When Your Dreams Do Come True: Reflections on Five Years as an Author

I’m speechless.

Well, sort of. Y’all know that can’t be totally true, because it’s hard to get me to shut up.

But today, October 1, 2018, five years after the release of my interfaith memoir Saffron Cross: The Unlikely Story of a How a Christian Minister Married a Hindu Monk, I don’t have words to adequately convey how I feel.

I can try—clumsily—to tell you how much my life has changed with this book (it has). I can try—without clarity—to explain the mysticism of what it means to achieve the dream of signing a traditional publishing book contract (four-fold!) and seeing your family and friends literally hold your life’s work in their hands. I can try—bashfully—to share with you that For Sabbath’s Sake has just won a 2018 Evergreen Award for spiritual leadership, beating out the New York Times best-selling Jesus Calling in its category.

But my words can’t and don’t do it justice.

Gratitude.

That’s all I got.

My heart explodes with gratitude today–for my loved ones, Upper Room Books, Chalice Press, family, faith communities, and all the angels (seen and unseen) who have believe in me and guided me during these five years as I waded into the waters of “author.”

Author.

It’s still crazy.

Thanks to y’all—you who endorsed my books, read their words, believed their messages, who pray prayers, and cheer cheers. You—who bought books and felt so much moved by God’s work in our ordinary lives that you gifted and shared them. You–who joined me on this journey, invite me to your universities, churches, faith communities, homes, and gatherings to talk about how we are all in this together.  

YOU. Thank you.

Fred, Ron, and Mom the week Saffron Cross debuted (October 1, 2013).

We’re celebrating YOU and five years of Saffron Cross and the 1st book birthday of For Sabbath’s Sake by inviting you to use the promo code WOMEN2018 at the Upper Room Books check-out to save 20% off one or both!

Weathering the Storm: Hurricane Florence and Suicide Prevention Awareness Month

My best friend Lindsay would have turned 37 this week. She also would have embraced every witty Hurricane Florence reference. This is because behind the scenes, Lin’s mother was known to us as the red-leather Thriller jacket-wearing “Sister Mary Florence.” Hence the  jokes would be flo-ing (see what I did there?). Even as NC faces destruction, Lin would have us smiling, reminding us that weathering the storm together is what matters most.

This summer, I organized a few high school memory boxes and found all the notes and cards Lin gave me. It was odd premonition that I kept them, but on the other hand, it was no surprise, as she’d been a consistent source of encouragement since I was a friendless middle schooler in 1992.  She and Kate were the first to embrace me, cracking open their partnership to make room for a renegade 3rd wheel. The three of us were inseparable.

For seven years I’ve been writing posts about her suicide. Each year, I approach it with more heartache, because it means one more year has passed without her. Lindsay’s death was driven further home with my own mother’s death last August. Mom’s life-long severe depression and suicide attempts caused me to review my own life, too, as each loss is a missing piece of identity: who are we without the people who gave witness to our lives from their beginnings?

I also imagine what society has missed without its Lindsay K. Apple. At 29, she already had the world by the tail. What heights would she have reached by now? How would her already tremendous impact have spread? Would she have had a daughter as funny and brilliant as she was? A life cut short by pain has its own perpetuity of “what ifs.”

But then I remember what Lindsay continues to accomplish—even after her death. She’s brought friends and family together through a narrative that champions a cause that not only affected her—but is real for every community, regardless of location, race, religion, or politics.

Lin’s suicide, too, was on the cusp of an era in which our very public social media profiles actually increase our risk of loneliness and isolation, an oxymoron we’ve yet to fully grasp. And yet, those same platforms can be life-saving—because they offer us an outlet to reach out at 24/7, because someone, somewhere, is watching and listening.

September is suicide prevention month; Monday was World Suicide Prevention Day. Every day, every week, every month, and every year, too many people—some we know well; others who occupied a public, celebrity status—die from a cause that is preventable. From our children, siblings, parents, other family members or friends—to our role models—we all know someone (directly or indirectly) who has committed suicide.

A bookmark made by Lindsay and gave me on my 18th birthday.

Lindsay’s sunshine lives on in us and in mystical ways in which we cannot fully understand. Though she is not physically here with us, neither is her light hidden from us. It helps us weather even the toughest of storms.

Do you know someone who needs an ear? Listen. Do you know someone who could benefit from suicide prevention resources? Help them call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline.

We can all make a difference—in honor of Lindsay and many others who felt they had no choice. Join me in supporting “Team Loving Lindsay” in their annual Triad American Foundation for Suicide Prevention “Out of Darkness” community walk on September 22, 2018. Donate today. 

 

The First Year After Mom’s Death: How These Rituals Helped Me Navigate Grief and Loss

My mother died one year ago today.

I still remember our first evening without her in the world. Fred, Ron, and I rode through downtown Raleigh with the windows down, and I thought: She’ll never hear the sounds of August again—the cicadas’ song that tell us summer is nearly gone. It was a feeling of deep, visceral absence.

I’ve spent a year entrenched in grief and all its stages, feelings, and waves. I’ve read books, written about them, kept notes on my experience, and attended hospice grief counseling every two weeks. My family, closest friends, and faith communities have kept in close contact the past twelve months, offering their love and hugs, lending their ears and Kleenex.

My privilege has afforded me these grief resources. But there are many whose loved ones are plucked away and they have no one to turn to. In the fog of loss, they may not even know what they need.

Everyone’s grief journey is unique; there is no right nor wrong way to mourn a loss. We are beginners at this and everything else in life.

