Good Grief: For Crying Out Loud

WARNING: This is not a feel good open letter. It is a raw, unauthorized, unapologetic rant about death and grief regard to any consequences. Side effects may include a damper on your holiday spirit.

I’m in Cologne, Germany strolling through an enormous crowd of fellow tourist inside the Cologne Cathedral. It’s only a few steps more to get to the small room inside on the left of the gigantic historical architecture. You see, I visited this place last October and I discovered the room that only a few entered. I assumed this because of the sign “Quiet Please” and “No Photos”. This was the first place I cried since her funeral. Twenty minutes straight with my last tiny travel size Kleenex crumbling in my pocket. Damp, full of tears and snot. I was sitting in a pew amongst a few others. Some silent. Some kneeling at the altar. What a beautiful place to grieve quietly.mom

Unfortunately, that afternoon my quiet room was roped off from all tourists for private ceremony and confession. Devastated, I turned around walking opposite of the hundreds bustling toward the entrance to climb the 533 steps of the Tower for an amazing view at the top and to see the St. Peter’s Bell. I’m sure this was far more interesting than an agnostic ugly crying inside a world heritage site. Me and my new pack of tissue would have to find another time and another place.

New at this, because lack of experience of someone so close dying suddenly, I’ve noticed my grief makes other people uncomfortable. And, I get it. I never knew what to say or do when a friend or colleague had a loved one die suddenly or from a terminal ailment of some sort. I felt uneasy and I didn’t want others to feel the same about my loss. So, when we scheduled a return trip to Cologne, I was ready to grieve amongst total strangers (my people) without pressure.

At home there are plenty of places to mourn in silence mostly in the bathroom of my apartment. I know my sweetheart wouldn’t mind me having a good cry in his arms but I often avoid it.

In the beginning, I found solace in binge watching Netflix and movies but even those ‘escapes’ seem to find a way to prompt bereavement even in the tiniest form. So what’s left? Happy holiday movies, right? Love Actually, The Holiday, Elf…yay!

Then without even thinking about it…The Family Stone. The Best Man Holiday. Characters die. Shit.

I think I’m ready to blow.

Suffering is personal. But I believe there is a danger in it becoming too personal that it leads to isolation. And, desperation.

I’ve avoided framing the last artwork she gave me from her adult coloring book session at the senior center. I have dreams that trick me into believing she’s going to call me soon about the ‘fancy’ new coloring pencils and markers she wanted for her birthday. When I don’t think about stuff like this, I can go about life as if nothing happened. But, no one can escape the first holiday without the presence of a loved one. No peach cobbler. No Christmas wreaths from the Senior Center. Nothing.

One positive is social media. It’s pretty fucked up to see posts on Facebook of others lamenting about the loss of a grandmother or college buddy post info about his father’s memorial service – and feel good about it.

When I do have a unique opportunity to talk with a friend or colleague about loss, it’s always brief, uncomfortable, and yet satisfying. Greg and Sam just lost their dad, best friend. Tina’s mom and sister passed away in the same year. Janine lost her adopted mom who saved her life. These posts are countless and they bring sadness but I cannot deny the joy of knowing that I’m not alone in my grief.

Melissa still has the same pit in her stomach when something reminds her of her mom who passed 20 years ago. My gut hasn’t been the same since the day my mom passed and it literally makes me sad and laugh at the same time. You see, her hugs always began with the usually bear-like embrace then she’d grab my waist and say “You look good, kid.” I’d, of course, tell her I gained a few or felt like a cow. Now, would kill for that waist grab.

At the risk of TMI to friends, family and strangers, I recently experienced a breakdown of sorts. It’s hard to describe other than a two-day marathon of crying and straight up depression. If I had to bet what was the trigger of this freakout, my money goes to the movie Wind River. Home alone one day I was in the mood for a good thriller featuring one my favorite actors, Jeremy Renner. Turns out later in the film he suffered the loss of his daughter a few years ago and when confronted by a friend who just found out about the death of his own daughter about how to cope, this was his response:

“You can’t steer yourself from the pain. You have to face the pain of the situation before you can move on.”

I feel for all my friends and anyone who’ll experience an emptiness this holiday. I feel the most for my brother and sister. It has literally torn us apart as people and family and no amount of Steelers football or Netflix can provide a true escape.

No one wants to deal with pain. It’s much easier to push it way. But, the only way to do this during the holidays would be heavy drinking or flying to a remote island. My liver is exhausted and I will always need wifi.

