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Blog

Filtering by Tag: grief

Joy Road

Amber Adrian

In a rather macabre attempt to make myself feel better about the things I haven’t accomplished, I keep listing the dire things that have happened over the past ten years in a bizarre litany of grief:

Break up

Getting fired

Losing my dad

Losing my apartment

Miscarriage

Break up

Break up

Break up

(I’ve got to stop counting break ups.)

I find this list strangely comforting.

Sure, it was over a period of ten years, but that’s still eight rather intense grief processes. I would just be getting my feet under me after the last one when the next would hit. I spent my entire thirties feeling like a toddler on the shore who kept getting dragged under the waves.

So with all that, maybe it’s okay that I didn’t get married or get a book published or have a baby or build a million dollar company.

(I know people wrangle that much and more and still do at least one of those things if not a number of those things but I am doing my best to focus on my path rather than compare myself to other people who maybe don’t spend so much of their time in flannel pajamas.)

But what the past decade did give me on that enforced roller coaster of zen was a solid sense of myself and why I’m here.

I feel like I know what I’m on the planet to do - and that’s no small thing.

It’s the other things that people my age seem to have figured out that throw me.

(Having a family, supporting yourself well, buying a house, etc.)

Spirit = check. World = WTF?

(I saw an internet meme yesterday that said, “I’m not broke, I’m California broke” and I laughed the laugh of one who has done the math on her home state and wept.)

Now that I’m forty and we just crossed the threshold of the new year, I’m doing my best to stop with the grief litany so I can start choosing joy instead. Focusing on that, rather than on all the other things.

As a nice counterpoint, here are some of the small, lovely things in my world that I’m choosing to focus on:

How much I love my little garden cottage and its yellows and reds and turquoises.

My collection of crystals.

Sally, my stuffed therapy otter.

Hiking to the ocean.

My Harry Potter sheets (yes, I’m that person).

My favorite books.

My morning coffee.

The yellow roses I bought myself.

Driving over the Golden Gate Bridge.

The candles I light every night, just because I like the glow.

Tossing a new recipe into the crockpot every week.

I have no idea what the next few months will bring, much less the next few years, much less the next decade, but I plan to focus more on the joy than the other thing.

The beauty of a rather rocky decade - and, yes, there were many wonderful things as well* - is that it cleared the way for joy. My system needed a complete overhaul so that I could get anywhere close to that depth of lightness. And overhauled it was.

* Running a marathon, living by the beach in Santa Monica (the apartment I lost), spending a month in Amsterdam and Costa Rica and New York (there was a hurricane but oh well), getting to love a few truly wonderful people, adopting Sally, meeting a goat named Chadwick, writing some of my favorite things, reading some of my favorite things.

If I was going to make a new year’s resolution, it would be joy.

Choosing joy. Focusing on joy. Allowing joy.

There’s a street sign in Sonoma that keeps roaming through my head: Joy Road.

Ever since I passed it last year, the phrase “Joy Road” has become a new litany, a better one, in the thickets of my brain.

If I was less lazy, I’d go steal that sign and nail it to my front door.

Instead, I’ll just keep choosing the joy road. As best I can.

Grief Cocktail, and Other Things I've Learned About No-Good-Terrible Life Events

Amber Adrian

I've learned a lot about grief in the past ten years. From watching my father die, to a miscarriage, to more breakups than I willingly admit to, I feel like a bit of an expert. 

Which may be yet another cloud of hubris encircling my head, but I'll take it. Since my thirties yielded none of the things I expected (marriage, nope; kids, nope; career success that makes sense to my mother's book club, nope) and I'm now staring down the barrel of a brand new decade,  I will take what I've been given and like it.

(While also sending up a request that my forties feature exponentially more fun and exponentially fewer grief cycles. Thanks.) 

Therefore!

Here's what I've learned about grief:

Grief is the heaviest emotion.

As the grief rises through your system, it lifts every other emotion up and out with it. Misery, fear, sadness, anger, loneliness, you name it. It's a feelings cocktail mixed by one of Satan's underlings and served with a maraschino cherry.

So you think, "Well, hey. This royally blows, but at least I get a maraschino cherry." Then you bite into it and have to hack it into your napkin because it's so damn foul. You didn't even think it was possible for maraschino cherries to go bad, but then your horned bartender turns to you and grins the grin of someone who ruined a maraschino cherry on purpose. 

