Thank U.

Total Gratitude Tuesday: Volume XXX

As I’m sure many of you were expecting, this volume of TGT is devoted, for the most part, to Prince. 

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I’m grateful for so many things.

I’m grateful for 38 years of amazing, innovative, provocative, straight-up great music.

I’m grateful for his showmanship and his devotion to his fans, which I was blessed to experience live twice in my life.

I’m grateful for his attitudes on sex, religion, charity, love, peace, unity and the spiritual side of life.

I’m grateful that he came into my life at a time when I needed someone to make me feel like there was nothing wrong with not “fitting in”.

I’m grateful that he was always, from beginning to end, totally and completely himself and never apologetic for it. 

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I’m grateful that he was the kind of idol that actually lived up to my adoration. 

I’m grateful that I still have his music to listen to. In the last decade or so I’ve pretty much given up on a lot of

commercial music, but I could always depend on his music to lift me up. That hasn’t changed with his passing. 

I’m grateful for his playful side (Can we talk about that passport photo, “New Girl” and “Shirts vs. Blouses”?) and for 34 years of him being the sexiest thing in 3-inch heels on the planet! 

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I’m grateful for the long, lonely nights when his music made the difference between going on and giving up.

prince-party

I’m grateful for so many wonderful memories of enjoying his music and his movies with friends. 

And I am endlessly grateful to all the people that reached out to me over the past few days, knowing how losing him would affect me. I heard from people I haven’t talked to in 15 years or more, who still remembered me as that girl that was obsessed with Prince. I’m grateful to my friend Louise from St. Paul who, while not a huge fan herself, has been kind enough to save newspapers and clippings for me and has called, texted and emailed me updates from up there. Thank you to my friends Jessica, Jennie, Alan, Robert and so many more for keeping my spirits up and listening to me while I went on and on about my grief. I’m grateful to my friend Tom who somehow, when I was lamenting the fact that I didn’t have any way to listen to my old vinyl albums anymore, had the exact same record player I had when I was a kid (and gave it to me so I could listen again!)

record player

All it’s missing is the stack of pennies I had to put on mine to get it to play right. And yes, that’s my original copy of “Purple Rain” on the turntable. 

And thank you to my husband, my kids and my best friend Amanda not only for comforting me while I cried and not making me feel weird about it, but for spending their Saturday night seeing “Purple Rain” with me on the big screen. 

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So Prince – I hope you’re up there enjoying the entire world being lit up in purple for you. I hope you were able to feel the adulation and love while you were here with us. I hope that you knew what you meant to your millions of fans. There will never be another like you. I’m in agreement with Awesomely Luvvie right now – 

We can’t just get on with our days like nothing happened. The Purple One died, y’all. HE GONE. How am I supposed to carry on like usual? Give us a couple of bereavement days where we will act out.

And in tribute to Prince and his extraordinary life,  there’s this: 

here's a thing you can do for prince

Thank u for providing the soundtrack 2 my life. I wish u Heaven. 

Much love. – Michelle

RIP

Nothing Compares 2 U

I’m still in shock. Prince, of all people, bigger than life – should’ve been immortal. How is it possible that he’s gone? How is it possible there will never be another blistering guitar solo? Never another incarnation of him? How?

prince collage

My love affair began around 1982. I was in junior high and hanging out one summer afternoon with one of my girlfriends when one of the cool older guys – Petey – drove up in his car. I don’t remember the model, but it was sleek and it had “Horny Toad” in script on the back. I’m pretty sure at 12 I had no clue in hell what “Horny Toad” even meant, but you know how it is when you’re that age – you know it’s vaguely dirty but you don’t know why. He was playing a song from the “Controversy” album and it was just so damn sexy. I wanted so desperately to fit in I pretended that I knew what it was.

About the same time – my very best friend in the whole wide world always had a bitchin’ Halloween party. And for whatever reason, 1999 was on the playlist at the party that year. And y’know, at that point, 1999 was soooo far in the future. But I just could not get enough of that song.

