The Holidays After Loss

This is for those who have lost loved ones and for those who want to help support someone who has lost a loved one. I wish I could have told those around me before what I needed during this time of year but I was too deep into my grief to do much of anything. I hope this helps someone just a little.

I want you to know, truly know, that whatever you’re feeling right now is okay. If you’re excited about the holidays, that’s okay! If you’re angry and full of rage, that’s okay. If you are numb and have no idea what you’re feeling, that’s okay, too. It’s okay to be and feel whatever it is at this very moment. And it’s okay if those feelings change in an instant. The rollercoaster of life and grief can spin us in motion without us even realizing what’s happening or where we are going. The only true advice I can give for that is to allow yourself to experience those feelings but to let them go as quickly as they come. Holding on too tightly to our emotions is when we become stuck and I’ve been stuck before and it’s excruciating. Let those feelings move through you like a breeze on your cheek, experiencing it without touching it.

This part is for the supporters. Thank you for being there when many times those grieving are left alone because others are unsure what to do. The best course of action is to physically be there just to hold space. Sometimes we don’t know what we want but what we need is to not be detached. Grieving during the holidays can be arduous and lonely. By letting that person know you want to be near may be what gives them the courage to allow themselves to feel hopeful.

Another aspect that many people seem to shy away from, which can be most damaging, is pretending like the ones lost never existed. People don’t want to say their names because they don’t want to upset those grieving but hearing other’s speak their names give their life even more value. Sharing stories of those who are gone breathes life back into their memory and keeps their spirit strong in the hearts who are left behind. Ask them to share their favorite stories with you and ask why it’s their favorite. People live on through our memories because we love them and because we share who they were and who they are to us in those anecdotes. Those are what keep them closest to our hearts.

Life is tough. Feelings are exhausting. But the love we get to share with those near to us is why we are in this wildly, unapologetic world. And even with the constant soreness I feel from losing my two big brothers and Dad, I want to talk about them. I want to make people laugh by telling them all the stupid things they would do during the holidays!

(Bubba, Joshy and Allfaye, we miss you so much. Make sure Momo isn’t getting into too much trouble. I love you more than ever. Lots of XOXO)

My Starting Point Is Here

After I wrote my last post I wanted to do something with my darkness I held in both my body and my mind. I felt so heavy like my hands were weighted down and I couldn’t quite move right. As if I was crawling on my knees and elbows on a shore of broken shells and rocks. Each movement causing tiny little cuts stinging in the saltwater as it washed ashore. But I didn’t want to just sit there. I asked where the starting point was and I realized where mine had to be.

My starting point is on that shore covered in blood and pain surrounded by walls of terror and scars. I either needed to pick out the slivers of shells in my knees and arms or lay there and rot away in the fungus that was growing inside me. So I started pulling little fragments out.

The first thing I did was think about what was frustrating me. The feeling as if I was stuck in my home was causing so much frustration. I work from home, clean my home, cook, bathe, do EVERYTHING within these four walls and it can drive me crazy. So as soon as I clocked out that Thursday, I put on my shoes and went for a 4 mile walk/hike. I live in the hilly city of San Antonio so being out in nature was healing. I saw multiple deer on my walk, felt the warm sun on my face then the back of my neck. I saw birds and insects in beautiful trees with a slight breeze blowing the little hairs around my face. It was freeing and relaxing. It was what I needed. I did it again the next two day.

This past Monday I started meditating again. I hadn’t done it in so long and I forgot how powerful it truly is. I only spend about 10-13 minutes in the morning before I start work and I’ve done it each day this weekend. I’ve been using the Calm app and it’s amazing. Having the guided meditation is helping me stay focused on why I’m taking this time for myself. I can feel such a difference in my mind. Yes, I still feel the heaviness and darkness but it’s not as debilitating.

Of course, this is just the starting point and I’m glad I’m here instead of being pulled out by the current of the hopelessness. I hurt my back just a few days into my walking sessions so I haven’t been able to be back out in nature like I was but hopefully within the next few days I can get back out there (doctor gave me limits but it’s getting better slowly). I’m also going to start reading again. I’ll set aside at least two 15 minute breaks throughout my day to read. I’ll be starting “Against the Stream” by Noah Levine.

Having this plan to add one new thing a week has really helped me. They are all small, achievable actions. I’m not expecting to feel safe and happy right away, all at once. I’m allowing myself to enjoy these little things and as they grow, so does my internal calmness.