I joke about hell's minions, and that's often how the process feels, but my father's death was one of the best things to ever happen to me. I say that feeling like a grade A twisted asshole in my human self and like it's 100% true and perfect in my higher self. 

Being forced to drink the grief cocktail is nothing you'd ever want to put on your calendar, but it swept me clean of so much emotion that I'd been carrying around my entire life.

I think of my dad's death as my Cracking Open Moment. Those are the moments that shatter you, but in the breaking, you let all the sticky emotion flow out, everything you were holding onto and protecting without even realizing. 

After you put yourself back together, you realize that there's so much extra room now. Room for joy, room for love, room for peace. 

Grief comes in waves. 

Sometimes when you're angry, you're really grieving. Sometimes when you're lonely, you're really grieving. Sometimes when you're pissed at the world and especially everyone currently driving a car, you're really grieving.

Sometimes you think you're done, and you aren't - and the grief wave knocks you into the sand. 

See: grief cocktail mixed by Satan's minion. This time with gritty sand in indelicate places. 

Don't beat yourself up for riding the emotion roller coaster. 

Be extra careful with big financial decisions while you're in a grief cycle. 

Everything is all over the place, so stay out of your bank account and away from your credit cards if you can.

But since life happens, you may need to sell a house or something. Call in someone you trust with a dispassionate perspective to help you do whatever needs to be done. 

But also trust yourself. If you need to take some fancy trip, maybe that's the exact perfect thing for you to do. 

(But don't do what I did, which is try to take a trip and then end up not taking the trip after paying for half of it. Whoops.) 

Love doesn't die, it only changes forms. 

I believe the more of the grief cocktail we drink, the more room is created for this to make sense. 

Do whatever you need to do to get yourself through. 

If that means developing a weird relationship with a stuffed otter and taking her on road trips, so be it. 

Sally strapped in.jpg

Go on long drives with your therapy otter, take classes in things you're terrible at, read anything you want, eat fried chicken in bed, upgrade to first class.  

Ramp up your self-care exponentially. Shower every day. Treat yourself like a toddler, making sure you've napped, eaten, cried, and played with crayons. 

Let yourself feel without making it mean anything. 

One of the grand challenges of being a human is allowing your feelings to be felt.

Feel them as physical sensations, as something passing through, rather than something that needs to be stuffed into your spleen until one of you dies. 

As the feelings are rising, your brain will frantically try to give you reasons why the feeling is happening, and it doesn't care if those reasons make you feel better or not. So your brain might make those feelings mean something about you, something about your life. Do your best to disengage your brain from the process. Just feel. Let the energy move through your body. Up and out. Hush, brain. 

Keep crawling through the tunnel of sewage, Shawshank Redemption-style.

Keep going, keep crawling, keep putting one foot in front of the other.

You've got this. It will pass. You will feel better. You will feel joy again.

You just need to move through this season of your life until the next season arrives with cherry blossoms and red convertibles driven to Mexico by Tim Robbins. 

When Love Goes Awry

Amber Adrian

If you’ve never seen your dead father staring out at you from a stranger’s face, I assure you, it’s an experience.

At this point, I'm just spending my life splatting face first into the space-time continuum of metaphysics. Over the past four years, I've worked with all sorts of coaches and mentors and healers who do really fun, weird, and often completely inexplicable things.

One day, my smoke alarm starts howling like a banshee of the damned while I'm on Skype with one of my coaches. My ears split and my eyes watered and I spent ten minutes trying to get the damn thing to stop – made more difficult by the fact that there was no smoke anywhere and I couldn’t reach the off button.

When the unearthly shrieking was finally curtailed, I hop back on Skype and my coach asks, “What were we talking about right before the alarm went off?”

Often, when there's a disturbance in the force - the phone cuts out, Skype hangs up on you, or fire alarms go berserk - it means something important is happening energetically. 

We were talking about my father and it was so intense, my coach sent me to his mentor - a man named Carl who does family constellations. 