Not too long after that, I started catching Prince videos on MTV every now and then. And once I *saw* him, it was over. He was so different from everything else that I’d ever seen up to that point in my life. And he was so damn dirty. But then he was also religious. It was the first time I ever woke up to the idea that maybe it wasn’t wrong to feel sexy and to explore your own sexuality. Here was this guy telling me that sexuality was a gift from God, and that appealed to me on so many levels, as I was already someone who had rejected so many notions of what constituted a “sin”.

Prince and Wendy SF May 23, 1986

This photo was taken in San Francisco on May 23, 1986 – my sixteenth birthday. 

From there, it was spending every dime I had on the latest single, teen magazines, posters, buttons, t-shirts – you name it. Anything with his Royal Badness on it. And blasting that vinyl with everything I had in me. My parents hated it, but by that point, it was an obsession. When “Purple Rain” came to the little town I live in, me and a couple of my girlfriends crossed our fingers and hoped to hell the clerk at the theatre would let us in (they did). I sat for a full two hours absolutely mesmerized – soaking in every note, every dance move, every glance. By the time school started again, my friends and I had the whole Abbott & Costello routine between Morris & Jerome memorized word for word. At one point when life got really rough for my friend Julie and I, we actually had a half-serious plan to run away to Minneapolis and try to be a part of his entourage. I mean, we could sing and dance better than Vanity and Apollonia, so why not? And I started to be known as the Prince girl at school. Hair swept back on one side, black eyeliner, trench coat and Prince t-shirts. Because this man KNEW. He knew what I was feeling. He knew what it was like to have emotions swirling around inside of you and whole other worlds in your mind. He was just able to bring them to life in ways I couldn’t. Every bit of my high school life is set to a Prince soundtrack. By the time “Around the World In a Day” came around, I was ready for that spiritual awakening – ready for “The Ladder”. And I was seeing all the things Prince was singing about in “America”. “Pop Life” – yeah we all got a space to fill. “Parade” – that was all for a guy that I had a major crush on at the time. He was Prince and I was Sheila E. “Sign O The Times” – I was hitting junior year and trying to figure out what I was going to do with my life and in a “Strange Relationship” of my own. And then “Lovesexy” – that was when I met my future husband. So it was late nights singing “Alphabet Street” and making out to “Anna Stesia”. By the time “Batman” came around, I had our first child and strangely enough, he’s loved Batman almost from birth. And he came to love Prince in his own time, too.

I didn’t get the chance to see Prince live until 1997. And the second song into the show was “Purple Rain”. I can’t even tell you what that did to me. It was a religious experience. And I saw him again in 2004 for his Musicology tour. Same experience – just complete transcendence. And that time, my husband and I bought tickets to his after-show at a bar downtown in Cleveland. We waited for an hour or so for him to show. Now, being 5’2″ on a good day, I wasn’t in a position to see much, so when he popped his head in the door behind the stage and then back out again, I heard the crowd around me go crazy but I never saw him. But I felt him.

prince rip

When the first reports came out that there was a death at Paisley Park, I prayed so hard that it wasn’t him. I felt awful wishing that it was someone else who had passed, but I just couldn’t imagine a world without him. I still can’t. I’ve taken a lot of shit over the last 34 years for being such a hardcore fan, and I bore it gladly. I knew the truth of his unparalleled talent, his golden heart, his beautiful soul. I knew that he was a once in a millenium artist. I knew no one could ever compare. I knew the story behind many of his songs, knew how many other artists he had helped, knew about his charitable works. Knew things like the fact that when he was inducted into the Rock n Roll Hall of Fame in 2004 and was told that they’d be playing a tribute to George Harrison with “While My Guitar Gently Weeps”, he didn’t know the song, but learned it overnight and delivered an absolutely masterful solo. I knew that he played over 23 instruments and was self-taught. I knew that a portion of “Purple Rain” was improvised on the spot and that the version that made it into the movie and subsequently onto the album was recorded in one take and was the first time the band had ever played the song. I knew that he gave generously to a number of charities and never asked for any recognition for it.

It’s not an exaggeration to say that I love the man. I do. And I always will. For his talent, for his heart, for his contribution to my life and to the lives of so many others. And for saving the life of an awkward little white girl from a small town in Ohio so many times. The facts of his death are immaterial to me. He is to me what he will always be – my Prince, my first love, my idol, my savior. And the sorrow that I feel is as real as it would be if he were my friend. Because in so many ways, he was.

