Thursday, January 1, 2015

Happy in 2015

Last night I did a labyrinth walk at my church to bring in the New Year.  It is an opportunity for a new spiritual experience through rediscovery of the self.  For over 4000 years various cultures and traditions have used the spiral, labyrinth design as a symbol of the search for meaning and guidance.  There are no decisions to be made as one walks the labyrinth - by stepping into the entrance and putting one foot in front of the other, the participant comes to the center and after a time, the participant returns out to cover the same path out as in.  

There is no "right" or "wrong" way to walk a labyrinth.  Aid walkers suggest "quieting the mind and opening the heart".  Because you are walking, the mind seems naturally to be quieted.  Many describe the experience as a "body walk" wherein they enter the labyrinth, pausing to reflect on the spiritual journey they are embarking on.  As I walked around the design I certainly felt aware of letting go of the previous year's weight, my burdens, the heaviness that has been holding me back.  Arriving at the center rosette - a place of prayer and meditation - participants let in God's guidance and the divine into their lives.  Then when ready, the labyrinth leads them to walk back into their lives, transformed.

These days, none of where I find myself is as I pictured or planned.  I'm hazarding a guess the same is true of you in some way, shape or form.  My healing and the work of grieving Phil, the trauma of his illnesses, the loss of my marriage, the loss of my children's father,  my relocation to CA and the loss of almost the entire life I knew and the person I was have been monumental and is not complete.  But in walking out of the labyrinth I am eager and hopeful for what lies ahead, having shed the past and given it to God.  So, like walking the labyrinth and putting one foot in front of another, on my spiritual path and in life I will keep putting one foot in front of the other.  

You do the same, friends.

Happy New Year 2015!

Saturday, December 6, 2014


For a while now I've had ideas, stories and observations/reflections go through my mind that I've considered writing down.  I've missed sharing my thoughts here with Team Conrad and yet, I've become so protective of my privacy and that of my children.  Our grief has been a shared experience in so many ways and I haven't felt comfortable chronicling it publicly.  And so, I stopped writing.

Funny thing though, I bought myself a new laptop recently and it's pushed me toward writing again.  It feels positive, exciting and if I'm honest with myself, overwhelming.  I have high standards and will compare whatever comes next with what came before.  Conrad Family Chronicles was something special.  It was an event, a lifeline, and a memoir.  

But this I know too ~ if I relax and release all my high expectations and anxious concerns for what this next endeavor will look like it will be fine, authentic and mine.  It probably won't stay Conrad Family Chronicles but that will reveal itself in time, as if that were important.  What counts is that feeling I had when I was writing every day, connecting with myself, connecting with others, and talking about the people and things that matter to me.  

So You Want To Be A Writer

if it doesn't come bursting out of you
in spite of everything,
don't do it.
unless it comes unasked out of your
heart and your mind and your mouth
and your gut,
don't do it.
if you have to sit for hours
staring at your computer screen
or hunched over your
searching for words,
don't do it.
if you're doing it for money or
don't do it.
if you're doing it because you want
women in your bed,
don't do it.
if you have to sit there and
rewrite it again and again,
don't do it.
if it's hard work just thinking about doing it,
don't do it.
if you're trying to write like somebody
forget about it.
if you have to wait for it to roar out of
then wait patiently.
if it never does roar out of you,
do something else.

if you first have to read it to your wife
or your girlfriend or your boyfriend
or your parents or to anybody at all,
you're not ready.

don't be like so many writers,
don't be like so many thousands of
people who call themselves writers,
don't be dull and boring and
pretentious, don't be consumed with self-
the libraries of the world have
yawned themselves to
over your kind.
don't add to that.
don't do it.
unless it comes out of
your soul like a rocket,
unless being still would
drive you to madness or
suicide or murder,
don't do it.
unless the sun inside you is
burning your gut,
don't do it.

when it is truly time,
and if you have been chosen,
it will do it by
itself and it will keep on doing it
until you die or it dies in you.

there is no other way.

and there never was.

~ Charles Bukowski

Friday, February 8, 2013

What It Can Feel Like

Like an ox without its yoke mate
I walk along the cart path
leaning on habit and
learning new ways to move.

Ever-mindful of my precious cargo,
I'm keenly aware of what's missing.

The smell of his sweat.
His shoes strewn about the closet floor.
The cupboard doors he annoyingly left open.
The sound of his car coming up the drive.
Numbers and lists on endless scraps of paper.

His pet names for each of us.
His voice.
His laughter.
His sharp intellect.
His fitness.
His remarkable stories.
His steady presence.
His humility.
His warrior fight.

His acceptance and encouragement of me.
The words of affirmation
and lovely bouquets.

There is no one to back me up with the kids.
There is no shoulder to cry on late at night.
There is no eye to catch from across the room.

