the ebb and flow of shadows
the ebb and flow of shadows
I’m sure this comparison has been made by someone else at some point, but watching clouds out my window on the flight back solidified the idea in my mind. Grief has so much in common with these clouds.
One minute the sky is clear and the next it’s completely covered. While weather is somewhat predictable, the clouds themselves are not. They’re hard to measure, to manage, to anticipate. Some move quickly across the sky and others linger.
The sadness that comes with grieving drifts in and out of my days, constantly unpredictable. Some moments it’s heavy and impossible to see through. Other times it's a wispy, fleeting feeling. And then once in a while I look up and there's not a cloud in the sky.
On this trip, I read a great article by Stephanie Quick that referenced clouds and contained these words:
I imagine what a world of uniformity would look like, demanding we all see the sky the same way, from the same angle. Or I wonder what life would be like if we all believed the clouds to look like the same kind of animal. — Darling Magazine, Issue 19
And that's where the analogy gets even stronger. Not only are there different types of clouds that can change from one minute to the next, but every cloud will look a little different to each of us. Everyone’s perspective is unique, so we will all experience and process grief differently. And clouds are as universal as grief is.
The night we arrived in Murren, the sky was foggy. At dinner, we watched clouds blow in and out, obscuring parts of the view, but they didn’t keep us from being amazed by what we could see of the lush green mountains so close. Toward the end of dinner, the clouds lifted just a little and we discovered an entire section of mountains above us that we hadn’t even seen yet!
The next morning, we woke to find ourselves in the middle of a cloud. We could barely see the balcony outside our window. We started rethinking our plans for the day but 5 minutes later the sky was clear. We snapped some photos and watched it turn to fog again.
I checked to see if we took any photos of that deep fog, but there are none. At the time, it didn’t feel beautiful or worth trying to capture. It was just dense white fog. And we knew exactly what we were missing.
For now, this analogy is helpful. The fog that initially felt so thick and heavy after losing Emma is starting to thin and break apart from time to time. Cloudless days are becoming more frequent, but I'm still not interested in talking about silver linings, rainbows or anything of the sort.
I don't expect the clouds to ever go away completely.
But I don't think I would want them to.
I’ve felt the need to write another blog post for a while, but then wonder what I can possibly write next.
Our lives have continued, as they do. With birthdays, holidays and all kinds of other happy/sad moments mixed together and inseparable from each other. Emma’s due date came and went. The holidays. The birth of my beautiful nephew. The start of our GriefShare class.
Each milestone takes us further from Emma’s short time with us. I look at my post from a few months ago and wonder at my ability to articulate so much. Somehow it was easier to know what I was feeling and what I needed back then. Five months later, my grief is less constant, but more overwhelming (and if I’m honest, more confusing). It makes me feel like I’m moving backwards in this journey.
The past few weeks have been fairly emotional ones, and not always in relation to my own loss. I am very aware of the sadness all around me and how close it is to all of us. A friend's family member or dog passing away, unrest and unkindness in the news, and politics in general, have all brought me to tears.
On the positive side of things, I’ve found a lot of joy in our home lately — both in the pursuit of making it better (more calm and restful) and appreciation for the space we have. Home is where I want to find comfort, and I’ve been more intentional about removing and re-thinking things that have become a source of stress. Over the past few months, we re-worked our laundry room and the way we handle laundry at our house, I started meal planning (hello new year’s resolution), and added more plants to our house. These tiny changes have made such a difference in my daily levels of joy.
I’ve also been going to counseling, and my counselor mentioned that reading short stories is highly recommended for people dealing with grief. She said it’s helpful for our brains to read and take in a full story arc. As participants in the middle of our own story, we don’t have the ability to see the beginning, middle, and end, so it can be a healing thing when we read other people’s stories.
So Andrew and I have both been reading more this year, and it’s been really wonderful. The more I read, the more books I want to read. There's a small bookshelf in our room where we stacked the books we’d like to read this year. They sit on the top shelf. After a book is finished, it moves to the bottom shelf to help us see the progress we’re making. Right now, there are eight books on the bottom shelf and it’s just now the end of February.