I know for awhile I’m going to cry when I hear his music. I’m going to feel sorrow when I remember all that he’s meant to me. But I will also go back and listen to the songs I haven’t heard in years, and I will remember all the good times and all the wonderful memories of which he was a part. And I will dance, and I will sing and I will be thankful for everything that he gave me.

I hope u lived 2 c the dawn.

Much love. – Michelle 0(+>

Note: None of the photos are my own and no disrespect is intended. I’ll be more than happy to give attribution wherever necessary.

 

if you're going through hell

If You’re Going Through Hell, Keep Going

if you're going through hell, keep going

I have that exact magnet on my refrigerator, and I’ll tell you why…

This weekend marks the sixth anniversary of the beginning of a period of dramatic change in my life. I didn’t realize it at the time, but it was the beginning of one of the roughest periods of my life as well. It began when one of our pugs, Coco, who was only 5 years old, died suddenly in our home. Just four days later, my dad was involved in a DUI that was so bad that the EMTs and police were sure that it was a fatality when they arrived on the scene. I actually drove by the scene as they were cleaning it up but had no idea it was my dad until the following day when my husband heard through it through the grapevine and had to come home and let me know. I was fairly certain I was going to lose my mind at that point. I was so shaken up at the idea of nearly losing Dad and so angry with him for not letting the emergency workers contact me to let me know that he’d been hurt. He was so concerned with keeping the fact that he’d been drinking from me that he couldn’t understand why I was so hurt.

Then just two weeks later, I got a call letting me know that my beloved grandma Dorothy was dying. I’ve talked about her before – she was my heroine, my role model and really, the only mother I ever knew. Even though it scared me, I stayed there in the room with her and my other family members as she passed. I’ve since come to realize that it was a profound gift to be there with her when she left this world, even though the pain of losing her was almost unbearable.

Over the next year or so, I lost two more family members. I never felt like I healed from any of those wounds before the next blow came. Then in February 2011, I went in for surgery to repair herniated and blown disks in my neck. While I was healing from my surgery, I found out my mom, who was living in New Mexico at the time, was gravely ill. She’d suffered a stroke and some other health issues right before I went in for my surgery, but it seemed that she was healing, albeit slowly. Within a month, she was gone. Even when my brother came to my house to prepare me (he’d gotten a call letting him know that Mom wasn’t going to last the night), I kept thinking he’d come to tell me that she was improving. Up until we got that final call, I still didn’t believe it. Her funeral services are a blur to me – I had a friend ask me recently if she’d attended Mom’s viewing, and I honestly can’t remember for sure. Those days I could barely get out of bed and the only thing that kept me from absolutely breaking apart was my family and Xanax. A bunch of drama blew up after she passed, but at that point, I didn’t even care.

Then in May, my grandpa Chester passed away. He’d been fighting Alzheimer’s for years, following a series of strokes and heart attacks, but he always seemed so strong even in spite of all that. The shock of losing him never fully set in – I had become so numb from all the other loss I think my mind just shut down at that point.

Soon after all this, our two oldest children moved out on their own. I wasn’t prepared at all for how that would affect me. They only lived an hour away, but not seeing them every day was just one more loss I wasn’t prepared to deal with.

Things were quiet for awhile and then in April of 2012, we found out my father-in-law George had lung cancer. Within 7 short months, he was gone. Even when the nurses said he only had 3 weeks to live, I thought they were full of shit. This was a guy who should’ve been retired but could never sit still long enough to enjoy retirement. He was still working, still mowing grass, working on the house, helping all of us out with various projects around our houses. George was a do-er. He was a man of steel. Invincible. And then he was gone. I didn’t even know how to help my husband and children grieve his loss at that point. I remember seeing my dad at the viewing, shaking my husband’s hand, giving me a hug, not knowing what to say, feeling so helpless. I knew how he felt.