He was a son
a brother
an uncle
a friend
a husband.


Broken and battered.
Strong as an ox.

Monday, December 17, 2012


I recognized something in a man's eyes today. Weariness and fatigue pressed down, dimming most of the light in his beautiful blue eyes.  It was all there in his face, the bags under his eyes, the dullness of his complexion, the inflammed watery eyes revealing a chronicity of poor and inadequate sleep.  Oh how I've seen that face in the mirror, looked in those same blood shot eyes.  That old school-ground taunt, "takes one to know one" was never more true than today.  This man's wife is dying.  After five years, she is nearing the end.  

This recognition came about because I walked up to introduce myself and make a comment to him after hearing him speak.  I had wanted to encourage him to follow through with writing something he'd spoken about so passionately.  He'd said, almost in passing, that he'd probably never get around to writing it.  It was as I shook his hand and gave my encouragement that I looked him full in the face.  The details of how we got from point A to point B don't much matter but we were soon sharing our stories and I immediately felt a deep compassion for him.   We only spent about 5 minutes together ~ talking and understanding and holding each others pain.  Two total strangers, empathizing.  Bennett came over and joined us for a few minutes and as I introduced the two of them Bennett immediately connected to the man and shared some kind words and a tear.  It was a beautiful and powerful few moments.

The rest of my day was nothing if not routine.  I cleaned up the house and fed the kids. The Steelers lost a gut-wrencher of a football game in OT.  I got cranky and was more short-tempered with the kids than they deserved, truth be told.  We talked it out and hopefully we learned something for next time.  But for a while today, against the backdrop of our very grieved and confused society, I met a stranger and we connected over pain and heartache and weariness. 

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

I'm Not A Zombie

For the longest time the whole appeal and lure of zombies were lost on me.  I chalked it up to getting old and figured this was yet another sign of the times; that I was not the demographic the pop-culture mavens were trying to reach.  Then the most fortunate of tidings befell me when a friend recommend I watch "The Walking Dead".  Not only do I understand zombies now, I'm one step closer to sympathizing with those folks on the fringes of society (mentation?) who feel driven to stockpile supplies and ammunition against the zombie apocalypse.  To be perfectly clear here, you won't soon find me building a silo in my back yard like some of those wing nuts.  However, in the event I ever find myself surrounded by a bunch of walkers, I'd be down with having some skills in the whole silent-assassin-cross-bow area.

Now if you're honest, I'm guessing you'll cop to what I'm about to describe.  You sit down to watch an episode of a show on Netflix or Hulu and because it's so damn good and there is an entire season at your fingertips you just keep on watching.  Episode, after episode, after episode.  Eventually the sun comes up and you realize you've got shit to do or perhaps you should get some sleep or maybe think about eating or emptying your bladder or some such thing.  Am I right?  All I know is this: I managed to put a whole season of "The Walking Dead" under my belt in a shameful amount of time.   And honestly, there is no better way to watch three seasons of "24" then back to back to back.  When it comes to cliffhangers, I have no willpower! I can't pull myself away.  And it has to be said that Netflix has completely ruined watching real time television forever.  I'm sure if I tried to watch anything in real time I'd become as petulant as a toddler having to wait a whole week for a new episode.  Perish the thought!  (Again, shameful I know, but hey, it's been a tough year and TV has provided some serious balm for my aching heart.  But I digress).

Getting back to "The Walking Dead".   After the last jag I went on I had an epiphany of sorts about what I enjoyed so much about this show.  It has nothing to do with the zombies or the dystopian elements of the story line.   Rather, I empathized with something in the characters at once.  To a one, they are living each day, each moment in a state of heightened awareness and vigilance.   There is a clarity with which they see what is important and necessary ~ everything that is unimportant is literally left by the roadside.  I recognized that kind of living immediately and I was surprised to find that I miss that quality in my life, that razor sharp quality to my days.  I had to watch the entire season all at once - it was exhilarating and gave me that feeling.  Maybe I just sound crazy.  Maybe you understand.  Who knows?

I'm not saying I want cancer and all the turmoil of those days back, of course not.  But waking up each day knowing exactly what I needed to do, knowing exactly what mattered and why, knowing in my bones how much of my and everyone else's lives around me were filled with superfluous shit that could be jettisoned and not missed for a moment was so liberating and defining.  The days since Phil's death have been fuzzy by comparison.  I am reminded of a lecture I went to when I lived in Washington about methamphetamine abuse of all things.  The lecturer said that one of the worst things about meth use is the damage it does to sobriety.  The way it stimulates the brain is so powerful and it's high is so potent for addicts that it makes sobriety almost unbearable by comparison.  This is what makes being sober so difficult.  Sobriety isn't just boring, it's painful.  

