Waiting For Death

So about a week and a half ago, I got a phone call out of the blue that my great-aunt had died. It was completely unexpected and we were all in shock. I feel blessed to be able to say that I was actually sad and felt the loss of my great-aunt. I have 4, and we are all close. I don’t think many people can say that. Saturday was the service, Tim and I packed up our Tribe and headed to Tucson to join the rest of my family. As I sat through the service, we heard from many family members about the life and impact of my Aunt Marilee. It was so beautiful. The whole family then made pilgrimage to her favorite steakhouse, “Lil’ Abner’s Steakhouse” in Marana, where we continued talking about her: swapping stories, tears, and belly laughs.

For better or for worse (but usually for better) my family is very close. Sometimes it’s a fine line between close and invasive, but usually we all get on well together, and as our matriarchs have said in so many words over the years, “We are Crawfords, and we sing.” And that we do. One of our traditions is to “sing Grace” instead of “say Grace” before a meal. We gather and someone starts us off in The Doxology. We always begin the first line, “Praise God from whom all blessings flow,” in unison. Then by the next line, “Praise him all creatures here below,” we have broken off into 6 part harmony. I don’t say this lightly, we sound incredible. I will have to record this sometime for you to hear. By the time we reach the end, “Amen.” half of us are beaming through tears as we all look around at each other. Someone always says, “Now THAT was GOOD!” and then we eat.

At some point during the evening, one of my cousins, Susie- whose mother was my Aunt Marilee, and I were having a conversation, when she made a wonderful point- “How come we don’t do this when the person is still alive? Why do we have to wait until their gone to gather and share and remember?” It’s tradition, I suppose. But she made an excellent point.

We have to start doing this more, to affirm and cherish those we love, before they have moved on. I always like to think that those who have passed can still hear and watch over us. I always wonder how surprised they are at the funeral hearing all the nice things people never said about them while they were still alive. Why does it take waiting until someone is on their very last breath, or until they’ve passed, to say these things? We should be saying them now. I am guilty of this just as much as anyone else. I never told my Aunt all the things I admired about her. I hope she felt as loved and appreciated as she was.

So then, why don’t we actually just come out and say these things? I think it’s because it requires a certain vulnerability on our part, we may cry, we are afraid of looking silly. I think another reason is because we often spend way more time looking at all the positive attributes of a person after they die. While they’re alive, we spend more time looking for ways to criticize them. That would be cruel to do after they die, so we do the opposite. But what if we left out the criticism all together and only looked at their strengths while they were still with us. What if reflections of other people wasn’t saved for the funeral. Can you imagine the life we would breathe into our marriages? If instead of saying things like, “Why can’t you just pick up your dirty underwear and put it IN the basket?” or “Well, you never have the laundry done on time anyway.” What if instead we found ways to affirm them even when we were frustrated.

Child psychologists have found that positive reinforcement carries more weight than does negative, when you’re trying to raise them. Focusing on what they ARE doing right, instead of where they mess up. But why confine this to our parenting? Aren’t we all children at heart? Don’t we all still need and crave affirmation and love? Whether we want to admit it or not, we do. If we are going to love our spouse unconditionally, it’s going to be a much smoother road when you’re able to shift your focus from everything that is wrong with your person, to all that is right.

-ASH

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Emotions Do Not Ask For Permission

Ashley had done some hard work through counseling and processed through a lot of baggage in her life. It was now 2016, and I had graduated law school and now it was my turn. Ashley had a tough conversation with me and told me that she did not want to continue our relationship in the way it was going. She told me I needed to see a counselor and work through some stuff. There was no coercion or threats, but I knew she was right.  It is impossible to distill the 11, or so, years of marriage that led to that point in a single post. But, we both knew that for us to have a thriving relationship for the next 50+ years of our marriage, I needed to do some work on myself.

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Out of wanting to not disappoint or hurt Ashley, I tended not to speak up or let my opinion be known. I thought, “better for her to be able to do the things that she wants then for me to ask her not to,” or “better to stifle my emotions, then to express them and hurt her.” I associated emotions with weakness. So in her expressing emotions and me being calm, I was being the strong one, the person that she could depend on to be steady. I also tend to shy away from personal conflict, so I was quick to try to make peace and move on when there was conflict, instead of dealing with the real issues.