I hope you’ve found your starting point.

Where’s the Starting Point?

We can’t be happy all the time. That’s the truth of life for each of us. However, we shouldn’t be unhappy all the time either. What do we do when happiness starts becoming harder to find in our daily lives?

Recently, I’ve been having a harder time feeling happiness or joy. It comes easily to feel happiness for someone else when they share a bright moment or experience they are so eager to shine a light on. I feel true excitement and delight for their happiness in their lives. How special is it that they want to share those moments with me? I would never want to miss any of it.

I don’t think we can ever anticipate when blocks of sadness will wash ashore. And when the blocks continue to build up and get pushed closer and closer by the waves of emotions and daily life, it feels like there’s no way to purge them. It’s almost as if we didn’t see them until they’ve morphed into a wall of wretchedness. Each angle that we face shows us a new contorted feeling of sadness that is now a new encounter; a new wound that we realize needs healed. So with each new wound we observe, comes a flood of fresh tenderness that trickles down into the puddle of sorrow where we stand until that puddle turns into a pond that we are drowning in.

Feeling overwhelmed is an understatement. I’m not sure where to begin. Right now I’m longing for tears that can warm my face and hopefully guide me to a starting point.

The Month of June

The month of June holds layers of love and grief toppled throughout each moment. As each day passes, I have new memories scattered in my brain that I wish were happening. I imagine that they are still here celebrating these times with us all. The “they” I speak of are my dazzling brothers who I painstakingly miss every moment of my life.

Yes, June is Pride month and we have so much to celebrate. At times it hard to imagine Adam is not here to be apart of it. When we lost my brother Adam, everyone lost. The world and the LGBTQIA+ lost a great eccentric, loving and magnificent man.

Being gay in small towns of Pennsylvania and Ohio was no easy feat and notably this was in the late 80s and early 90s. A beautiful queer boy wearing leopard print bikini underwear while doing his little sister’s makeup in a trailer in the middle of nowhere Pennsylvania. How could you not admire and look up to him? He was amazing.

Adam ended up doing some of the most fierce drag I’ve ever seen! Nikki Monte was a fabulous dancer, entertainer and loved by so many, especially in Buffalo, NY. He won many a crowns and had a standing act at a bar/club called Buddies (I believe that’s the one but I cannot remember). He was never afraid to be who he was and I admire that oh so much. He had a presents about him that made you feel light and airy. I miss how he made me feel. I miss our talks and reminiscing about the stupid things we did. Or how I’m still terrified of people curling my hair because of how many times he burnt me!

June is also the home of my brother Josh’s birthday. It’s memories like these that feel like a kick to the chest, just knocks the wind out of you. You know it’s coming, you see it barreling straight for you but there’s no jumping out of it’s way. This year I took the hit and decided to completely feel it. I went through every photo I own. I laughed, cried and felt sorry for myself, my nieces, my parents, and all the people who miss them dearly.

June holds so much in it. It’s a time to embrace all the shitty things that come with growth. To know that the people of the world can be cruel but that they can also overcome. June is about remembering where we’ve come from and how much farther we still have to go. It’s about never giving up on ourselves and standing for those who can’t. June for me represents strength, pain, light, anger, grief, sibling empowerment, and growth.

So until next June, I will continue to work to advocate for those who need me. For those little boys in leopard print undies just wanting to do makeup and for those who struggle with self love. You are worthy of your own love first and the respect of the world.

Living For Those I’ve Lost

Potential. There’s this phrase, “…living up to your potential.” Yet, we all have that potential to do and be great. That’s a weight we as humans carry around like an invisible backpack strapped tight to our shoulder blades. How are we using this time we’re given to reach that potential that people put upon us? Better yet, the potential we all know we have but at times just don’t feel like doing anything with.

I recently wrote about questioning my worthiness and grief playing apart of that. I’ve been examining my grief with a magnifying glass. Parts of it are still so foreign that I can’t make them out while others continue to sting like a fresh sunburn still out in the sun. Grief is a piece of my soul that vibrates with each breath that raises my chest.

I’ve been picking apart this notion of my own potential. I feel like I’ve grabbed those invisible backpacks of my brothers and thrown them on my back, too. I want to do so much but the thought of all this potential combined is just paralyzing. Where do I start? What do I need to do for them so that they have a spark of fulfillment within my doing? Living for those I’ve lost is interlaced with self doubt and an urgency for their legacy.