Far better explanations of family constellations exist, but my understanding is that they call in the energy of the family and the specific family members, alive or dead, and whatever is needed to be released or healed shows up. People playing the roles within a family will begin expressing the emotions they feel – sadness, anger, relief, comfort – emotions that shift and change and vary depending on who is introduced into the constellation and what their relationship was in life. Family constellations often shed light on patterns and feelings and events that even the people within those systems don’t understand.

So on a summer Wednesday, I end up in a room where a circle of Carl’s students are waiting to call in the energy of my family.

Sitting in a gazebo under the stars of Northern California, I watched a small Asian woman in striped pants take on the role of my grandfather. I know nothing about my grandfather, except that he left abandoned the family when my father was very young. I don’t even know his first name, although I carry his last.

A blonde woman in a red shirt took on the role of my father. She started dancing. I dance, but to the best of my knowledge, my father never danced a day in his life. But there she was, twirling and spinning, before collapsing in a chair. Her eyes narrowed as she glared at my grandfather, and a deep anger began to radiate from her like electricity. “Rage comes in waves, I suppress it like it doesn’t exist. Turn it off, don’t look at it, eat ice cream.”

“So I push it down and create a new life,” she continues.

If I had any doubts about the process, they would’ve been laid to rest right about here. I’m well-acquainted with deeply suppressed rage – and my father’s favorite comfort food. Before he died, one of his last requests was for ice cream.

I know better than to think that a man abandons his family simply because he wants to – there are always reasons, deep and profound and unsettling reasons, why such a course of action is chosen. But when my grandfather, still in the form of a small woman in striped pants, turned to my father and said, “I’m overwhelmed by warmth and tenderness. I can’t look at you because my heart is aching,” I was surprised. Without ever really thinking about it, I reflected my dad’s anger toward the man who took off, leaving my father and his family in a very bad situation that lasted until my father left Pennsylvania for California.

What came through in that small room was that my grandfather was young, maybe not yet ready for the demands of a family. He loved his young son, but he was restless, he longed for adventure. He wanted to be at the bar with his friends.

As he was explaining the love that wrestled with his need to leave, a woman sitting in a chair across the room suddenly flopped face down, nose squashed into the carpet. “I just need to be here,” she said.

Nobody has the answers in a family constellation.

Carl has no idea what’s going on, the volunteers who assume the energy of different family members have no idea what’s going on, I sure as hell don’t have any idea what’s going on. We all just have to watch it unfold and put together the pieces. That’s why sometimes, when there’s an unknown element at work, a random person will flop out of a chair and squash their face into the carpet. Even when they’d really prefer not to because the carpet has been molding on the floor since approximately 1982.

Suddenly, the woman playing my grandpa begins to look guilty. “I did that,” she said, pointing at the woman on the floor. “I did that.”

That’s when it gets really weird. Like film noir weird. Like the moderator looking up from her notes and saying “holy shit” three times weird.

Turns out, my grandfather accidentally killed a man in a bar fight. So he and his buddy left the body lying there and skipped town, never to be heard from again.

Children, even when only a few years old, perceive things.

Looking at the dead body on the ground, the woman in the energy of my father says she feels a strange sense of peace. “You won’t see that,” she says to my grandfather. “You’ll run because of it. I’ll see it for you. It feels good, because it’s reliable. If this is all I can have of you, I’ll take it.”

“Shit, shit, shit,” says my grandfather.

A man who was accidentally murdered by my grandfather in 1944 in a small mining town in Pennsylvania made my smoke alarm shriek seventy-one years later.

Left on the ground in an alley, he needed resolution. The energy was called in so that my grandfather could acknowledge and own and apologize for what he’d done.

Carl makes a joke about dragging the body to a river. “It would’ve been a sign of respect to put me in the river,” says the woman playing the dead man to my grandfather. “Don’t just do this and leave. Put me somewhere.”

After accidentally killing a man when a fight got out of hand and then abandoning his family, my grandfather lived a haunted life. Death was all the only thing that brought him peace. 

When a parent abandons their child, the parent is left half-alive. Even when that decision is made out of love, out of fearing of hurting the child if they stay. Decisions made from a very deep love can do great harm. Simply because, at the time, there doesn’t seem to be another way. Fear consumes and makes it very difficult to make choices that will serve us well. On a deep level, this can impact the family for generations if those emotions are not fully felt and acknowledged and peace made.