I’m angry. Fuck cancer. Fuck death. Fuck everything.

I’m also extremely sad and I want my mommy. Pretty pathetic but true. This Christmas I’m asking those who will listen to let me cry out loud…in your presence…with egg nog in hand. I don’t want to go to a room to sob in silence. If it makes you uncomfortable, with all due respect, YOU go to the bathroom and “NOT” cry. I demand hugs, kisses and tissue (but I ain’t too proud to beg either).

As much as I would like to believe this rant will have healing powers to deal with surviving Christmas, I have finally taken a step forward and scheduled an appointment with a grief counselor sooner than later with hope to not cancel out of fear and guilt. A recent book club read, Viktor Frankl’s Man’s Search for Meaning, alludes to finding who you are and your purpose through suffering.

If I’m going to survive the rest of my life without her, I have no choice but to find good in grief. I miss you Mary Gray.

***I’m offering to cyber sob with anyone who’ll take me. Tag me. DM me. Hashtag me: #forcryingoutloud #cryoutloud #imcryingoutloud

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Keith’s Wedding Was Better Than Yours

IMG_0056I’ve ‘crashed’ lots of weddings. Two of my own and many others I put together as an event planner. The type of ceremonies range between hour-long masses, risky chair raisings, cozy house parties and, my fave, a surreal, leather and tutu-clad festival on the playa at Burning Man. But by God, and no thanks to Pinterest, it’s been almost 10 years (arguably) since the trend began, and I am still waiting for my invitation to a farm wedding!

Slowly but surely the traditional wedding setting has transformed into a competition amongst bride-to-be perfectionists determined to create a most ‘likes-able’ event. Social media has made DIY bad AF and the more bad ass, the better the posts. According to Psychology Today contributor, Emily Matchar, the “Farm/Rustic/Vintage/DIY Wedding neatly telegraphs the values of today, values we see over and over in New Domesticity: DIY over purchased, artisan over mass-produced, rustic rather than high-tech, small and personal over large and generic.” Basically, a ‘radical departure of tradition.’

After Matchar’s own nuptials at a local goat farm, which featured over 80 man hours in printing and hand stamping goats and pigs on invitations, she surmised that farm weddings have birthed from a 21st century celebration of hyper-individualism. And Pinterest has banked on this “it’s MY party” concept since the trend began. Just search ‘farm weddings’ on the app and you get more than what you ‘barn-gained’ for in DIY projects i.e. tree trunk centerpieces, beer barrows, family tree photos (on a real tree), mason jar fairy lights and hundreds more!

One of the best examples I’ve viewed while scrolling my timeline was my colleague Keith Fuller’s farm wedding with a Star Wars twist. He and his lovely wife Kathleen chose a local farm owned by a good friend to get hitched and the photos are fascinating, particularly the money shot of the bride and groom stance clenching light sabers, ready to strike back! Keith is a bad ass chef of downtown Pittsburgh’s hot spot Pork and Beans who prepared many local farm to table dinners at Churchview Farm south of the city where he and his bride thought it appropriate for a wedding shin dig where they worked together often. Her dress: vintage style lace with gold overlay and petticoat she made by hand. Her bouquet: DIY paper roses made from library books. Amongst a crowd of 150 guests (and a few goats), Keith and Kathleen’s best memory of that day was exchanging vows on a tractor. Seriously. That post had to have had at least a million likes just for that pic alone.

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“So many more rustic venues are popping up such as our picturesque and historic Stone of Scone Farm. Tricia Derry, event planner and owner of Vintage Alley Rentals, doesn’t believe the farm ‘trend’ is going anywhere.”FullSizeRender-1

With so many more rustic venues popping up such as our picturesque and historic Stone of Scone Farm, Tricia Derry, event planner and owner of Vintage Alley rental and design shop, doesn’t believe the farm ‘trend’ is going anywhere. Each venue is unique and different in its own right, which steers away from tradition. “They come to me to bring the magic to the barn and farm weddings offer a laid back, comforting feeling where guests feel at home,” Tricia explained. The top selling points of farm vs. traditional venue that she has experienced as a wedding planner is the potential to get married and celebrate at the same location. “It’s the whole entire package and less stress” when you don’t have two places to plan both wedding and reception.