February is a grueling and exhausting month. I lost my dad (Bubba) on the 18th and my brother (Adam) on the 25th. I remember those days like a movie I’ve watched over and over again. It doesn’t feel as if I’ve lived them as much as experienced them on a level unknown to the mind and body. How can I live up to their potential if I’m unable to navigate my own movements.

Who Me, Anxious?

I didn’t realize that I was having a panic attack until I was preparing to fly back home to Ohio when we lost my brother Josh. I was on the phone with my doctor asking about something completely different and the concern in his voice made me feel terrible! But of course, him being the amazing human that he is, he guided me into a small space of comfort and I began to breathe in a more relaxing state but not quite back to normal. That’s when he dropped the bomb of reality on me. “You’re having a panic attack.”

Boom! What? How could that be? Shouldn’t I know if I have a panic attack? Wouldn’t I be able to read my own body and know when it’s going haywire? Apparently not.

I didn’t have time to reevaluate my reality or perception of my emotions and reactions. My doctor said he was going to prescribe me something to help me on my disturbing journey home and we could talk about it when I got back to Austin. However, when I picked it up at the pharmacy the pharmacist told me to be careful because it would turn me “into a zombie” so I didn’t take it at all. Looking back I wish I would have taken it. It wasn’t until I got back and spoke with my doctor that I decided to use it when I needed it.

Fast forward to the current day and the state of affairs that are happening globally. My anxiousness can overflow my bloodstream as I read article after article and my heartbeats faster and faster until I feel it vibrating my brain. My mind goes straight to two main fears and unfortunately, with an anxiety filled mind or not, I fully believe them to be accurate beliefs and fears.

My mind goes to the fear of my Mom being exposed to the virus that’s taken over our Mother Earth. Not only is she “high risk” for catching it due to her suppressed immune system, she’s SUPER “high risk” for complications of the virus. So I try to calculate how she can be exposed and how likely is it to actually get to her. Many times I believe she’s taking all the precautions she can and there’s a faint chance of her coming into contact with it. All her doctors are canceling her appointments & tests, she doesn’t leave her home too often and her friend is helping where she can. THEN! That’s when I realize! Starr has to go out into the world to help my Mom and she’s going to bring it to her unknowingly! Or my grandparents, one has Alzheimer’s pretty bad now, but the other one is dragging the other out to eat and whatnot. My Mom has stopped going to their house to visit. But that won’t last too long because it’s my Mom’s Mommy who has Alzheimer’s and she wants to be with her as much as she can before she forgets who her first born is. (My heart shattered into a million pieces as I typed that out.)

Next thing that flashes bright in my face like a spotlight heating me up and I’m sweating while panting out of breath; A thought that haunts me daily but it’s now under a microscope and I see it so clearly. The idea of me contacting the virus and due to my underlying health issues, I succumb to it and leave my parents childless. What an appalling thought to even stomp around in my body but it does. I can feel it in my spine, in my stomach, on the back of my neck.

Anxiety is something, at times, I’m not able to control and that’s extremely hard to admit. My mind races with fears and realities that I’m not able to contain and I can feel angry or I can feel overwhelming heartsick. The anger is something new to me so that’s even more combating. I try to recognize it when it starts oozing into my being, yes my being because it fills my entire body not just my mind. I can’t just snap out of it so I take walks, I take a shower and say everything I’m thankful for starting with the water. I cuddle with my puppy dog and sing or talk to her. I spend time with people who bring me happiness. Even then, it is still there so I spend sometime alone with my thoughts and let them be and try to talk through them.

Anyone else anxious like me?

Beginning Self Forgiveness

I’ve made numerous mistakes in my life. I’ve also made right choices. It’s figuring out how to find that forgiveness for myself, the kind where I’m always open to understanding the shortcomings or imperfections of others and seeing why or how they feel and do those hurtful things. But I seem to hold myself at a different standard. Like I’m not allowed to have a misstep and if I do, then I don’t deserve the same love and understand that I share with those around me. How dare I not see clearly the first time and wade through all the bullshit and come out unscathed.

Now is the time I have to change for myself. To look into my swollen red eyes that burn with the tears that have fallen down my rosy cheeks. To tell myself that loving someone and trusting them isn’t something to be ashamed of when it ends up being a mistake. How many times has forgiveness fallen upon those who may not have earned it, at least not at the moment I gave it to them.