So, this is where we are right now.
Even on the good days, I don’t feel quite like myself. But I don’t really expect to. Everything is different, and we’re still figuring out what to do with that.
Emma Margaret Ramos was born to heaven on September 14, 2016. She weighed 2 lbs, 5.5 oz. She had a head full of curly dark hair.
One month ago, I was in a hospital room having just delivered our second baby girl. One month ago, she didn’t even have a name yet because we weren’t ready. She wasn’t ready.
Andrew was on his way home from a business trip to Germany that was cut short.
Indie Craft Parade, the event that I work on all year long was only hours away, and I wasn't there. No one was where they were supposed to be.
Even now, I find it all very hard to believe. I’ve had many sad moments, and a few sad days, but for the most part, I would describe the last month as surreal.
I’ve been waiting for it all to sink in. For something to ‘click’ and it all to feel real. But now I’m beginning to wonder if that will ever happen. If anything, our experience — from the first call to the midwives all the way to the visitation and memorial service — feels like a dream that is fading.
But some pieces feel real, and important. I'm writing them down so I don’t forget.
Our friends, our family, and our church have all been more real to me than ever. Every other day, meals show up on our front porch. Friends threw Ella a 2nd birthday party. Strangers, acquaintances and distant relatives have reached out to offer us comfort. In fact, words of encouragement have come to us through every possible avenue: text messages, flower arrangements, Facebook, cards, etc. These people, the flowers, the food are all tangible reminders of love.
Ella hasn’t asked about the baby. In spite of months of pointing to baby in my tummy and telling her goodnight, Ella seems to have forgotten about her baby sister. At some point this might seem sad to me, but right now it’s comforting to not have to attempt explaining life and death to a two year old. Especially when I seem barely able to grasp it myself.
Art has been particularly meaningful. We already have several pieces in our house that were given to us in honor of, and in memory of, Emma. I have a better understanding of how art can speak to us in ways and times when words can not.
The fear of forgetting. Our time with Emma was so short, and there’s not much to hold on to. I realized the other day that I don’t know what color her eyes were. I never saw them open. Of all the emotions I’ve experienced in the past few weeks, this is one of the strongest.
I see babies differently. As we deal with our loss, other friends and acquaintances are having babies and announcing their own pregnancies. I’m sure people wonder whether that makes me sad, but it’s actually the opposite. It’s like I finally realize how much of a miracle babies are. I think I took this for granted a little bit because of how uncomplicated Ella’s birth was.
While it’s not exactly tangible, the comfort I have found in Heaven is very real. Most importantly, the thought that all of the things I could have possibly wished for Emma here on earth — to be happy, healthy, whole, loved — were already true by the time we met her.
Andrew and I struggled to find the right wording for her memorial service program. The smallest details bothered us. The use of the word ‘born’, which typically implies life. The fact that there was only a single date to list. But we finally landed on these words:
Our precious little girl was born to us 8 weeks early, weighing only 2 lbs 5 1/2 oz and not yet ready for this world. We named her Emma Margaret Ramos, meaning ‘whole’ and ‘pearl’. We missed meeting her in this life, but will one day see her again – we take refuge in this thought.
I'm attempting something new, inspired by my friend Beth and her writing. Sharing before I can convince myself it's not good.
When is enough
Enough emails responded to.
Nothing is ever done.
So when is it okay
to set aside the undone?
I dislike the unfinished
So I don't begin.
I vaguely remember the name Rodney King from my childhood and hearing about the riots in LA on the news. I lived in the Midwest, and while I’m not naive enough to believe that racism didn’t exist where we lived, it didn’t seem to affect me. Racism seemed far away, and mostly something from our country's past — an issue we had collectively moved beyond. I realize now that I was just young, white, and sheltered.
In Missouri, there was no talk of north and south. And the confederate flag was something I only saw in history books, or as a meaningless souvenir that you might acquire on a road trip, no different than a commemorative t-shirt or a mug.
Then I moved to South Carolina.
I quickly noticed subtle differences between the culture here and the one I grew up in. Most obvious to me were the constant references to the North and the South. Comparisons between Northerners and Southerners. Not only did people remember this division in our country, but it seemed they wanted to keep it alive in some form.
