I’m still working on eliminating the fog of self-defeating and self-sabotaging thoughts that held me down for so long, but I know the vision is getting clearer everyday. I’m not the same Rachel I was 18 months ago and the Rachel in Nashville today genuinely reflects that.
And yet, all this time and traveling that has taken place since I left my little domestic haven on Baker Avenue in Michigan weeks ago… somehow, my lines have been blurred, scribbled, and stomped on repeatedly. Two trips to Florida and 2 weeks in Nashville later, my sense of “peace” has been relatively non-existent for a month now. There’s definitely a few people I could blame for this, but what’s the point? It’s only partially their fault. Because at the end of the day, I could’ve handled their poor behavior and these toxic situations differently. And I’m disappointed that I didn’t. In a couple of these scenarios, I thought keeping neutral and “cool” would be for the best, for myself and the others traveling with me. It wasn’t. So I ended up feeling like a doormat and allowing a few people that I love to feel the same. Another scenario weighing heavy on my heart tonight is where I completely unloaded EVERYTHING, without ever coming up for air. And regardless if those things were on my heart, I’m disappointed that I allowed those buttons to be pushed so severely.
It’s all left me feeling exhausted.
So yesterday morning, slightly hungover (and definitely sleep-deprived from what is now considered a rare, “girls night” out downtown), I picked up my (nearly) 90 year old Granny from Nashville International Airport at 8:30AM. I immediately took her to the Cracker Barrel where I tried to nurse us both back to life with biscuits and a pot of coffee. I then proceeded to drive 90 minutes to her hometown of Hohenwald, TN, where I’d be dropping her off for a few days with her youngest (and last-surviving) brother, my Great Uncle Johnny and his wife, Aunt Lillie Mae. As tired as I was, I enjoyed the scenic drive with my ‘side-kick’. I hung on every story that my Granny’s hoarse voice tried to tell me of anything and everything.
When we arrived, I stayed most of the day with zero distraction. You see, Hohenwald is a “No Service” zone for Sprint. Not “Extended”, not 1 bar if you stand at the end of the drive…no, it’s “No Service” for at least 20 minutes in every direction. It stormed pretty hard for a majority of the afternoon, so that aided in my long visit. A few times, I just sat out on the porch and listened to this beautifully vast country-side get pummeled by rain. When it cleared up hours later (and I’d eaten about 10 pounds worth of good ol’ country cooking), I hit the road alone back to Nashville.
I was thankful for the solo drive. I typically use that time to explore, get a little lost, make a dead-stop in the middle of the street just to take a photo, admire all the farms/random country stores/abandoned houses/gas stations, and know that GPS isn’t going to work 95% of the time. And this time was no different. I definitely got lost without my navigation working.
It’s funny how that happens…
We rarely allow ourselves to get lost.
We rarely give ourselves permission or allow time for exploration.
I’m forever grateful for my drives to and from Hohenwald, even if it’s just for that.
Honestly, it’s a spiritual experience. I soak it all in. The scenery is always mystifying to me. My heart is literally pulled in. It was probably on my 3rd stop in the middle of the road to snap a photo that I realized that THIS WAS EXACTLY WHAT I NEEDED. The peace I SO craved with these Florida beaches, a “vacation” from the dogs and my family life was so completely and utterly unfulfilling for a reason.
Nothingness. No phone service. No social media. No making plans. No time-crunch. No traveling with others. No worrying what others would be thinking or doing or texting. No passive-aggressive bullshit. Just shutting the fuck up and taking it in.And it happened. The peace was unreal. And then, in the midst of trying to figure out which direction I was effin going down on some back country road, there was this….
And I thanked God at least a dozen times.
And then I drove directly to Kingston Springs, completely bypassing Nashville and the “night out” I had originally planned to have. I went to bed at 10PM and for the first time in forever, I SLEPT IN…until 11AM at that, my first night of more than 5 hours of sleep in weeks.