“Just kill me,” my grandfather says. “It’s better than feeling what I’ve done to you.”

“This is the first time in any constellation when ‘Hey, douchebag’ is a healing statement,” Carl says.

The murderer and the murdered each turn to each other and say, “Hey, douchebag” and the ownership of accidental, terrible actions transform into something funny and heart-breaking and healing.

"Hey, douchebag" was their path to peace.

Emotion was deep and overwhelming, experiences described by these people who had never met me or any other member of my family so closely mirrored my own experiences – of being overwhelmed, stuck behind a wall, going blank with no words in times of great stress or emotion.

That’s why I love this stuff. It makes you question what you believe to be possible and nudges you into expansion.

After absorbing the energy of murder and abandonment, my father wasn’t very alive. All he wanted was to escape and begin a new life and shield his children. He wanted to shield us – and so my brother and I took that shield and divvied it up. For reasons I never fully understood, I couldn’t let things in while my brother couldn’t let things out. This includes money, relationships, connection, love. Not all-inclusive, but I’ve always felt a wall there.

At the end, my grandfather and the accidentally dead bar buddy lying on the ground behind us, my father turns to me and my brother and says, “We can breathe now.”

“You’re seeing your father for the first time,” Carl says. “Because of what happened, he could never be fully present.” Even as I write this now, I begin to cry. Because it’s true. My father had to maintain a certain distance his entire life. Less so with my brother and I than with most people, but distance nonetheless.

We received a blessing from our father that day from beyond the grave. Children receive a spiritual blessing from their father. If his wounds block him from giving that blessing, then our supply of money and of creative power becomes crimped, because it can’t run through the pipeline without causing Dad stress.

After his death, we received what he meant to give us while he was alive. Drained by circumstances beyond his control and without the tools to heal it, he simply didn’t have it to share.

Who knows what of this is true, what truly reflects what happened in my father's family. But on some level, who cares? More is gained from believing than disbelieving. More is healed by allowing the experience in than in shutting it out because it can’t be proven.

And it reminds me that love always comes through, even if circumstances and choices block love or the ability to give what we all want to give our families. That love is always held in trust for us, to be delivered when the time is right, even if it takes lifetimes. 

Goats on Hills & Other Dreams

Amber

One day, I want to be the eccentric woman on the hill with a menagerie. I've already scouted out the hill - there's a perfect one right near my hobbit cottage, marked by a sign urging dog owners to keep hold of their pets so they don't terrify the goats. I want a hill with goats and giraffes maybe a water park for a baby porpoise and a few adventurous hippos. I almost started my menagerie on Sunday morning when we were walking through the town square for coffee. A man had four puppies on a leash and he was parked in a spot where people would stop to play with the dogs, which we promptly did. I know myself well enough to give puppies a wide berth but the manfriend was playing with them before I could coax him to a safer spot, one far away from puppies who need homes. Inevitably, one of the puppies crawled over to me and started to lick my hand until I was about thirty seconds from breaking my lease and smuggling a dog into my house. I might have even done it, if housing wasn't so desperately hard to find in the Bay Area.

We hadn't made it out of the town square before I started crying because I wanted a puppy. Not just a puppy, that puppy. We had to spend the rest of the day comforting me with discussion about how puppies pee on favorite rugs and chew on hot pink ballet flats.

Yesterday, I started crying in a diner when I saw an empty baby carrier sitting on the ground.

One could chalk this up to hormones - and I usually do - but it feels like a symptom of something bigger.

My life is very quiet. I have a lot of time and space alone. I know that friends with pets and kids and jobs would kill for the life I lead, or at least they would for a week or so, before they started missing their children and pets. But at some point, a few years in, the quiet begins to echo. It's not emptiness precisely, but it is solitary. And I don't believe we're meant to be solitary creatures.

I've had people tell me not to wait too long before having children - but it's not a question of waiting. It's a question of timing. I've been knocking myself out, believing that I have complete control over what happens in my life and when. But the more I abandon the idea of control and just allow things to happen as they will, the easier everything gets.

But I will continue to dream of a time when there are kids and animals tumbling over hills. Even if the giraffe remains a bit of a stretch.

Why Crying Is The Best Thing Ever and We Should All Do More of It

Amber

One of the very best things to do when there are feelings. 

