That’s How Much I Love You

This morning my son wrapped his arms around my neck and hugged me. Hard.

 

“I love you, Mama; if you were a sock, I’d be your shoe.”

 

My heart. Exploded.

 

I tell my son this all the time because it’s from one of our favorite bedtime stories.

 

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This was the first time he ever thought to say it to me.

 

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I am so grateful and so full of love. In this moment, I am also overwhelmed by the haiku I wrote for my son:

 

HE’S NOT MINE TO OWN,

I WAS MADE TO PROTECT HIM…

BEFORE I WAS BORN.

 

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At some point during the whole becoming a mom stage of my life, I realized my protective capacity was off. Off like…I would kill myself to save someone else…from boredom.

 

My son saved me. Before he was born, I was slowly dying…and I didn’t even care. I had toxic relationship poisoning. Were it not for my son, I never would have began my self love journey. My son taught me to rage against the dying of the light. RAGE. Don’t fuck with my son’s mom. I matter.

 

For someone who realizes that they were created to be a weapon of war, a tool of destruction, the very idea that you “matter” can be overwhelming…and confusing. When I started to ACT like I matter, I lost almost every single person in my life.

 

What’s up, grief?

 

If you are not on board with me loving myself,

 

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I’ll grieve you.

 

What did one year of boundaries do for me?

 

(1) Could not meet son’s teacher vs Had son’s teacher over for dinner

(2) Hospital every couple months vs No Hospital in 9 months

(3) Wanted to go to a support group vs Hosting a support group

(4) Could not stay asleep for longer than 2 hours vs Sleeping up to 5 consecutive hours per night

(5) Living in constant FEAR vs Only experiencing fear when appropriate (NEVER!)

 

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I have my health, I have my family, I have love and I am GRATEFUL.

 

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XO

~Rachel

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7 houses in 6 years: Children Need Consistency

Here is a trip down memory lane…

 

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When my parents first separated, I left the family home I had been raised in for my first 11 years and moved to this townhouse in Derby right before the start of seventh grade.

 

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The landlady was super nice; she allowed us to bring our cat, Sam, even though she had just installed brand new carpets.  My Dad helped my Mom and I move in. I thought they would get back together. Then my Uncle John came to the door and when I got my Mom for him, he served her with divorce papers. I had seen this Uncle only a handful of times in my life and he was so aggressive and frightening, I fainted. We had to move out the following month because we could not afford to live there.

 

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This was my grandparents home, where my Mom grew up, and we got to live here for about 8 months before my Grandpa sold it so he could build a retirement home in Florida.

 

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I spent the eighth grade living in this duplex on Cleveland off of Beach Road in Angola. The upstairs neighbors pounded on the floor if we played the radio or made any noise. The next door neighbors left their cat on a leash, even in the rain and always had a yard sale going on.

 

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We went to go live with my mom’s boyfriend and his children for most of ninth grade at his house on Church Road. When we lived there, it was a one-story; this is what the house looks like today. This was the first time, of many, that my brother, Philip, crossed the lines and left my dad’s house to come live with us.

 

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Don’t get too excited. This is not what my tenth grade house looked like when we lived on Summerdale. At all! This was a one story when we lived here that had two kitchens only 25 feet away from each other (awesomely awkward in-law quarters). Our old neighbor eventually ended up buying the house after we moved and knocked it down to build this McMansion, which is on a cliff overlooking the great Lake Erie.

 

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Come on down to Albeeville, it’s gonna be a JAMBOREE!! Anyone who knew me in eleventh and twelfth grades will not recognize this house because, once again, it looked nothing like this when we lived here. I can’t even imagine what it would be like to grow up in a buttoned up home. I’m excited for the people who live here now.

 

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The longest amount of time I have lived in one house remains the first eleven years I served on Northfield. Whenever my husband talks about feeling averse to the stress involved in moving homes, I always think about this sequence of events and kind of laugh, bitterly.

