What I See Now

There might be a topic or two in this entry that some may say is TMI so I decided to say that out loud before I carried on any further. You know, at least give you the opportunity to read with one eye open and one eye closed if you were scared of possible content. (Nothing super horrible though, so for sure, don’t feel like you have to read with both eyes closed.) Ha!!!

There were so many things that I had stopped doing, stopped caring about and stopped even using brain power or energy for during the year of Mom’s illness; and honestly, all the way up to about 6 months after she passed. I didn’t realize what an absolute funk I had been floundering in until I slowly stopped floundering in it. I can’t tell you if I stopped floundering in it or if the funk just dissipated enough that I could see reality again. Well, I shouldn’t say I saw reality again because that funk was my very real reality for so long…so long.

Anyhoo, during our last year with Mom, the dishes at my little mama’s were done thoroughly. Dishes at my house stacked to the ceiling and I had no ability to care, even if my very life had depended on it. Christmas decorations at my little mama’s house were immaculate this year. As opposed to our Christmas tree that had lights with an angel on top and nothing else. I did buy my babies their new ornaments as I do every year, but they never made it to the tree. I should also include that my tree remained up this year until around late July. I could not have cared less what a soul thought about it either. I’m going to say that again. My tree stayed up this year until around late July…lights on. I. Was. In. A. Funk.

Other tidbits of information to show you just how much of a funk and tail spin grief can provide…we ripped out carpet last July and replaced with laminate floor; until August of this year, I still hadn’t hung one thing back up on the walls again…including curtains.

I want so badly to help others who grieve silently by grieving out loud through my blog.

I want you to understand that I have never been one to keep a spotless house. Not Child-Protective-Services-level filth…but if I have some dishes in the sink and some clutter here and there, I totally feel at home and am okay with that. Ha!

But to say I had let my house go was the most monumental understatement I could ever let flow out of my mouth. I lost control of a situation that I barely kept under control anyway.

During that time of funk, I would go days without showering. Weeks without shaving my legs…and when I did, the area shaved would only be specific to whatever article of clothing I chose. (Ladies, you know what I’m talking about. Ha!) I don’t know that I even brushed my teeth regularly. When I say funk, I mean funk. (Literal funk. And in a lot of different ways.)

I would say that around the 7 month mark after my sweet little mama passed, I realized…Good God woman, wake the hell up, what is going on, who have you turned into and how did all this happen??? My house was a wreck, I had hairy man legs, my tree was still up, the house was so full of junk that when I “cleaned” it still looked horrible.

So what do you do when you wake up and life has gone on without you for months and nearly suffocated you with stuff? You start cleaning and throw stuff out…and you shave those damn hairy man legs! (I don’t mean shaving what is specific to the article of clothing anymore, I mean shaving your legs…both total legs…because you have enough care and concern to not want man legs anymore. Ha!)

I made the comment recently to an old friend but new reader (yay!!!) of Coffee with Paula that I want so badly to help others who grieve silently by grieving out loud through my blog. This is real life grief. This is what grief looks like. Grief is not just feelings. Grief has a personality, a look, is tangible and had consumed me. I worry that others only see the put-together-Paula and think that I don’t hurt or feel or grieve or feel anguish or despair. It is real. It is a part of my life and I don’t want anyone to be confused by my laughter, my smiles, my ability to keep moving everyday, my ability to joke about life, my ability to sing on a praise team or keep working with hospice patients every Monday thru Friday. I grieve, I hurt, I want to give up, I want to cry, I feel despair, something is missing, there is a dull ache in my heart…it has been like this since I found out she was going to die and gained in intensity after she passed. All of these are decreasing in strength now. But they are still there.

To say that I am so much better now, is the truth. Those are not just shallow words. I have evidence that I continue to get so much better. I still miss my little mama, the dull ache is constantly there, random tears still fall unexpectedly…but the consuming funk has gone. Will it come back? I hope not. But I think Paula is back. And that feels amazing!

Sipping coffee and liking the me that I see now…but wishing someone would get that Christmas tree box off my front porch. I got it out of the house, somebody else can take it the rest of the way. Ha!!! ~paula

When You Just Need a Minute

If there is anything that I’ve learned through this stupid grief journey is that sometimes I just need a minute. A minute to breathe, a minute to think about my sweet little mama, a minute to think about what things would be like if Cancer hadn’t reared it’s ugly head, a minute to think about all I wish I could tell her, a minute to just feel the pain, a minute to rip off the peel-n-stick smile I use daily and just cry.