So how do I go about this forgiveness? Do I replay all the failures and misjudgments to see where I went wrong? Then will I understand why I did what I did? Or should I start with a clean slate, tell myself that from this moment on I will take care of myself. That I will fill my cup until it’s overflowing with so much self-love and respect that I will never allow another person to mistreat me again. That I will set boundaries with those I care about so that I can continue to learn about myself and have myself dignity.

But I know that I’ll make more mistakes in my life. I’m only human, right? So I can do all those things I just listed but I have to make sure I learn from what I’ve already lived through. I have to go back to how do I forgive myself, how do I trust myself? It’s important to rewind back in time and feel those emotions that I felt when I realized I had made a mistake. I’m still holding onto those mistakes today and not just the present ones that flood my heart and mind of all these misdoings I’ve allowed to happen to me or just accepted when I should not have. It’s reliving the past so that I can heal today because I deserve my own forgiveness. I deserve to truly forgive myself so I can learn to trust myself.

I’m going to take this journey of self discovery and forgiveness. I know it’s going to be a rough and painful descend as I release myself into the murkiness of past trauma but it’s something that has to be done. I’m not sure how long this expedition will last but I know it’ll take some time. I have to unravel the thread and find my way. Each knot untied should lessen the guilt and sting I have held onto for far too long. I have to focus on…me.

 

 

What and Where Is Your Happiness?

What is your happiness? Do you even know what or where it is? Are you afraid of your happiness?

I’ve been working on finding my happiness or should I say happinesses. Sometimes I forget that I have happiness in many different aspects, in different moments, feelings, activities, shapes. Sometimes my happinesses last for seconds, minutes, hours, and days. But it always passes which is apart of happiness. It can’t last forever.

Yes, that’s the phrase we all hate to hear, “It can’t last forever.” because we never want the happiness to leave. We want to be happy forever and never feel sad or hurt. Our goal is to always be happy but that’s not life. Happiness is fleeting but only in that specific moment. It finds its way back to us even if it takes longer than we’d like.

For me happiness is something I feel a lot of guilt having and truly feeling. This is a topic I’ve spoken about many times. The guilt that I am privileged to experience sincere happiness when my brothers, Josh and Adam, and my Bubba (my step-dad) no longer get to have is heartbreaking. The guilt, in an instant, can be paralyzing. My happiness disappears and I feel angry or sadness about losing them. And people say, “But they would want you to be happy.” or “They wouldn’t want you to feel this way.” That doesn’t change the emotions I bear during these times. It makes no difference what they would want, it’s how I feel.

So what is MY happiness? How do I find it and accept it? I have started telling myself that I’m worthy of happiness. That no matter what I have or haven’t done in my life, no matter what I have or haven’t said in my past, I am worthy of feeling happiness. And since happiness leaves us so quickly, I can’t allow a split second of it to pass without fully participating in that moment.

So some of my happinesses come from little things and big events. My happiness is living back in Texas where I am able to be physically active each day. I can walk my pups in the morning and the evenings no matter the time of year. My happiness is being with my nontraditional family of my significant other and our pups. My happiness is laying on the couch with my dogs and man watching tv. It’s tasting that delicious dessert I’ve been craving for days (sometimes weeks!) and just allowing the pleasure of tasting it to take over my mind and body. My happiness is getting a text of the campsite where my Dad is staying or a SnapChat filtered picture from my Mom. My happiness is having a career that I enjoy. My happiness is planning for my future and things I want to accomplish. My happiness is laying in the sun reading a book. My happiness is talking with my best friends. My happiness is exploring new cities.

But I also have happiness in other aspects. My happiness comes from learning to love myself. Looking at myself in the mirror and actually LOOKING at myself. The happiness of being able to enjoy being myself fully and completely. The happiness of setting goals for myself and knowing I can accomplish them all. My happiness is knowing that I have talents and I cannot waste them any longer.

So, I’ve found happiness again. And yes, it’s always fleeting just like yours. But we have to know that we are worthy of our own happiness. A happiness that no one else can give us but ourselves. A happiness that no one else can take away from us. Remember, we can never be happy always. We have to have moments of growth in pain and anguish. And happiness may hide away from time to time. But keep working on finding that happiness again because you are worthy of it. Even if it doesn’t feel like it right now, you are. If I’m worthy of it, so are you.

 

“What Do You Want?”

Do you know what you want? You do ever ask yourself, truly ask yourself with a sincere tone as you would a dear friend, “What do you want? What do you need?”