Turns out, you can really work some shit out in the middle of nowhere.
I don’t know, maybe getting lost is the best way to find your way.
Be sure to “follow” this blog, since I promise to remove my head from my ass and write more often ❤
If we’re being completely honest here, I have been dreading this post for approximately 11 days now. So I’m just going to type and see where it takes me…But first, let’s pick up where I left off with my last post real quick.
My boyfriend’s alarm goes off at 7AM. After he leaves for work, I take my time to quietly bond with our new space, much like I did this morning. You see, we moved into a new house at the end of February and I haven’t had much time here alone. The first night we officially slept in our new digs, we crashed on the couch because we hadn’t put the bed together yet. When I woke up 6 hours later, I drove 600 miles south to Nashville, where I stayed for over 2 weeks recording, writing, and taking meetings. My timing was impeccable, clearly. It’s where I wrote my last blog entry, “Burden or light”. I was so touched and inspired by all your love for that last post that I wanted nothing more than to keep the momentum going.
I came back to Detroit a couple weeks ago with a new energy surging through me. I was ready to kick that ass & take those names. And on top of that, while I was out of town, my boyfriend worked his tail off unpacking, arranging and rearranging, constructing/deconstructing/constructing again little surprises for me in the new house. So when I pulled into our driveway after weeks away, I was overflowing with gratitude in every which way. And the multiple recording sessions in Detroit I had set up for my first week back was just the cherry on top.
It was on my 4th session of the week, that Friday afternoon, that everything went to shit…
On Friday, March 24th, as I was standing inside the vocal booth in a recording studio, my phone started vibrating in my back pocket. It was my mom. I let it go to voicemail. Immediately, both of my sisters called, which I too let go to voicemail, with a rush of anxiety starting to pulse through me. More vibrations. While the engineer and producer were listening through one of my vocal passes, I looked at my phone…”Call Mom immediately. It’s Uncle Mike.” I didn’t call immediately because I feared the absolute worst. I was only one verse away from having this song completed and if I told them I needed a break to call my family, I’d lose it. And once it’s lost, I know I won’t be able to recompose myself. So with a shaky voice, that was nearly impossible to control due to the huge lump in my throat, I finished the song. Barely.
I called my family once I got to my car. My Godfather, Uncle Mike, was in the hospital with an infection that had spread too wildly to proceed treating him. Between the cancer and this infection, his body was shutting down and he didn’t have more than a few days. Straight from the studio, I drove, I sobbed, and I pleaded with God for 57 minutes until I reached my mother’s front door.
She cried when she saw me. Then she’d pull it together, then cry some more. I tried to speak hope into her, “He’s cleared ‘close call’ hurdles before. I’m not going to stop believing.” She needed to hear that. I needed to hear that.
Once my brother got home from work, we all packed inside my sister’s SUV and rode up to the hospital together. It was oddly comforting, all of us being sandwiched in the backseat like we used to ride as kids. We got off the elevator onto the 7th floor, only to see a huge clock straight ahead who’s hands had just turned to 7 o’clock on the dot. I’ll always remember that.
My parents went into the his hospital room first, while us kids waited in the lounge. I couldn’t stop crying. The brave face I had put on for my mom was clearly cracking. My siblings walked me down the halls as I tried to pull myself together. “You can’t cry like this in front of him and Aunt Susie…you can’t cry like this in front of Mom.” When it was our turn to enter Uncle Mike’s room, strangely enough, I was completely calm. He was asleep, so I talked (and attempted to make jokes) to Aunt Susie. He woke up right before we left. I walked up to him, squeezed his hand, kissed his forehead, and told my Uncle Mike I loved him and that I would see him in the morning.
When we got home, depleted, I trudged upstairs to change into pajamas. Five minutes later, the phone rang. I immediately ran to the stairs and before I could even get halfway down, I heard my mom cry out. He died less than an hour after we left the hospital.