One of the very best things to do when there are feelings. 

Who's been crying a lot lately? ME TOO.

After years of desperately wishing I had been born with an instruction manual because I really don't understand how I operate and am prone to pulling the wrong levers, I'm finally noticing how deeply my emotions can help or inhibit me.

If I observe and express them - usually by sobbing like my heart's about to shatter like glass on concrete - they help me.

If I ignore them or decide I don't have time for them right now because I have to watch TV or because whatever's on my to-do list is infinitely more pressing, they inhibit me.

When I let myself carry around unexpressed emotion, it totally blocks me up. To the point where I can't function. Getting client work done is like pushing a two-story house up a cliff using only my thumbs and writing anything creative is impossible. My brain spends all its energy coughing up all the reasons my relationships don't work and why everything is terrible and why that won't ever change.

But when I let myself cry - sob, really, in the most dramatic fashion possible - in an hour or so, everything feels better.

My therapist told me I needed to cry more and I thought that was silly. "I cry the perfect amount," I thought. But then I'd go for a week or two without giving much attention to my emotional state and everything would begin to pile on top of me like layers of fog and dust and rubbish until my entire life felt like a toxic waste site. Crying is like washing away the acres of sludge with a convenient tsunami that leaves everything clear and ready for whatever's next.

I feel like someone just handed me that instruction manual. 437 pages on How Amber Works, complete with diagrams. Now every time I feel incapable of getting anything done, it's not because I'm lazy or unmotivated or undisciplined or in the wrong career or a complete waste of space. It just means that I need to go outside and stick my bare feet in the grass and cry for awhile. Or go make a list of everything I'm feeling sad and angry about. The signs have been pointing me in this direction for a long time, I was just too caught up in telling myself I was a bad human to see what was really going on.

Crying is incredibly freeing. It releases whatever has piled up on top of you and wipes your outlook on life clean. Crying makes you happier, smarter, more productive, and less prone to guilt trips. Crying takes the mess your three-year-old inner self has made on the etch-a-sketch of your life and shakes it clear.

I think we should all spend some time crying today. Maybe even every day.

An Ode To The Broken Hearted

Amber

Buddha-love-note-2-e1439675308426.jpg

Let it hurt. Because the more you feel it now, the less you'll feel it later. Keep breathing. Keep air cycling through your lungs and let that breath reaffirm your life when you feel like you want to die. Care for yourself physically when your emotions are battered and exhausted. Drink water, nap, exercise out the pain and the anger. Keep breathing. Keep feeling. Care for yourself the way you would care for a wounded pet or a beloved child. Know that the shattering of something you wanted is clearing the way for something more, something better. Not a better person but a better fit, a better match.  Know that you are loved, even if it doesn't feel that way. Yes, your heart has been tossed onto the funeral pyre to go up in flames, but the old heart must disintegrate before a new heart can be born.

If you feel like your heart is a blackened, charred cinder of nothing in your chest - congratulations. You tried. You opened up. You exposed your tender bits and even though it feels like a tiger just ripped out your jugular - you won. Because you were brave. Because the only people who find victory are the ones who are also open to taking a beating. Letting someone near your tender, easily bruised heart is the ultimate act of courage.

So lick your wounds and keep letting those emotions rise to the surface because the power of that hurt, that anger, will keep walls from forming, will keep the arteries to your heart from hardening. That means that when the time is right and the person is right, you will get what you always wanted. 

Trust that whatever happens is leading you toward something better, something more suited, something more beautiful. The old and broken must dissolve before the new can sidle in. If you feel that you are the one who's old and broken, allow that to disintegrate too. Because you are as whole and perfect now as you were on the day you were born.

Yes, you loved that person, for their beauty, their foibles, their unique humanness. Of course you did. But they were not the source of that love you felt, they were only its mirror. That love came from you, when you decided to focus it on them and their beauty, their foibles, their unique humanness. Once you've grieved and felt all the painful things we'd prefer not to feel, once you've realized that feeling those feelings makes the feelings dissipate, even if it takes longer than you'd like - that's when you can open up again to the next gorgeous, foible-filled human who catches the strings of your heart.