Often lately, I’ve noticed that I wish I had the capability to wiggle my nose and instantly be on the beach for whatever time necessary to clear my head and then wiggle my nose to get me back home. I’m pretty sure I just had an epiphany while typing that sentence. It ain’t rocket science, move to the beach, Paula! (The beach is my most loved place on the earth because I think so clearly there…incase you didn’t know.)

But truly, there are a million instances during this thing called life that require us to regroup, reevaluate, redetermine who we are and who we want to be; you know, take a minute to “settle down” when something turns our world upside down.

So many things can manifest our own personal definition of “world upside down”. To one, the loss of a parent; to another, the loss of a job; an unexpected pregnancy; a car accident leaving one debilitated in some way; a house fire; a spousal affair. I could keep this list flowing for ten hours and still have more things to list. So many things have the ability to rock us to the core.

Why? Why are we so easily knocked on our behinds when things go wrong? I think we go along in life and constantly have these ideas and notions that are our own personal goals in life. We so easily let the words slip from our mouths that we want God’s will to be done, yet we keep making plans and arrangements on our own. We have ideas about what our lives should look like, what our kids’ lives should look like, how our neighbors’ lives should be looking. Goodness. For the most part, we can’t control anything and we just have to figure out how to deal with our new situation; even when it doesn’t fit into our well thought out plans.

I’m not saying that when bad things happen it’s because God wanted them to happen or He wanted us to have a less perfect life than we wanted to have, or even that He wanted to give us a wake up call. I’m just saying that this life isn’t ours. It is supposed to be His. He will not place you in situations that He doesn’t have the ability to walk you through.

When our children make decisions we hate. When our spouses make decisions we can’t tolerate. When things happen that are big, that you just can’t seem to accept, what are we to do?

The most simple thing to do is just take a minute to realize, the world hasn’t actually stopped turning. You are indeed still breathing. You do actually still have the ability to feel true joy, it just might be a minute before you can notice. There is very little in this life that is truly the end of the world.

When my sweet little Mama took her final breath, my heart stopped along with her’s. The problem was, mine started back again. For those few minutes directly afterward, my world was quite literally spinning out of control and I couldn’t catch my breath or have a coherent thought. I saw talking all around me but could only hear the screaming inside my head. I had held it together for so very long and the screaming inside my head was the tears and gut wrenching heart ache that had been waiting for the moment I would finally allow them out. The revelation came…I didn’t have to be strong anymore. When that realization hit my mind and soul, to say I absolutely lost my shit, is quite the understatement. I let a million loud, rushing tears go and it was not pretty to say the least. A solid year’s worth of withheld tears and despair flooded out of my weary and exhausted body. I could hold them back not a second more.

Who knows what all happened after that. Those immediate days following are such a blur to me now. I just know that I was surrounded by so much love and concern and tenderness from friends and family. I’m certain my little mama was orchestrating it all to make certain we were cared for during a time she tried so desperately to prepare us for, because she knew she couldn’t be there to physically help us herself.

What I do remember was the overwhelming need for time to stand still for just a minute. I NEEDED A MINUTE! And I was angry that no one was giving me that minute. I needed that minute to get my mind wrapped around what had occurred but there was no minute to be had. Time marched and I sort of just flowed with it. Had no choice.

But what I was being taught during that time was that there is an amazing God who was still on His throne, who kept His arms around me the whole time and never allowed me to slip under the currents for more than I needed to be under. He didn’t give me more than I could bear…with His help. THAT’s the key. He will not give us more than we can bear…with His help.

There is such a valid lesson in this for every aspect of life. Our kids don’t always choose for themselves the things that we want them to choose. They make downright stupid decisions sometimes; as do our spouses; as do we. Our spouses aren’t always capable of meeting the standard we think is required. Promotions at work don’t always happen when we think they should. Life gets messy! But God is always on His throne…no matter what rocked your little world to the core.

So take your minute when you need it. But don’t stay there. You have to get back to “keepin’ on”. You have to figure out how to keep moving and growing. I saw on a church sign one time, “If God brought you to it, He’ll bring you through it.” Right? Right.