 

I don’t care if we move, as long as we all get to stay together as a family.

 

“Life is a process of becoming. A combination of states we have to go through. Where people fail is that they wish to elect a state and remain in it. This is a kind of death.” ~Anais Nin

 

XO

~Rachel

 

Haiku

Bill Murray in St. Vincent

{originally posted December 10, 2014}

 

Went on a hot date over the weekend to the movies and saw Bill Murray star in St. Vincent.

 

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I love Bill Murray. I am not done considering my overall opinion of this (very) dark comedy, but I am way overdue in sharing the part that immediately resonated with me…

 

Yes, it has to do with grief.

 

Bill Murray plays a character who (spoiler alert) loses his wife. The conversation he has with the little boy he babysits is very relevant to me. It went something like this:

 

(little boy) I’m sorry for your loss.

(Bill Murray, angrily) Why do people always say that?

(little boy) Because they don’t know what else to say.

(Bill Murray) How about, what was she like?

 

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So I’m in the movie theatre and I just burst into tears, trying to tell my husband (yup, I’m talking during the movie now, too) that: IT’S NOT FAIR!

 

What’s not fair?

 

The way society forces us to shut down our grief. I’m sorry for your loss is the same thing as saying: that’s enough, shut it down, this conversation is over. That is not polite, that is cold and rude. It’s also unhealthy. What was she like? Now that’s a conversation opener. Brilliant. Much warmer. Demonstrates that you care.

 

So I have already started doing it. Asking people who are grieving: what was she like? And the result is beautiful. I recommend it. Relationships never die. Trust me. Even if the other person dies, your relationship never dies because it lives inside of you. Keep talking about your loved ones who have passed, it strengthens your relationship; makes it grow.

 

I was trying to tell my best friend about this concept and saw the 1987 version of the movie The Secret Garden in my head. Remember when that little girl finds the key and opens the Secret Garden door for the first time? What garden?! The brown overgrown piles of sticks and dead leaves were so high and thick; you would never know we finally made it to the garden but for the title of the movie. That’s where your relationships go that you think are dead. That’s where the relationships go that you wish were dead. Relationships never die. They are just waiting for you behind the wall you put up.

 

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Am I blowing your mind? Watch this video I made:

(Relationships Never Die: The Secret Garden).

Revisit your relationships—every single one of them, as they are all living inside of you. Take inventory. Roll up your sleeves and be willing to do the hard work. Gardens don’t bloom in a day.

 

XO

~Rachel

 

A Double Haiku by Rachel VanKoughnet:

 

Always with Despair,

sometimes I think I can count

my friends on one hand…

hand orchids

…then I remember:

you keep your friends in your heart.

I’m never alone.

Relationships Never Die: The Secret Garden

{originally posted December 6, 2014}

 

Relationships never die.

 

This is a major epiphany for me.

 

There have been many relationships in my life that I wished would die; that I believed were already dead. It made sense to me at the time and went right along with my former erroneous belief that relationships die when one of the parties thereto passes away. That’s not true at all. I know this now.

 

I write a lot about grief. It’s kind of my thing.

 

Grieving has actually strengthened my relationships with those that have passed.

 

Believing relationships can die is what leads to neglect, the weakening of that relationship.

 

Admittedly, part of what sparked the epiphany for me stemmed from the blog I wrote about my brother and an insightful comment from a fellow INFJ that went like this:

 

“The attitudes and emotions behind this post seriously gave me goosebumps. The power of sibling relationship still baffles me today. What a journey I’ve been on in my own life trying to account for it. You’ve reminded me how precious that relationship is – like a flower you can hold in your hand for a short time, it eventually transforms into something new. It disintegrates into the soil. It joins the earth and nourishes new growth. The process is very painful. Our consumerism culture tells us to throw away withered flowers as if they are no longer Life. We have to go out and buy new flowers if we aren’t so lucky to have a garden. I’ve learned to appreciate the future of a blossomed flower. That momentary joy you experience in its beauty transforms into cycles of creation that flow through our earth, our home. A flower becomes a source of vitality for all living things. Relationships are no different. The imprint a person leaves on you resonates in the beauty and kindness you share with others, in your ability to transform yourself, in your ability to light up the world around you. Thanks so much for sharing this in all the difficulty that it presented to you. I hope it was cathartic. I hope it helped you shift into a space of receptivity so that you too could benefit from the vitality your brother shared with you.”