My brother, my father, and I were on our knees in front of my mom on the couch. We all cried together. I slept sitting up on that same couch, with my mother’s head in my lap, playing with her hair until she eventually fell asleep. I cried as quietly as I could the rest of the night.
The last 11 days have been emotionally excruciating. Writing this right now, my hands are trembling. I cannot remember being this shaken, literally and figuratively, by a death since I was a child. And I know why…
Because in my mind, him and I never aged.
He was always “The Godfather”, larger and louder than life, someone you never wanted to cross or disrespect. He would ALWAYS be quicker than you at “Up high, down low, too slow” high-fives and then poke you in the side when you were a sore loser. With his long red hair, beard & mustache, he resembled a lion. Always wearing a hat with a feather sticking out of it, tall, boisterous with a round belly, with his aviator glasses, our ultimate “outlaw”.
Uncle Mike & Aunt Susie used to take my siblings and I to their cottage up north for a week or so in the summer. That’s where he had us do chores everyday AND made us entertain ourselves without television. (Gasp.) It’s where he’d chuckle as I cried dramatically because I didn’t want to put the worm through the hook the first time he took us fishing. (Funny enough, after that “scarring” experience, he bought our family a fish tank with multiple fish to collect, I proceeded to name every single one (and their replacements when they’d die) after Little Mermaid characters.) It’s where he woke us up at sunrise by bursting into the bedroom singing, “Oh what a beautiful morrrrning!” It was all his way of “toughening us up” because he thought our mother spoiled us, which was probably true, ha. And even still, from the time I was a kid to recently, I could never say anything bad/complain about my parents…”Hey now, that’s your mother.” (But the way he’d say it, ‘mother’ always sounded like ‘mudder’.)
My Uncle Mike was the middle child of 5, two older brothers and two younger sisters, with my mom being the youngest. Not sure of their dynamic growing up, but I can attest to the fact that Uncle Mike looked out for my mother my entire life. With her being the youngest, that meant that us Williams kids were at least a decade younger in the long line of cousins. My Aunt’s and Uncles’ kids were all roughly the same age and kind of grew up together, with many more memories (and photos) of being together with my grandparents than my siblings & I have. My Nana passed away when I was 8 years old of a blood clot during a simple hip replacement surgery. My Grandpa passed when I was a freshman in high school, Alzheimer’s and hospice being the last memories I have of him. After my grandparents passed, the family sort of dispersed. There wasn’t a reason for us all to get together for birthdays or holidays now. But Uncle Mike… he was always a phone call or 25 minute drive away.
I could hear him on my parent’s answering machine on a weekly basis, “Hey, it’s your brother.” My mom going over there after work for help with school stuff. Him singing “Sto Lat” on my birthday, signing every card ‘The Godfather’. I can see him in his chair, asking me if I’ve heard of a certain Blues artist and him saying, “I tell you what, you should sing the Blues.” (Little did we know back then…I would get there…eventually.)
After a few years down in Nashville, I didn’t see him as often. My 5 days in Michigan for the holidays always seemed consumed by my parents, siblings, and grandma. I’d talk to him on the phone and apologize for not squeezing in a visit to see him. He’d tease me and I’d say, “Next time, I swear.”
It wasn’t until I made the decision to split my time 50/50 between Detroit and Nashville in November of 2015 that I really started to make good on my “next times”. He got on Facebook and we’d message back and forth some. My baby sister moved just a few minutes away from Uncle Mike, so even if I wasn’t intentionally planning a visit, I’d swing by after my sister’s. When I started getting serious with my boyfriend in the winter of 2016, we met Uncle Mike and Aunt Susie for Polish food one weekend. I remember him giving shit (playfully, of course) to the waitress and to me, “Oh so you’re the boyfriend, eh? Rachel hides away her boyfriends from dear ol’ Uncle Mike! You gonna let this one stick around, Rach?” Jokes aside, Uncle Mike liked Jon and I know he was relieved that I had someone good to help take care of me. Also, Jon could talk the Detroit Lions with him…and Lawd, did Uncle Mike loooove the Lions… When my boyfriend and I went up to the Upper Peninsula of Michigan last fall to visit his family’s cottage, I showed Uncle Mike all the photos and videos I’d taken and all the stories of our random discoveries. He was proud and gave me suggestions of where to go and what to do next time we go up. I told him, “It only took me 20 years to appreciate the stillness of having a cottage in the middle of nowhere, Uncle Mike. Sorry I was too much of a shit when I was younger to see it then.”