When I moved here, the confederate flag was still flown at the South Carolina state capitol. Yes, a historical symbol — but one filled with decades of meaning on all sides.
Someone once asked me if I had ever read a book that was life-changing. While not technically a book, I’m currently making my way through one of the most life changing documents I have ever read. It’s a thorough survey documenting the state of race conditions in Greenville, South Carolina in 1950. The report covers everything from living conditions to education to medical care.
It’s essentially a time capsule of what life in 1950 Greenville was like for the black community. The paper is aptly titled, Everybody's Business.
Reading this document has educated me in a way that no history book has ever done. To see discrimination documented factually in black-and-white is frankly shocking. The realities of daily life that were socially acceptable are recorded here with stats, figures and quotes.
You can read the report in its entirety here. If you prefer a more visual or concise read, this Time/LIFE article and photo series (1956) by Margaret Bourke-White is also helpful.
I confess: I have only made my way through part of the paper. Not only is it a lot of information to take in, but the sad realities are difficult and heavy to process.
It’s eye-opening to realize that this glimpse into Greenville’s past is only one generation removed from me. When I sit in my neighborhood meeting, around me are many people who experienced this version of Greenville. People who are intimately familiar with the conditions I’m reading about because they lived in them.
This past week I’ve heard many people say that it's time for white people start listening. I agree, but I want to add that if we're just starting to listen, we have some serious catching up to do.
Maybe the facts were glossed over in school, or maybe I just wasn't listening because it didn't seem relevant. If we're serious about listening, and really hearing what our fellow Americans have to say, I think we have to look back as well as forward. Without the benefit of historical context, how can we even begin to make sense of the frustrations and limitations our neighbors face? What is, and has been reality for the black community is not common knowledge in the white community.
This is not an excuse. It’s a call to action. It's time for us to do our homework. To read the facts, take in the words of Martin Luther King, Jr. and the pleas for equality from those who have gone before us. We need more than just snippets from Twitter to comprehend the complexity of the events happening around us.
I can no longer pretend that race issues have nothing to do with me. The truth is, they're everybody's business.
"The rule for all of us is perfectly simple. Don't waste time bothering whether you 'love' your neighbor; act as if you did. As soon as we do this we find one of the greatest secrets. When you are behaving as if you love someone, you will presently come to love him...
The same spiritual law works terribly in the opposite direction. The more cruel you are, the more you will hate; and the more you hate, the more cruel you will become — and so on in a vicious circle for ever.
– C. S. Lewis, Mere Christianity
Living in Greenville for almost 15 years, I’ve seen some significant transition take place in our city. I’ve always had a deep appreciation for the history of this place – the textile mills, the visionary business men and women, and the progressive thinkers who have made it what it is today.
Last month, I had the privilege of working on a mural project with Furman University to honor musicians from Greenville. This project introduced me to a man named Josh White. Learning about him has given me a completely new perspective on Greenville.
Josh's story and his connection to Greenville is actually quite heartbreaking. He was born to a minister and his wife in 1914. "But his childhood ended prematurely and tragically in 1921, when a white bill collector came into his home and rudely spat on the family's immaculate floor. Indignant at this insult to his wife, Dennis White grabbed the man by the collar and shoved him out the door. Shortly afterwards five white sheriff's deputies showed up to arrest him. As an example to other blacks, they beat him, tied him behind a horse and dragged him through the town to jail. Incapacitated by the after effects of the beatings and ill treatment he had received, he spent the rest of his life as a patient in a mental institution." 
As an 8 year old, Josh went on the road to assist traveling musicians and to help support his family (he was one of 5 brothers and sisters who were left without a father at home). His talent led him down a road of success where he eventually became "...the first black singer to give a White House command performance (1941), to perform in previously segregated hotels (1942), to get a million-selling record ("One Meatball", 1944), and the first to make a solo concert tour of America (1945). He was also the first folk and blues artist to perform in a nightclub, the first to tour internationally, and (along with Lead Belly and Woody Guthrie) the first to be honored with a US postage stamp.” 