 

Thank you does not do justice to the gratitude in my heart for these words. Words are my favorite. I got lost in this garden The Child Philosopher created for me and just sat there for weeks… examining…taking inventory. I treasure these words. They lead me to the most beautiful and peaceful understanding: relationships never die.

 

I have been desperately trying to explain this concept to anyone who will listen to me for awhile now. So I made a YouTube video about it (click here to watch). I hope you can find peace in the message as well.

 

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Happy Holidays.

 

XO

~Rachel

PS: subscribe to The Child Philosopher!

Love a Veteran?

{originally published November 11, 2014}

 

In honor of Veteran’s Day, here is a link to a brilliant 20 minute video about how to cure Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). If you or someone you know suffers from this injury, please watch this video to learn how to feel better immediately.

 

I have always considered myself a Veteran, though I have never been in the military, I was in the war at home. Domestic Violence. Abuse and Neglect. I am a survivor.

 

One of the many different things I do to recover from my complex PTSD injury is research and read. I cannot recommend the book Sacred Contracts by Caroline Myss enough. This book has taught me so much about myself provided an excellent guideline for how to do the HARD WORK of getting to know my true authentic self.

 

This book asked me to consider what my family legacies are. What are the things that family members have been doing to each other for generations? Right away, my brain answered: we don’t talk to each other. Ever again.

 

The reality of this family legacy legitimately precludes me from ascertaining what the other family legacies might be, but recently my brain released another answer…and it hit me like a ton of bricks: we think we should kill ourselves.

 

Terrible! I know, it’s disgusting…but hear me out…

 

In my family it was understood that making a mistake (such as stuttering, dropping something, striking out at baseball, etc.) would definitely lead to an overwhelming sense of shame that would absolutely be cured by just killing yourself. Like that would be the only way to be relieved or released from your indiscretion. Living with the shame…that would be unbearable. It was a joke…I think.

 

The thing is, years later, my paternal grandfather actually did kill himself.

 

I had only met him once. I was 16 years old and cashing them both out of the express lane at the grocery store when my paternal grandmother advised: “we are your grandparents…see, we won’t hurt you.” I smiled painfully and handed them their change and receipt, as my brain processed the information. Publicly. I had never met them before even though we lived just up the street from them and walked past their house all the time. Legacy #1 Cut Ties Forever.

 

I know my paternal grandfather was a Veteran. I heard that he was disturbed by his experiences in the war and that may have lead to his decision to end his own life.  Considering suicidal ideation as a family legacy has actually helped me tremendously. It’s not me. It is a learned behavior. It can absolutely be undone.

 

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There is no indiscretion that should cause a person to take their own life.  Every mistake can be undone with LOVE. I promise.

 

If, for whatever reason, you don’t take the time to watch the video about how to cure PTSD, I can break it down for you into 2 words: LOVE YOURSELF.  Love is gentle. Love is kind.

 

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XO

~Rachel

 

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*Haiku by Rachel VanKoughnet

“Like a horror film,

Sometimes all I see is loss

…suffocating me…”

Oh, Brother…

{originally published October 6, 2014}

 

I want to talk about my brother, Jody.

 

I call him my brother because he literally embodied the definition of the word for me at a time when I was very confused about its meaning.

 

Brother.

 

I always had them. I am the youngest of three children and the only girl. Divorce and remarriage changed all that. In so many ways.