Three months later, Daddy was gone. It happened so suddenly, and the circumstances were just horrific. I still have no idea how I got through the week leading up to his funeral. My dad wasn’t married, so it fell to my brother and I to do all the funeral planning, which I think was actually a lifesaver. It kept me busy enough that I didn’t have to think too much or feel too much. The day of the funeral came and I remember feeling so angry. Angry that I’d lost him so soon, angry at all the stupid, pointless things people say in those kind of situations, angry with myself for being angry at people who were just trying to be nice, angry that I hadn’t had a chance to say good-bye, angry that I wasn’t there with him when he died. The funeral itself is a blur. I remember getting hysterical at one point when they handed me the flag from his casket, but I don’t remember much else.

Six months after Dad died, his brother Doug passed suddenly. It was like losing Dad all over again. I hadn’t even begun to start grieving my dad when I lost another family member. At that point, I was just pissed at the entire world. Sick of funerals, scared to death to answer my phone for fear it was bad news, and convinced that I was cursed somehow. I really felt that life was testing me – pushing me to see just how much it would take to finally break me. I was terrified that something would happen to my kids or my husband because I knew that would be the thing that would send me over the edge.

And every day I’d pass by that goddamn magnet. I’m pretty sure I nearly threw it away about a dozen times. I’m absolutely sure I flipped it the bird a time or twelve. “Keep going”?!? Like I had any other choice! I cried and ranted and raved and broke things so many times and yet I kept going. I didn’t know what else to do. Lucky for me I’m stubborn as all hell.

So why am I telling you all this? Well, it’s not for sympathy. And it’s not to one up anyone who’s gone through their own hell. It’s to prove a point, and that is this: that stupid magnet is right. The only way to get through hell is just to keep going. If I’d stopped at any point and let all that shit catch up to me, I’m not sure I’d be here right now. If I’d allowed myself to climb into a beer bottle or a bottle of Xanax to cope, I’d be stuck right in that same hell. I had to keep going and I was determined not only was I going to keep going, I was going to somehow create a better life for myself out of all the wreckage. And I have. It’s been years of progress and setbacks, of soul-crushing depths and also moments of heartbreaking beauty. It’s been a dirty, nasty, knock-down-drag-out fight, but I survived it and I used it to make the life that I have now. And my life now is pretty damn good.

Does any of this make me an expert on depression or grief or recovery or any of that stuff? No, not at all. It just means when I talk about changing your life by changing your thinking, I know it can work. It means that I know that it’s not easy to overhaul your entire mindset with positive thinking and self-care, but I know it can be done and I know that it’s worth it. It means that I’ve been through hell and clawed my way out of it. I’m not saying this as someone who’s had a rough day here and there and decided I wanted to write a self-help blog full of perky quotes. I think that there’s a bigger “why” in all of this and I think I made it through not just so that I could finally have a peaceful, happy life, but so that I could share what I’ve been through and hopefully make others see that there’s a light at the end of the tunnel and it’s not an oncoming train! I’m not someone who’s necessarily comfortable with showing all my scars, but I don’t think that any of this matters unless I’m honest and open about why I’m passionate about what I’m doing.

So if you’re going through hell, keep going. And trust me when I say that it’s worth the fight. YOU’RE worth the fight.

Much love – Mama Bear

 

dmsr mix

Just Keep Swimming

 grief

If you don’t recognize the phrase “just keep swimming”, it’s Dory’s motto from “Finding Nemo”. And though it’s simplistic, it’s a pretty decent attitude to have when things get rough. And it definitely applies when you’re dealing with grief. Right now there are a lot of people, including myself, who are trying to make peace with the loss of a loved one (or several) and so the subject of grief and grieving has been on my mind a lot lately.

For decades, the accepted grief model was based on Elizabeth Kubler Ross’ work. Ross said that there were five stages to grief: Denial, Anger, Bargaining, Depression and Acceptance. What I think most people never realized is that while all of those may enter into someone’s experience with grief, it’s not a linear progression. It’s not like you go through denial for a set period of time, finish it and then move on to anger. I think of it more like a Whac-a-Mole game. You hit denial with that hammer and it ducks away for awhile but before you can take a breath, BAM! here comes depression. You clobber that and BAM! anger. And on and on and on. And sometimes it feels like the game has short-circuited and you’ve got unlimited time to play it. But you never get any tokens and you never get any tickets or prizes. Just endless moles popping up no matter how many times you beat them with that damned mallet.

toddler-whac-a-mole-o

Or you can think of it like the ocean. And just like the quote at the top of this post says, it ebbs and flows. Sometimes it’s calm, and sometimes the waves are so big you feel like they’ll capsize you. And you never seem to know when they’re going to hit.