Sipping coffee tonight and being so very thankful for parents who taught me that nothing that happens to make our life messy or troubled or rocked-to-the-core is the end of the world. Nothing. ~paula

The Chicken or the Egg?

Which came first? I most certainly have never had the desire to debate that age old question. But if I were to find myself in a position where it was necessary, my reply would be something similar to, “You have to have an egg for there to be a chicken, but you also have to have a chicken to lay an egg that would hatch a chicken…but I’m pretty sure Genesis says God came first and created that chicken…not an egg”. I would then, of course, add a quietly whispered and smugly calm “boom” to the end of my 10 second spiel. And because I know that I can sometimes be a solid King James Donkey, I’d simultaneously mimic a mic drop for effect. (King James Donky was totally stolen from a dear cousin. Thanks Jennifer! Ha!)

With all of the loss that has been experienced around me lately, I’ve chosen to get another tattoo that I will get in memory of my precious Mama. My vision is a flowing music staff with the first few notes of Amazing Grace, in the key in which she always played it and a quote that flows with the music, “Music is the sound of life” which was certainly my Mom. Music. The numerous hours I’ve spent thinking of what this tat should symbolize and express also made me begin thinking of my others and their significance. The significance of each was so deep that tears appeared along with the question, “Which came first, the tat or the pain?”

My first tat is a memorial tat for my best social worker friend, Kim, who lost her battle with Leukemia in 2006. I was able to get the original artist to recreate the sun he made just a few years earlier for her. I changed the rays of the sun and added a couple of other touches to make it my own, but that jolly smiling sun reminds me of that never-without-her-lipstick, beautiful, happy soul that has gone on to be with Jesus. It also reminds me of the laughter she created within our little circle and I cherish it to this day. I got it one year after her death and every time the process became too painful I would just remind myself to suck it up because that 45 minute tat process was nothing compared to her pain during that year long battle with Leukemia.


My second tat is a simple quote that I have always loved because it embodies everything I believe manifests a life well-lived. Live, Laugh, Love. I got this tat in memory of two nephews who chose suicide as their answer and a dear friend who used cutting as his. “To Write Love on her Arms” was a movement that I felt so strongly about so I chose to use Live, Laugh, Love as my way to shed light on a dark subject, share the story of hope and write love on my arms for these beautiful souls who can’t seem to find the light.


What came first the tat or the pain? For me, the pain was the beginning. Finding and creating beauty in the midst of pain seems to be the common denominator. Kim’s tat is a beautiful reminder of a life well lived with smiles in the midst of pain. Live, Laugh, Love on my wrist is a beautiful reminder that there is hope and there are other answers that can be chosen. And my “mama tat” will most assuredly symbolize her clinging to a Savior that provided the most Amazing Grace that could ever be provided and her sharing the love of music with her family and countless other families through church and 34 years of teaching elementary music. What a legacy!

Needles and skin are a painful pairing, but often the painful pairing creates beautiful reminders of hope and wonderful memories to be cherished. The pain of depression and grief created my desire for these tats but the pain in the process created a quiet resolve that all can be well again. Not today, but one day.

Hopefully, as we sip our coffee and remember, healing can begin. ~paula

To Write Love on Her Arms

To Write Love on Her Arms is a non-profit movement dedicated to presenting hope and finding help for people struggling with depression, addiction, self-injury and suicide. TWLOHA exists to encourage, inform, inspire and also to invest directly into treatment and recover.


Why do I care if the Young Dr. Brantley has a Pinky Nail?

Overwhelmed and drained, I plopped my behind down on a coffee table in the ICU waiting room yesterday around 3:30pm to embrace, and be embraced by this group of crazies that I call my own. Now don’t worry, my behind was safe from hitting the floor in an embarrassed heap because that coffee table was as sturdy and strong as my Aunt who had just lost her husband of 26 years, unexpectedly, just moments before. Sitting on the edge of that coffee table, as conversations drifted around me, my mind began to ponder what a whirlwind the last several months had been. My Father-in-Law’s death on December 6th, my Mom on January 28th and now my Uncle on April 8th…surreal seems to be the word of the day for us lately. But as I sat amidst the timbre of the huddled whispering voices, I allowed my thoughts to run rampant; thoughts of how my Aunt had embarked on her grief journey just moments before I arrived at the hospital. She had planned to cook meatloaf for lunch, but life dictated that she call the ambulance instead. She had planned to go to Physical Therapy today, but circumstances deemed it necessary for her to make funeral arrangements instead. We plan, we arrange, we schedule as best we can, but when God’s timing says it’s time; it is time.