I get that, boy do I.  My new found "sobriety" lacks a certain clarity, it lacks precision and a singleness of purpose, an edge.  To compensate I've populated my horizon with Steeler games, my kids school activities, and "the next big thing" on the calendar to give me a sense of purpose and meaning I long for.  But it still falls short a lot of the time.  It's a temporary solution while my brain resets itself I guess.  I have been through a crucible after all.  

In thinking about all this, I know one thing for absolute certain.  I don't want to become the walking dead, like the zombies I see all around me.  People asleep at the wheel, people going through life's motions with no emotion.  People for whom sobriety is painful or worse, for whom sobriety is so hard they have to pretend to be happy when they aren't.   People who are unhappy and don't even know it, who are hiding from themselves.  I won't ever do that.  I've been through hell and back, and although sobriety doesn't look the same anymore, I'll be damned if it's going to be painful.  

Thursday, November 22, 2012

Giving Thanks 2012

Thank you to everyone who commented on Bennett's previous post.  He really appreciated each comment and encouragement regarding his writing.  I also enjoyed reading them and my mother's heart swelled with pride seeing all the accolades sent his way.  That piece of writing was from a school assignment that just happened to come along during the anniversary week of Phil's passing.  His teacher had been giving the students one word starters for narrative stories to begin from.  Bennett had worked with the words "help" and "hurt" previously and fate brought him to "loss" the day he posted on my blog.  He told me about having written about his dad and cautioned me against reading it, not wanting me to get sad.  But I loved it when I read it and I wasn't sad at all.  I remain very happy about the progress he's made and his ability to share his feeling both verbally and in written form.  I am most proud of the incredible insight he's shown into his inner life.  It bodes well for his future.

A year ago today I was in world of hurt.  Phil had died a little over a week earlier, I had just thrown together a somewhat hasty memorial service due to the impending holiday season and the long siege of his illness and the culmination of the days and weeks and months of fatigue came home to rest on me with a surreal finality.  My best friend from Washington, Tricia, had stayed behind to mop up and take care of me and the kids and we had chosen to eat out instead of  cook.  I was way beyond spending anymore time with my family or  friends and we thought eating at a local restaurant would be easiest.  What a nightmare.  The noise and banter of the other diners was just the beginning.  We were so out of place in our grief.  We had no business being in public let alone, joining in this most familial of holidays.  It was brutal and to a person we couldn't wait to get out of there.

Now it's one year later and I am hosting Thanksgiving in my new home, expecting 25 family and a few friends and I am in a good place.  I've survived my year of firsts and am moving into my future with optimism.  If you've followed my blog for any length of time, you know that I've always had a grateful heart amidst the trials.  On this day, as ever, I am thankful for the steadfast people who walked with me this last year, sharing my inner life and the pain and grief there.  Your love and compassion, words and silences, your steady presence and understanding of my anguish have helped me heal.  You have made all the difference and I love you.  Thank you!

Sunday, November 18, 2012


by Bennett Conrad 

"I have good news and bad news, which do you want to hear first?"  "The good news!" my sister and I exclaimed. 

"Well, Donna, Jeff, David, Rob, Jamie and Grandma are all coming for a long visit."

"Great" we replied.  

"Don't get worked up because the bad news will bring you down.  Dad's cancer is getting a little overwhelming, so Dr. Kossman took him his off chemotherapy."

"You're not saying what I think you're saying, are you?"

"Yes, and it's very sad."

Mom stopped talking and began to cry.  So did Olivia and I.

"First Libby, then Grandpa, and now Dad!" I yelled in outrage.

"I know, it really sucks," whimpered mom.

"Why now? It's almost Christmas and then his 50th birthday." I croaked.

"Bennett, we'll be able to see him before he's gone."


"Yes, at the hospice center."

Two days later... he was still as a statute, but he was clinging onto life.  Grandma, David and two of my aunts sat around his hospital bed trading stories about Dad and saying quiet prayers.  David, my uncle, held my dad's cold hands for about 5 whole hours.  Then the worst, the cruelest, maddening part of the day came, we had to leave.  I stood up, walked over to Dad's bed and whispered in his ear, "I love you."  Suddenly, Dad sat up and opened his eyes; he looked grand, like cancer hadn't laid one poisonous gnarled little finger on his great life.  He took my hand, looked me in the eye and said, "I love you too."  Then he slipped back into unconsciousness.  I was the last person to ever speak with him. 

We got into our car and slowly drove away; devastated.  And that was the last time I ever saw my father.  Philip Taylor Berry Conrad died on November 15th a year ago today.  I will always remember him as a cunning and loving father, a blindingly fast and strong athlete, and one of cancers bravest, fiercest, and most determined competitors.