His brother, my Uncle Corky, passed away a few months after that lunch, in July of 2016. I shed tears for my mother more than anything. I couldn’t imagine losing a sibling. Let alone, two of them. (My Uncle Joe, the oldest brother, died of leukemia when I was 10.)
After the funeral, there was a luncheon, and it was there that my 6 year old nephew was horsing around with Uncle Mike (typical) and hit him in the stomach. A few days later, when Uncle Mike still felt pain in his stomach, he went to the doctor to get it checked out. He was diagnosed with leukemia shortly after.
The hit to the family was brutal.
I lost my shit for a week straight. After Uncle Corky’s funeral, after this terrible diagnosis for Uncle Mike, I went to Nashville for work. I can vividly remember on my drive back, I was coming across a bridge along the skyline of Detroit at 6am. The sky just exploded with color and I was overcome with peace. Real peace. There was something in that sunrise that told me Heaven wasn’t ready to take Uncle Mike yet. Months later, I told Uncle Mike about that “feeling” in a card I mailed him after his 2nd round of chemo didn’t work. I clung to that peace. I clung to that peace everyday for 8 months, no matter how bad things got. And I clung to that peace 11 days ago.
But Heaven changed It’s mind.
When we left the hospital that night, I silently prayed that if he’s supposed to stay with us then God needed to show His healing quickly, and if not, then take him now. I didn’t want to see Uncle Mike in pain, not even for one more day with him. I am so completely grateful, with all of my heart, that I got to spend the last year and a half reconnecting with my Godfather while he was here. As much as I like to think, “I chose to come back”, I know without a doubt, God put me back here…if nothing else, than for this reason alone.
The visitation, the funeral, the luncheon…it was all surreal. And the entire family felt it. Weren’t we just here 8 months ago? It felt like a trick but sadly, it was reality. He didn’t look like my lion laying in that coffin. But I guess that’s because it wasn’t really him, he wasn’t in that body anymore.
As I sit here at this kitchen table, on my 3rd cup of coffee, looking out the window on a new street this very grey and rainy Tuesday, I don’t know what’s next.
I went to see my therapist yesterday for the first time since his death. I didn’t make it more than 5 minutes before I started crying again.
I told her how my protective instinct is in overdrive for my mother and my Aunt Susie both. I told her about how it would’ve been my Uncle’s 69th birthday on April 1st and how I drove 45minutes, unannounced, to see Aunt Susie and drop off a piece of cake with a Detroit Lions emblem in the middle, just to turn around and drive back home. How I start crying out of nowhere doing practically anything…kickboxing, reading, sitting in a restaurant with Jon, walking the dogs, trying to sleep… I told her how just a couple weeks ago, I felt so rejuvenated, on a mission, and now, it takes everything in me to get out of bed in the morning. I’m exhausted all day long. What do I do? And her response…?
Be sad if I’m sad.
Let the tears out if I feel them coming.
Pat myself on the back for anything I do accomplish in the day, big or small.
Don’t beat myself up.
Understand that there is no “right way” to grieve.
Trust whatever this process shows me.
So that’s what I’ll try to do. All the “I have to’s” and “I should’ve’s” need to be lifted for the time being. And even though it’s hurting, just stay present enough to keep my heart open to everything this loss is revealing to me. Lean into it, lean in like a lion.