 

My oldest brother (by 5 years) did not speak to me from age 11 through 18. We never discussed why when we spoke from age 18 through 22 but it was always assumed that it was not my older brother’s fault at all, even though we lived in a small town of almost 2000 people. Even though I was just a little girl. I won’t ask him now, since he hasn’t spoken to me from age 22 through the present (age 32) and because I don’t care to hear the answer, I already know.

 

My other older brother (by 18 months) was the kind of best friend who, it was understood, would rather be with our older brother if he could, but since he can’t right at this particular moment, then we could be best friends as consolation. The kind of best friend who allows you to sit at his cool kids lunch table in high school but doesn’t say a word to you for that lunch hour every day for a year. WHY??? I don’t know, I always assumed it was because I was worthless, but I asked him recently and it seems to be simple high school survival behavior he deeply regrets.

 

The combination of the above two paragraphs left me in a weird spot in high school with regard to the word “brother.”

 

When I was 14 my mom and I went to go live with her boyfriend who later became my stepfather. My stepfather also had 2 sons and a youngest daughter, just like my family. Jody was 5 years older than me, like my brother Kevin, and I fell in love with him immediately. It was embarrassing. I knew we were now family, even though it would be 2 more years before our parents officially married each other; I knew it would not be appropriate to be IN LOVE with my future step-brother.

 

Sometimes I would make him food. He was so skinny. Unlike me or my brothers, Jody could eat anything and it never showed. He admitted to me a decade later that he always had to secretly throw away more than half of his plate that I prepared because he didn’t want to hurt my feelings that he couldn’t eat all of it.

 

He didn’t want to hurt my feelings.

 

I could tell. He was doing what I was doing: we were watching each other. He read, understood who I was, and he wanted to protect me. The more we got to know each other, the more clear it became that we truly understood and practiced loyalty.

 

Loyalty.

 

That word has always been among my top 5 personality traits. That word has also always haunted me. Why??? Because I was giving it and not getting it, the loyalty was not always reciprocal. I used to think that’s what drew Jody and I together: our understanding of, appreciation, and yearning for reciprocal loyalty.

 

I understand now that it’s much more than that.

 

I remember the last conversation Jody and I had together, 6 years ago now. We hadn’t seen each other in awhile and he was skinnier than ever. He lit up when he saw me. I know he lit up because not only did I see it with my own eyes, but it also reflected back into me and I actually felt warm and loved.

 

He was telling me he received my wedding save the date. I rolled my eyes like: oh that old thing and told him all discouraged that I wanted it to have been much more creative but I’m not good at that stuff so my save the date is actually kind of boring compared to what I’ve been receiving in the mail from more artistically inclined friends. Blah Blah Blah. Boring.

 

Jody shook his head slightly, smiling, and told me he had never even seen a wedding save the date that was a magnet, he described how excited he was to open my mail and be reminded that I was going to marry Chris. How he loves to see it on his fridge every day. His sincerity was so calming to me; his support was palpable.

 

Jody was always a fan of Chris. I remember when Chris and I hosted our first Thanksgiving together at our first apartment in Buffalo. For a variety of reasons, that holiday meal was extremely stressful to prepare (I won’t go into that here) but, long story short, the combination of our divorced families and the tardiness of the meal resulted in a miscalculation of wine intake and a pass (out) on dinner.

 

What I’m saying is: by the time the food finally made it to the table, Chris had to excuse himself from the table and literally never came back; therefore, I hosted our divorced families for the first time by myself.

 

If you know me, you can look right at me and know what I’m thinking. My face is very expressive. Jody watched the tension in me rise to a boiling point. He smiled at me. He told me the food was excellent. He told me he was having a great time. It was right around his Birthday so I made him a cherry cheesecake pie, a new recipe. I had asked him what he wanted for his Birthday cake and was startled when he told me no one had ever asked him that before. Cheesecake. I had never made one, but I bake pies so I made that for him special and was so worried it would be a flop.