We should all be talking to ourselves in a way we would our dearest friend who needs us. We should be our own best friend looking out for ourselves but I, myself, have an extremely difficult time doing that. I know I’m not unique in that which is even more heartbreaking.

I’m starting the plunge deep down inside my broken pieces, holding them up to the light and digging through the pain of the past to see where I want to go. I’m tired of the fear of the pain due to the past to continue to dictate the moves I make today. I can’t change what has happened in my life but I have to face those moments of earth shattering anguish to become a better person. Or at least see how I can grow from the deconstruction of what could have been.

Grief is a mistress in the dark lingering just behind that closed door. She jumps out without warning and pours her pain into your veins and shakes your thoughts to the ground. She fights to control your feelings as you melt into a puddle of misery. Your wounds are open and profound. Ask yourself, “What do I want?”

Do you want to stay in that puddle of torture? Do you want to continue to fear those thoughts that squeeze the life from you limbs?

I want to continue to love my brothers and my dad. I want to continue to remember how I felt with them. How a text or call could shine up my face. How their lives have fully intertwined into my soul and helped me become the person I am today, both the happy and the sad. I want to see the beauty in the world and not just the darkness that softly flows beside me.

I want to look in my own eyes staring back at me and see the beauty that someone else sees. I want to believe I can feel heartfelt joy and not feel ashamed of it. I want my naked truth to be seen by the world and not pitied for the pain I endure. I want to feel and give fearless love to myself and others. I want to believe in a journey of understanding and progress.

Now that I know what I want, what do I do now?

 

Adam, My Brother

“My brother died so leave me alone!” The first time I said those words I was in fourth grade. A group of us were jumping on Jamis’ trampoline and a couple of other boys came up to me and started making fun of me because my brother was gay.

“Your brother is a fucking fag! He sucks dick and puts stuff up his butt!” they yelled at me from the side walk.

I didn’t know what to do. I was embarrassed for both of us. I already knew that he liked boys because, as his baby sis, I just knew him. Before he ran away to Florida as soon as he turned 18 we were together ALL the time. He was my best friend. I just knew who he was fully and completely. But I didn’t know exactly what being gay entailed so the thought of anyone putting “stuff” up their butt seemed horrifying.

I jumped off the trampoline and ran the half block back to my house. We lived in a duplex up the street above a store. I ran up the stairs then I slowly opened the top door and calmly walked in the house. I stood in the hallway and could hear my mother’s voice in the living room trying to explain to someone that everything was fine. “No, seriously, I just clicked over from talking to him. He was just on the other line. Who said he was dead?”

Those boys lived just a block the other direction next to a cousin of mine and ran to tell her about Adam. She picked up the phone immediately and called my mother crying and confused. Why hadn’t anyone told her.

“I have to go. Let me call you back.” my mother told her.

“Abigail Faye, what the hell is going on?” my mother called to me from the living room. As I turned the corner she looked at me and said “Why would you say that Adam died? That is so messed up! What is wrong with you?”

“The West boys were making fun of me because Allfaye’s gay.” I said through tears rolling down my cheeks. “I didn’t know how else to make them leave me alone.” and I ran to my room.

A few minutes later our cousin was there and I was called into the living room. “Little lady, why would you say that Adam died? That’s a terrible thing to say.”

“Tavon and Taft were making fun of me because Allfaye’s gay.” I didn’t have the words to say that I was tired of them always teasing me and hurting my feelings. I didn’t know how to express the anger they filled me with. How I wanted to jump off that trampoline and punch them in the face and kick them while they were on the ground. The rage I felt when I heard their voices overwhelmed my senses.

She looked me straight in the eyes and said something that has stuck with me my entire life. “You should be proud of who your brother is. Don’t ever let someone else make you feel bad about who he is.” and she hugged me. She may have even said more but that’s what I remember the most. “Be proud.”

From that day on I told everyone I knew that my brother was gay if they asked and even if they didn’t. I told them about my gay brother and all the amazing things he did (even though most of them didn’t matter if he was gay or straight). If I was talking to someone who didn’t know my family dynamics then I’d say “my straight brother” or “my gay brother”.

The amount of pride I’ve always held for being the little sister of my two big brothers is powerful. The strength I’ve received from that power has helped me through a lot of turmoil. I’m so thankful Josh and Adam were my big brothers. I love them so.

 

 

***Names of people outside of my siblings have been changed to protect their identity