Love is not limited to one person, one life, one source. Begin to feel love in everything that surrounds you - a home you love, a pet you adore, books that make you happy, the movement of the leaves in the trees. It's everywhere and the more you see it, the more it will find you. Because you were born to be loved and that love surrounds you, even now.

Solve for X

Amber

Diptic-2-e1439676044298.jpg

In five years, no one I've dated has lasted longer than six weeks. They slide out of my life like water down a windshield, droplets that leave shadows of themselves behind long after the liquid has evaporated. I am romantic teflon.  My brain looks for patterns, because that's what brains do. 

I sleep with them too soon and they disappear. I show too much emotion and they disappear. I ask for something and they disappear. I try to deepen what we have and they disappear. 

I am the x factor in all my relationships. Since I'm the only common denominator in my experience, I need to figure it out.

Solve for x.

But solving for x feels heavy, exhausting, full of self-recrimination. If not full-on existential despair than at least a solid dose of melodrama.

But when you want something enough, you will brave what you'd rather avoid. So I dig through the layers, sorting through my psyche and its tender bits like I sort through my books, hauling some to Goodwill but picking most of them up and then putting them back down again, not sure if I still need them. Maybe this book will help me some day. Maybe this book will be the answer to a problem. Maybe this was meant to be mine. So I continue to haul heavy boxes of books between apartments like I drag along the ghosts of past relationships.

Solve for x.

I'm scared of losing myself.

I'm afraid I can't have what I want.

I'm too much or not enough. Either way, I'm not right.

The specters of my past experiences continue to rise, lighter, gray like smoke instead of sticky black tar, but still rising: the idea that emotion will frighten people away, that communication will make everything go bad. The idea that I'm not enough. Or that I'm really just too much and who has time for that? Either way, I'm not right.

But then I begin to wonder if maybe I'm looking at the wrong piece of the equation. If I solve for x, I get a relationship with someone I adore. But maybe I need to be solving the equation that will lead me to myself, rather than to the idea of another.

Choosing Flight

Amber

When I was a kid, I was immortal. I could barrel down snowy hills with sticks strapped to my feet and feel no fear. I could go streaking down grassy hills slippery with dew, without even recognizing the possibility of a broken femur. Even when I broke my left arm in third grade, it didn't slow me down because I didn't feel a thing.

Remember that? Diving head first into whatever caught your whim because you didn't know what a broken femur felt like? Or a shattered heart? It's easy to barrel down a snowy hill when you don't understand the cost of failure. But everyone eventually learns what it feels like to fall.

September 11, 2001 was the first day I truly felt my own mortality. It's become an epic cliche, but I think we all gained a fresh sense of fragility the day the towers fell. I was 22 that year, after graduating from college the year before and leaving Manhattan for San Francisco. But I knew people who worked in the buildings or near them. When I managed to catch one of those friends on the phone that night, she told me how she had to walk home across the Brooklyn Bridge, limping in her high heels as thousands of people crossed the water in shattered silence.

That was the first time it occurred to me that one day I would die. That I - and my friends and family - can be broken. I was lucky to make it to my twenties before truly feeling that. So many kids aren't that lucky. Being sheltered can be good - all children deserve the opportunity to spread their tiny wings without fear.

But eventually we all learn that we're breakable. We can and will shatter and we'll have to put ourselves back together again. But wrapping yourself in cotton batting and protecting yourself from the world is more dangerous. Too much joy and too many opportunities missed. As a champion cocooner, I know I've lost out. So I'm learning to be fearless because hiding is no longer a viable option.

I went to the Salton Sea this weekend, to visit the ocean that lives in the middle of the desert. It's beautiful, but the salt in the water is death to anything that lives there. But if you brave the stench and the flies and a shore littered with fish corpses, you can stand and gaze out at something beautiful that shouldn't exist but does.

Last year, I went zip-lining over the jungles of Costa Rica. I went with a friend and, as I was strapping on my harness, he called me fearless. Something I'd never really considered myself. But after the first terrifying line where plummeting to my death seemed a not so much a probability as an inevitability, I learned to enjoy soaring over the jungle. Soon, I was twisting and turning and flipping upside down to zoom toward the horizon with my stomach to the sky.

You can teach yourself to fear less. Especially when doing so means you get to fly.