Have you ever been sitting in a restaurant staring into space, fully lost in your own thoughts as you wait on someone to join you, but suddenly realize you’re staring straight into the eyes of a complete stranger? As fast as your brain can scramble to attention and convince your eyes of the need for retreat, Operation Divert Your Gaze commences. Well, as I sat and pondered on the edge of that laboring coffee table, I found that my gaze had been locked onto an oil canvas of father and son, Dr. Brantley and Dr. Brantley. Two stares looking directly toward me; as entranced with me as I was with them. As I scrutinized father and son, I realized that not only have I never truly looked at that painting, I had also seen it a million times. Why in that moment in time, did someone ordain that I look at that portrait for the first meaningful examination? Why did I need to know that father and son do not really favor, forcing me to then ponder if their lack of similarity on this canvas came from real life truth or was it a choice made only by the artist’s brush stroke? Realizing those answers would not be provided this day, the craziness that is so typical for me erupted and I was fully sidetracked with the fact that it appeared that the young Dr. Brantley had no pinky nail in the portrait. Apparently the deep reverie on life and death and how quickly things can change, had evaporated into thin air as comical thoughts and comments erupted between my Dad and I about the young Dr. Brantley’s pinky nail. (Incase you were wondering, upon closer scrutiny, it appears that the young Dr. Brantley does indeed have a pinky nail and all is well; no artists must be called and chastised.)

But this life on earth is nothing more than a series of happenings; some good, some bad, but all very necessary to make up what is called life; all orchestrated by a God that meets our every need. What became very evident to me is that the same God that supplies all of our needs, provides us with little defense mechanisms that enable us to step away from some of the sorrow that comes our way. Little distractions that seem so mundane, but so appreciated as they hoist some of the load from our burdened shoulders.

I’m giving Him the glory for the young Dr. Brantley’s pinky nail and for what it stood for…His brief little distraction from the sorrow of the day.

Matthew 11:28: “Come to Me, all you who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.” NKJV

Until the next pot is freshly brewed. ~paula

In the Closet

“For the rest of my life I will search for moments full of you”- Anonymous

Nothing could stop my heart from carrying me into her closet. I had to see her clothes, the personal effects that were simply her. Hands that look so much like hers yearned to feel the soft sweaters she had worn, fuzzy socks that kept her feet cozy, crocheted caps that provided warmth for a head no longer covered by hair. The loss felt in my soul was so deafening I could only hear the deep thud of a broken heart and the splash of tears cascading onto the old faded Troy T-shirt I wore.

Moments in time burst through my mind of days past, happier days, when she had worn each article and the memories were a sad but necessary calm to my spirit, a calm that I seek so consistently but I’m rarely able to find. Softly clutching sleeve after sleeve, I allowed the tears to flow and memories to set me free from the labor pains of grief.

When would the next labor pain happen? If it were only that simple. Scheduled labor pains of grief, that only occur when it’s safe, when no one is around, when I’m not busy, when I have time. On the contrary, labor pains of grief happen when you least expect them; when they are ready for you, not when you are ready for them.

What have I learned you might ask? I have learned to just relax through the ebb and flow of grief, much as a laboring mother who toils to bring her newborn child into the world. The pain in labor is not constant, there are moments to catch your breath, moments to enjoy the reprieve. But when the labor pains demand results once more, you have no choice but to allow them to do their work, prep for what is to come, make way for what is new.

If a laboring mother is rewarded with a newborn, what is the result from the labor pains of grief? They, too, give newness in life. When grief has completed its journey within your heart, you will be a new person. No longer the same. You slowly present yourself to the world. A person who not only has loved, but has now also lost. A person who has not only laughed, but has now also cried. A person who has not only felt joy, but has now also felt sorrow. A person that once only thought she could, now knows she can. A person who once was broken in loss, is now finally healed.

Thinking of cups of coffee I’ve shared with my sweet little mama over the years, and smiling. ~paula