 

We sang Happy Birthday to Jody, his son blew out the candles and, even though he was so full from dinner, he ate his entire huge piece of cheesecake. His Birthday cake. He hugged me so hard. He loved his cake! I found my smile again.

 

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Before he left my apartment that evening Jody told me: don’t give Chris a hard time. I looked at Jody sideways, he never told me what to do before, but Jody just smiled at me until I smiled back and said: ok.

 

That really blew me away at the time because I was like, why shouldn’t I give him a hard time?! What’s the big deal, why do you care what happens to him? Because I know Jody, I already knew the answer. Just like me, Jody could read people, and, just like me, Jody decided immediately he loved Chris.

 

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This is the Christmas card Jody handed us just a couple weeks later. Jody was excellent at picking out greeting cards. They were never random. The card says:

 

“For You, Sister, and your family. Your home is a happy and welcoming place where there’s love in the air and a smile on each face…”

 

I cried when I opened this card. I cried because the one thing I have ever wanted my entire life was a family of my own and I knew Jody was right: me and Chris were a family now. I cried because Jody was being my brother and I needed it. I cried because Jody’s heart was so big.

 

Chris and I always talk about the time Jody lent us his boat. It was a disaster. Something happened and the boat kept filling up with water?! We were super concerned that we were going to sink his boat and that he would be angry thinking the boat was filling up with water because of something we may have done. When we got home, Jody just laughed and said: I’m sorry that happened! He was smiling while we explained how worried we were that we had done something wrong. Jody was not at all concerned. He shrugged and said it’s ok, he would fix it. No big deal.

 

Jody could fix any boat, he was a real genius at it. Most people would at least tease the person who almost sunk their boat, but not Jody. He was very careful with my emotions. Probably why he didn’t tease me and say: blah blah blah, when I shot down his compliment of my wedding save the date magnet.

 

9-19-09. That was my save the date. It used to haunt me. I mean, who sends out a save the date over a year in advance and then dares not to get married that day? Me. Some of my friends still have that magnet on their fridge and I used to look at it as a symbol of my failure and be like: why are you doing this to me, take that thing down at once!!!

 

I don’t see 9-19-09 like that anymore. Ever since I started to embrace the grieving process, I also started to see 9-19-09 as an inevitable part of my journey. That actually did have to happen that way. I didn’t make a mistake. Not at all.

 

Today I allow myself to say: I am that person who rescheduled their wedding date due to grief. If Jody wasn’t doing 9-19-09 then neither were we. I planned a totally different wedding that did take place on 5-8-10 because life happened and I adapted. I honor my body and I do what feels right when it feels right.

 

My brother Jody is with me all the time. Even so, I still feel his absence and I still mourn our connection on this earth. I wish we could spend this Thanksgiving together and our Birthdays and Christmas. Anything.

 

I’m not done talking about my brother Jody and I never will be.

 

XO

~Rachel

 

PS: Full Disclosure: while writing this blog, I cried the whole time…on a spectrum ranging from silent stream of tears to scream sobbing; I also used my shirt as a tissue after the box of Kleenex next to me ran out.

Hug Yourself + Love Yourself = Heal Yourself

{originally posted August 1, 2014}

 

Ever hug yourself?

 

I do.

 

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I made a YouTube video about it today. I’m that girl.

 

Actually, I wrote the script for: Hug Yourself + Love Yourself = Heal Yourself, hours before learning some pretty heinous news.

 

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I am increasingly intuitive like that; producing and directing this movie was healthy for my grieving process. I don’t know what else I would’ve done with my seconds, minutes or hours. I made the set and shot the footage in record time. I’d say this one was fast tracked for sure.

 

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Last night I wrote my first Haiku:

 

If you’re deserted,

You can have extra dessert.

PERMISSION GRANTED.

 

Also ate 2 brownies last night.

 

Full disclosure, I eat chocolate every single day.

 

I hope you enjoy my latest YouTube video and that you all start hugging + loving + healing your beautiful selves!

 

XO

~Rachel