I enjoy the logical side of being human. For me, rationality seems easy, clean, simple. Emotions are difficult and messy. I was even keeled, my highs were not very high, and my lows were not low. I was okay in the gray zone of emotions. I may not have been experiencing strong positive emotions, but at least I did not feel strong negative emotions. I came to ask myself, “What if I am not experiencing life how it was intended to be?” Humans are rational creatures, but they are also emotional creatures. For my entire life, I let my rational side overpower my emotional. What was I missing by stifling the emotional side of me?

Emotions do not ask for permission. They happen regardless of whether you want them or not. Unlike rational thoughts, your body does not ask you, “Hey Tim, this happened, how would you like to respond?” Nope, something happens, and before you know it, BAM! Emotions show up and you ask yourself, “What happened? I was just sitting here.” So, you have two options: You can stifle them, or you learn how to approach them in a healthy way.

For my adult life, thus far, I chose to stifle them. Going through counseling was messy. I actually asked for a chart with the names of the different emotions on them so when I felt something I could work on identifying the emotion. Shocking, I know.

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Counseling stirred up a lot of topics for Ashley and I to talk about, which was not easy. I had to start learning a balance between sharing, but not over-sharing. Somethings are actually best left unsaid. Sometimes, expressing emotions is overly selfish because the motivation is completely self centered.
I am still learning, and will continue to learn. Fortunately, Ashley has stuck by me through the process and we have learned a lot. Emotions do not ask for permission, but you have a choice for how to approach them.

-TIM

Avoiding Tension on Vacation

“You’re taking 4 kids to Disney World?? Wow, you’re brave.”

We heard this no less than 27 times before we left on our trip in January of this year. Mostly, we were excited for this trip, but having heard that so many times it was starting to get to us. Tim's parents would be coming with us on this trip and we were excited for the extra company, extra set of eyes, and extra time that we would get to spend with them. Plus, they volunteered to take the kids for one night while we were there so that Tim and I could have a date night at the park. We would be gone a whole week, from Saturday to Saturday, and well that didn't feel like a long time, over the years, Tim and I have noticed that when we don't take time to stay connected even during vacations, we get grumpy and snippy and impatient with each other. We both set intentions before we left, that we wanted to relax and just have fun on the trip.

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The first part of our trip, we spent a few days with my Aunt and Uncle at the beach. It was so nice to relax there and watch them love on our kids. “The walls are soundproof, just so you know…” my uncle had said to us one night before we headed off to our guest room. We laughed, but yeah...we passed. There’s just something about the next morning when you know what you were up to last night... and so do other people... and the eye contact, and it just gets weird. So...yeah. (We have a story about that for another time.) But we found other ways to connect. We had nice long conversations on the drive to Orlando, and found that we were doing a pretty good job of just relaxing and enjoying the moments.

Once at Disney World, each day was a whirlwind of walking, riding rides, standing in lines, getting autographs- you know how it is. Each day, we found little ways to connect with each other: holding hands, walking together while our kids meandered out in front, stealing kisses, smiling at each other, taking selfies, taking our time, and taking advantage of a locking bathroom door in our room after the kids had gone to sleep. (You gotta get it when you can, you know??)

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This may all sound incredibly cheesy, and trust me, the feeling isn’t always there. But kindness begets kindness, positivity begets more positivity. Just exchanging a smile here and there often goes a long way in keeping anxiety and tension levels in check. Find little romantic things to do even on vacation. Tim would get up before me and go down and get me a latte each morning before I got up. It was a small thing, and obviously he was there getting himself coffee too, but I saw that little gesture as his way of saying, “I’m thinking about you.” When you’re looking for those little things, you’ll see them.

Staying connected just in everyday life is hard enough, staying connected while on vacation often falls to the bottom of the priority list because we often have so much else going on. Keep it at the top of your list, and notice how much easier and joyful your vacations become. That was our best and favorite family vacation so far, and we didn’t come home feeling like we needed a vacation from our vacation.

-Ash

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