Banking on this new demand for unique settings and experiences, Tricia opened Vintage Alley a few years ago and both her Holly and Taylor entrance doors are ceremonial must haves for rustic weddings. These doors plus the barrel bar, Maurel mantel, and John Buford clawfoot porcelain tub would fit perfectly on the landscape of Stone of Scone’s Bannuokburn Barn, Aberdeen Patio, and Tynecastle Springhouse.

Tricia does warn clients to be careful of too much DIY and recommends brides and grooms focus on enjoying their wedding day instead of running around like chickens on a farm trying to craft wildflower centerpieces and making other things perfect. She recommends leaving most of the unique settings to the professionals. And, when this happens, she, like most of her clients, guarantee guest satisfaction and memories of a great time.

Instagram fame and guest experience wins over the tradition of hotel ballrooms, so it seems. “I keep getting (from guests) that it was the best wedding celebration. “Our ceremony was short and the party was huge!,” Keith described. This had to be one of the coolest weddings I’ve never been. Maybe I should start being a little bit nicer and step away from the dark side. I have cookies!

See article on Stone of Scone Farm website!

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About The Author

Colleen is a writer, food lover and rookie world traveler. She lives to leverage her life experiences and new found passions into a fun and challenging journey. Originally from Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, she currently resides anywhere in the world barring her luggage does not exceed 50 pounds. Contact Colleen at leftandinside.com.

 

Old World Charm On A Pennsylvania Farm

My latest guest blogging shenanigans!

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A short time ago, a very tall Dutchman clubbed me on the head and flew me to Europe. Well, minus the clubbing part, my 43-year span of xenophobic beliefs and fear and loathing of flying long distances were quickly upended. Thanks to that caveman from Zeeland, I am now dubbed by my family and a small cohort of friends a ‘world’ traveler.

Frankly, it’s only been seven trips to The Netherlands, three in France, two in Germany, and one in Scotland, the United Kingdom, and Italy. But visiting historic landmarks first seen in movies and more frequently posted by braggarts via social media is indeed invigorating. It’s also extremely addicting. Always ‘feening’ for the next big escape, I quickly developed a form of PTD (post-travel depression) combined with obnoxious snobbery. Pfft! Americans. Nothing domestic seemed good enough. And, come on! Limoncello made in Positano is absolute bliss.

Of course, I was being a butthead. And, thankfully, PTD can be a short-lived. According to psychologists, foreign travel has, even for this stubborn Sagittarian, a positive impact. This includes learning to adapt, being creative, and not whining about the joy experienced in other countries once home.

Turns out it wasn’t that difficult a feat. My country ‘tis of thee’ is some kind of wonderful.

Allow me to explain. My visit to Scotland, for example, sparked an interest in European history at Edinburgh Castle; stripped away every stereotype I had of Scottish cuisine at The Playwright in Dundee; and unearthed a love for a good whisky at Laphroaig Distillery on the Isle of Islay. Imagine the thousands upon thousands of tears held back on that flight back home. Something or somebody must have heard my cries because months later, out of nowhere, Facebook’s “people you may know” found a long, lost friend with a connection to Scottish history … in Littlestown, Pennsylvania. Low and behold, I discovered Stone of Scone Farm. Fate is whimsical.

Stone of Scone Farm is owned by a mild tempered lad, Robert “Bruce” Rodgers, with rich Scottish roots that directly descend to The Warrior King of Scotland, Robert the Bruce. Mr. Rodgers, also a member of the historic Angus Clan, entitled this glorious 26 acre farm after the ancient royal symbol, the Stone of Scone, also known as the Stone of Destiny. The 336- pound oblong block of red sandstone was used for centuries in the coronation of Scottish monarchs and historically kept at Scone Abbey. Presently, it serves as a social media hashtag for tourists, prominently displayed in Edinburgh Castle. This symbol of Scottish rule has more issues than National Geographic alone: captured from Scotland by King Edward I as a spoils of war, held for 700 years at Westminster Abbey, stolen back by nationalists, returned to Westminster four months after its removal, and finally, in 1996, on St. Andrews Day, legally returned to Scotland, complete with ceremonies and celebrations befitting its status. Not bad for a rock. (Imagine the reality series “The Real Houses of Scone.”)