You can actually be going along perfectly well, thinking you’re feeling fine, and all of a sudden, a song comes on the radio that reminds you of them. Or you’ll catch a whiff of someone wearing the same perfume they used to wear. Even happy moments can be a trigger for grief. And then it feels like you’re tumbling right back down, reliving all the hurt and pain and anger. It feels like quicksand that you just can’t ever crawl out of.

It’s not.

I don’t think there’s any end to grief. But that doesn’t mean that you’re always going to feel the way you do today. It will get easier. It will change. But maybe, for a time, if you go in the water you might have to wear a life jacket or maybe just some water wings. Because the waves are definitely going to come, and they’re not always going to give you a warning. The most important thing is that you just keep swimming. And it helps if you can have a buddy along for the swim.

If you look off to the left or the right, or maybe off in the distance, you’ll see there are a lot of us right there swimming alongside you. Trying to keep ourselves afloat, wearing our life jackets, waiting for the next wave to hit. And though our journey might not be the same as yours, we’re all still swimming.

So keep whacking those moles and keep swimming, even if all you can do is just tread water for a little while. Someday we’re gonna learn to surf this bitch. I guarantee it.

JustKeepSwimming

Sending love and healing to everyone who’s missing someone today.

– Mama Bear

 

dmsr mix

Still Daddy’s Girl

dad baby

I’m going to switch gears a bit today, so bear with me. 

Today would have been my dad’s 65th birthday. I say “would have been” because we lost him far too early, when he was just 62. If life were fair, he’d have lived to see today – the age when people typically retire and get on with the next phase of their lives. He worked hard enough when he was alive to have earned that rest. But  that’s not how things worked out.

I’ve started this post several times now, each time trying to somehow tell Dad’s story in a way that will make the people that didn’t know him understand just who he was and what made him so amazing. But I can’t quite put it into words. A lot of what made him my hero had to do with the fact that when it would have been easier to walk away, he stayed. When he was just 25, he wound up with custody of my brother and me. I was five and my brother was just a baby, but he didn’t hesitate at all, even though it meant moving back home with his parents and working two jobs to support us.

It was never easy for my dad to say “I love you”. He was a product of the family and the times in which he was raised and that just wasn’t something he could do. But I never doubted for an instant that he loved me deeply. He was deeply sensitive and passionate, but tried his best to hide that from most people. He had some very strong ideas about what it meant to be a man, and I think expressing his emotions would’ve gone against those beliefs. Yet he would send me a dozen roses every Mother’s Day. And would call me when he heard a song on the jukebox that reminded him of me when I was a little girl. He’d send me cards – really mushy greeting cards – to say all of the things I’m sure he wished he could say himself.

daddy at my wedding

He was the first one to tell me that he wasn’t the “perfect dad”. I told him I didn’t think there was any such creature. He’d drink and call me and apologize for the mistakes he’d made. I finally told him that his mistakes didn’t matter because I knew he did the best he could with what he had, and that I always knew he loved me. And he got credit for staying. No matter what else happened, he was always there and I knew he loved me, whether he could say it or not.

There are a million things I could say about my dad, but in the end you really just had to know him. If I had to sum him up, here’s what I would tell you: I never met anyone that didn’t like him. Even his ex-wives had to admit that underneath it all, he was a good man. He could tell a story like no one else, turning something tragic or scary into something that would make you laugh until you couldn’t breathe. He loved George Jones and always called him by his first name as though he were an old friend (and I suppose he was). He was a rabid fan of the University of Kentucky’s basketball program. He had an entire room in  his house decked out in UK gear. He was simple in a lot of ways but incredibly complex in others like I suppose we all are. And he was a good father.

Two and a half years later, and I still miss him every day. But now the memories make me smile more often than cry, and as I live in his house (minus the UK room – sorry, Daddy), I’m still surrounded by reminders of him every day. I know that he knew how much I loved him, and I hope he knew he was my hero. I told him I’d always be a Daddy’s girl, and I still am.

I love you, Daddy. Happy birthday.

dad at my graduation