Shifting Years

Amber

Last year, I traveled thousands of miles to realize that it doesn't really matter where you are - your capacity for happiness doesn't change, whether you're on a beach in Central America or in the house where you grew up. I watched the wind of my first hurricane whip past the second floor of my friend's house on Staten Island, bending towering trees in half, like they were genuflecting to the eye of the storm. I had my first panic attack in the parking lot of a hospital. I handed out thousands of dollars in cash. I went soaring over the jungles of Costa Rica. I got kissed on a bridge in Amsterdam. I watched both my parents become incapacitated and unable to communicate. One recovered, one didn't. I learned that seven almonds buy you a lot of attention from a squirrel. I lay by the side of the highway next to the Intensive Care Unit, tears running from the corners of my eyes and into the grass.

Driving away from the hospital after saying goodbye.

Last year, I watched New York marathon runners jogging from the Staten Island ferry to Rockaway beach with supplies on their backs. I learned that when the power is out for a week, it's not the electricity you miss, it's the heat. I roamed the streets of Manhattan the way I did in college, music pouring through my headphones to create a soundtrack to a city that seemed to expand and contract around me, as my own feelings ebbed and flowed. It was hard to be so far away from my family during that month as my dad was failing and my mom had a concussion from hitting her head on the kitchen floor, but it patched over the gaping hole I felt had been kicked in my chest. Taking that time allowed me be who I needed to be during the last week we spent with my dad. There's still some guilt there, but I'm learning to trust in my own instincts, to know that I can balance my own needs with those of my loved ones.

On the Staten Island ferry.

Last year, the furrow between my brows - the one that appears when I'm confused or in pain - became permanent. The ridges smooth out when I relax, but they're always visible now, something that would have horrified my younger self and occasionally still does. That furrow is the physical legacy of my 35th year and my father's death.

Other things are less visible.

Last year, I learned to sit on my hands when what I really want to do is yell and scream and react. I learned to be kinder to people who lash out, because it stems from their own pain and they're only really hurting themselves. You're allowed to feel your feelings, but when you use them as a whiplash to sting others in a desperate bid to make yourself feel better 1) it doesn't work and 2) now everyone's mad at you. I learned that being kind to yourself means making healthy choices and other people don't have to like those choices. I learned that the journey toward death - even when it's painful and hard and you begin to think that no hell devised by even the fiercest of religions could be as bad as this - can be full of grace. Even joy. Certainly love.

The world is a beautiful place, and I saw more of it. Autumn leaves on Staten Island, canals in Holland, fireflies in Central America. I met and reconnected with amazing people. It was a year of adventure and stuck-ness and great change. It was a year where I further cemented my faith in myself and in the world around me. It was a year where the roots in my heart grew and extended down through my legs and my feet and into the center of the world. I feel like you can't face death with a loved one without your roots both growing deeper and also disconnecting you from what you previously knew. But where you feel untethered, there are always people to catch you, to be the rubber bumper as your heavy ball hurtles toward the pins. People - friends, hospital workers, folks on Twitter - helped guide my family and me as we picked and spun our way down the lane from my father's accident to his death.

The second half of 2012 was tough for me. But there was a lot of grace and magic in it too. I'm learning not to be frightened by the tough stuff. Because it opens the door to so many good things. Love. Relief. Growth. Change. Pattern busting. Sinking fully into each good moment - the ones with bikes and color and grace - because they're worth so much more when what surrounds them is hard. Parties glow with brighter light, tea with friends takes on new weight, and the words that flow through your headphones and into your brain assume fresh meaning. But I got what I needed from 2012. I think the best you can hope for from a year is to love yourself and the world better than you did when it started.

I couldn't have possibly imagined what 2012 held for me back in January. So I'm letting go of the need to know what this coming year will hold. I want to find an easier forward motion because I tend to go full-throttle and then slam the brakes on myself, which makes for a rather lurching existence. I want more stability and creation and giving. I want to be a better person, a better friend, a better daughter and sister.

Beyond that, who knows? Some things will be good, some bad, some painful, some joyful. But whatever it holds, there will be love and there will be grace and there will be discovery. Before my father died, my brother grabbed his shoulder and said, “I’m excited for you, dad. You’re about to go on an adventure.”

I think that's what 2013 holds for all of us. So I'm excited. We're about to go on an adventure.