Truly whimsical is the farm’s ‘unique aesthetic and picturesque’ landscape that reminds me of the view I encountered while driving through the Highlands in Glencoe to Loch Ness. I found Glencoe’s magnificent greenery, towering mountains, and majestic tranquility absolutely romantic. Stone of Scone Farm has romance written all over it making it the perfect venue for a fantastic wedding in its Bannockburn Barn or near its Tynecastle Springhouse. The 200-year old rustic brick barn’s granite fireplace, the cold-water pond chilling to the touch even on a hot summer’s day, the age-old myriad of statuesque trees inside Stirling Tree Groves, Evelyn’s Herb and Lillian’s Flower polychromatic gardens – ALL wreak of charm.

As described by Rodgers, the tour of the farm begins as you leave Littlestown Road and enter the property’s winding road. The view is sudden and spectacular: an old brick farm house on the left. Continue around the hand-made brick structure and a view of Tynescastle Springhouse appears nestled in a hollow fed by a natural spring that flowed for hundreds of years before the first Europeans settled. Beyond the springhouse lies the large cold water pond and Bannockburn Barn stands in full frontal view, with remnants of the Appalachian Mountains (known locally as Pigeon Hills) rising in the distance.

Rodgers’ heart and soul was put into restoring the farm back to the unique style crafted by German immigrants in the 1800s, resulting in a property recognized as both rare and historically significant. This included removal of old animal pens and the creative reuse of original materials. For example, old hay racks were dismantled and repurposed as handrails for the stairs. Inside the barn are hundreds of hand hewn wooden timbers carved from trees that once stood on the property.  The marks on these wooden timbers made by the axes and chisels of old world craftsmen are still clearly visible to the naked eye.

The beauty and mystique of the farm after restoration could not go without others to see and experience. So my long lost friend, Patricia Green, partnered with Rodgers and helped plan the next phase of the farm as a unique event destination. Green blended her PR smarts with Rodgers’ old world heritage and attention to detail to create Stone of Scone Farm. They delight in the prospects of the farm hosting private retreats, corporate meetings, annual local events, and barn weddings.

I found the inherent peace of Stone of Scone Farm the most important amenity. I imagine myself on the patio adjacent to the farmhouse in a rocking chair with a glass of cabernet in hand, soaking in the tranquility like I experienced in Glencoe.

Also, is it just a coincidence the Stone of Destiny was referenced in Shakespeare’s grisliest play, Macbeth, AND the farm is only a stone’s throw away from where the Battle of Gettysburg, the Civil War’s bloodiest battle, was fought? I admit to reaching a little with that notion but it helps with my new adventures of going global at home. (And, YouTube has a DIY video for Limoncello!)

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About The Author

Colleen is a writer, food lover and rookie world traveler. She lives to leverage her life experiences and new found passions into a fun and challenging journey. Originally from Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, she currently resides anywhere in the world barring her luggage does not exceed 50 pounds. Contact Colleen at leftandinside.com.

 

Cheating is Good…with Kevin Spacey

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Cheaters beware! The hackers of the infamous Ashley Madison dating website for the married and already attached made it clear that it will expose you if it does not willingly shut down. This could be earth shattering for all of its members.

But what about exposing the other type of cheating…the type that can be equally devastating. The type that create such fantasies as being Lewinsky’d by Kevin Spacey. What! What! Continue reading

Daily Prompt: “An Offer I Couldn’t Refuse.” Set a timer for ten minutes, and write it. Go!

In response to The Daily Post’s writing prompt: “Race the Clock.”

“An Offer I Couldn’t Refuse.” Set a timer for ten minutes, and write it. Go!

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It was already a late night when we finished our drinks. Almost midnight. Not bad for a first date. The liquid courage extinguished any and all signs of nervous ticks. We were all smiles and moved on to touching hands, shoulders. Questions and quaint interrogations about his job, family, origins, and recent divorce had killed the first two hours of conversation.

Those green eyes. The months of unwanted celibacy. At 41, could a walk of shame be reason for slut shaming?

Four years later…Earth Day is the anniversary of our one night stand still celebrated. (HEY now!)

10 min.

Daily Prompt: Morton’s Fork

In response to The Daily Post’s writing prompt: “Morton’s Fork.”

If you had to choose between being able to write a blog (but not read others’) and being able to read others’ blogs (but not write your own), which would you pick? Why?

I find the skills I’m best at are the ones I dread doing the most. So I guess I prefer to listen, read, and scroll other’s comments, rants and opinions. It’s enlighten to find the differences in how folks communicate, particularly when they respond to pop culture. Reading the “body” language of text should be very important to character study of the book I may never write.

Love you. Mean it.