Here’s are some of the rituals, exercises, workshops I did and intentions I held this year that helped me; maybe it will help you or someone you know?

  • First, I scheduled an appointment with my therapist as soon as the ink was dry on the funeral home paperwork. Three days later, I sat in her office and she walked me through crisis management coping integral to calming the chaotic deluge of “Is this really happening?” Her advice on facing the brain, body, and spirit’s trauma of a sudden loss incited a failed a meditation practice that ultimately resulted into creating my own 40-day meditation guide.
  • I began a “Grief Journal” in which I could “talk” to Mom anytime—day or night. This stemmed from an emotional evening in late August in which I told Fred I wish she’d call me. “What would you want her to say?” he asked. “You’re going to be OK, Dana” I answered. The journal became the place of those “reassurance phone calls.”
  • In September, family and friends gathered for her service of remembrance at Binkley Church. Rev. Dale and I used an outline of what she wanted at her memorial. We displayed photos and ate her favorite foods. Attendees wrote down their favorite memories or stories of her; our beloved church showered us with affection.
  • In those first first months, I practiced radical self-care.
  • I attended grief workshops at Transitions LifeCare Hospice, where Mom spent the last eight days of her life after her unexpected illness. I also accepted their gracious offer of bi-monthly grief counseling that continues until one month after your loved one’s death anniversary. It was the wisest choice I’ve made in a long time.
  • During my first hospice workshop, I made a misshapen clay “garden of the heart,” a brown lump whose insides were “tiled” (scraped with a fork). It was symbolic of my own heart, which felt like it’d been mowed with cheese grater.
  • At that same autumn workshop, the counselors asked us to write on a paper heart embedded with wildflowers with a message from our loved one. Mine said:  “Bloom Dana, bloom. It’s time.” I’ve kept both hearts.
  • Fred and I attended as many family and friends gatherings as possible in the fall and as the holidays approached. We adopted an animal shelter kitty. Our Hindu community’s “Friendsgiving” was extra special—and they never hesitated to ask how grief was going.
  • During Advent, I colored mandalas with Sharon Seyfarth Garner’s Prayers, Candles, and Prayers.  I purchased LED tea lights to placed in a terribly painted glass candle holder I made at another hospice workshop focused on grieving during the holidays.  It’s the ugliest thing you’ve ever seen. When they asked me to explain it, I told them that my mother always said I liked to “tacky things up,” so I had to do that now, too.
  • In December, I took a social media sabbath and focused on family. I grieved the loss of Mom’s brother and turned inward toward spiritual practice. We relished moments with our tiny niece and nephew and all the children in our lives.
  • On Christmas Eve, at the Catholic Church, I lit a candle and prayed for her, as  Fred’s precious Catholic Aunt and Uncle had shortly after her death. On Christmas Day, we gathered with nearby family at my cousin’s home.
  • Most of all, I took all the holidays lightly—spontaneously. If I didn’t feel like doing something, I didn’t.
  • The winter offered sabbath opportunity–resting, worshiping, and being in community. I learned to lean on God for support during this journey. I wasn’t afraid to ask deep theological questions—ones that were often left unanswered.  I learned that that is part of faith—and holy mysteries.
  • All year, Mom’s sunset scatter cremation ashes box has remained in sight. It migrates from the living room to the dining room to my passenger seat for road trips. It’s big and heavy and when I need to, I hug and cradle it like a baby. It’s already been on three road trips to two states.
  • In March, my brother, sister-in-law,  Fred and I remembered Mom’s birthday with chocolate and laughter. We ate dessert first (classic Judy!) and spent time on her favorite beach.
  • Every morning, I’ve asked Mom to “show up” in some way. She usually “appears” as a vibrant rainbow reflection in the crystal sun-catcher my friend Barbara so lovingly gifted me with. Or, Truffy Jr. slams his paw against a bronze bell another friend gave us.
  • I attended Buddhist workshops on death, dying, and grieving.
  • I wrote a book about the theology of death, grief, and the afterlife. You need not do this—but a death-related project  forced me to stay present in grief all damn year.
  • At Passover, I bought a Yarzheit candle, a Jewish ritual to remember those who are no longer physically with us but whose memory remains. Though Passover has come and gone, the Yarzheit candle is still on our altar, right next to a very Jewish Jesus. I’m hoping he’d approve.
  • I kept the sympathy cards in a basket where I could read them whenever I needed to.
  • Fred set up a make-shift memorial shelf where he placed my favorite photos of her and Truffy Sr., who died just three months after Mom. I walk by them both everyday.
  • I texted with friends and family members and told them I needed them. I asked them for support and memories and check-ins.
  • I paid attention, too, to the ordinary and everyday occurrences-turned rituals—a sign of meaning-making in a time when I felt listless and uncertain that there was any meaning. It arrived in the strangest places:  pennies, numbers, songs, and people that reminded me of Mom.
  • In May, our Trent Family gathered for our first reunion in 20 years. She would have been so proud. We honored her and her siblings with stories and laughter.
  • My favorite photo of the two of us remained in my car until July. I replaced it with a rock from the Wild Goose Festival painted with “Be Brave.” That was her new message for me.

Most of all, I have trusted the process, something I’m not very good at doing. I want the end result, now—and I’ve had to learn to be patient with myself and this path.

Which, if any of these did you find useful? What grief rituals, traditions, or experiences have helped you? I love new ideas—please share below in the comments.

Please share this piece with someone who needs it. Grief (in any form) is isolating. Let someone know you care and you’re thinking of them.