In every account of Josh’s life that I found online, it begins with the fact that he was born ”in the black section of Greenville, South Carolina”. This single line has prompted me to look closer into the history of my city than I ever have before — beyond the mills and the prominent business leaders. Josh’s story has brought to light some of the realities of segregation that I’ve never thought about before.
It's easy to get caught up in the shiny, new face of Greenville. The one that we all love and can't stop telling anyone who doesn't live here about. At the same time, there are parts of history — everyone’s history — that are unflattering, but we can’t afford to forget about or ignore those pieces. They deeply affect how our present looks, and I don’t think a city is any different.
I don’t even have the words to express how Josh's story has affected me. And I have no doubt that many similar stories could be told over the years, in cities all over the country.
So I’m digging in. Seeking to understand more about the way things used to be, so that I can better understand my community now. Josh's story has opened my eyes to a new side of Greenville, and I can already tell I have a lot to learn.
– C. S. Lewis, Mere Christianity
One of the Makers Summit talks that really stuck with me this year came from Scott Hofert. Two weeks later, I’m still processing the ideas he shared. Scott encouraged us to rest in the seasons of boredom and monotony because they will come, and many times this is where we are most creative.
What he said resonated with me, but the more I thought about it, the more I realized that I can’t remember the last time I was ‘bored’. I love a new project and in general, I like to stay busy. I’m a more productive person when I’m forced to manage my time well. I am constantly making and adding things to lists. My philosophy is to get things done, and I can rest once I’ve checked everything off the list.
At the moment, I can relate a little more to the monotony side of the equation. It’s easy for washing dishes, folding laundry, and cleaning up, to be dreaded tasks. They’re never ending and always on the list. Embracing the monotony of these tasks might change my perspective and let me see these as quiet times to look forward to.
As I’ve tried to process Scott's words, I’m finally understanding that my lists will always be there. There will probably never be a day when I wake up and I find myself with nothing to do. So my challenge seems to be creating more whitespace, in spite of my to-do lists.
Several years ago, my pastor spoke about the idea of Sabbath as "the ability to put work down". Over the past two weeks, I’ve started to notice how much I go out of my way to avoid boredom and fill up every inch of time. There are obvious ways: social media, picking up my phone for no reason, obsessively multi-tasking instead of being focused. And there are not-so-obvious ways: feeling guilty playing with Ella because I really need to finish some household task. Never painting my nails — not because I don’t like having my nails painted, but because I literally can’t stand the 15 minutes afterward where I can’t do anything with my hands.
This weekend, I took some intentional steps toward whitespace. I got my nails done. And I tried to be calm when they were taking too long to dry. I went outside while Ella napped and read a book that I really wanted to finish, ignoring my messy kitchen. I picked flowers from our yard. I watched a movie and didn’t spend the majority of that time folding laundry, checking email or flipping through catalogs while I did it.
I’ve been surprised to realize how hard it is for me to “put work down”. Part of me wonders if I need to just add that to my list. :)
It seems impossible that Makers Summit was an entire week ago. After months of work, it always sneaks up on us and then it's over before we can blink!
This year, I felt like I had the chance to actually meet and chat with a few people, when I'm usually just running around with a "can't talk right now" vibe. I've had over a week to process all the great advice I heard, and this year I'm going to do a better job documenting the concepts that have really stuck with me.
The conference kicked off with a great keynote by Justina Blakeney. Among the many pieces of good advice she shared, was this gem:
This is so true of our Makers Collective team, and I think it's true of friends and family as well. We are meant for community and we can't do it alone. It's also a great reminder that everyone doesn't have to work or think like I do and I shouldn't try to be like everyone else.
We were created to fill in each other's gaps. When I try to do everything all by myself, there will be holes — whether I can see them or not. If I isolate myself from others, I'm not filling in the gaps where others may need me to stand.
I think (especially in the maker community) it's really easy for the do-it-yourself mentality to become standard practice not just in our work, but in our personal lives too. Justina's simple statement reminded me that it's okay that none of us are perfect. That's why we have each other.
The month of February is off to a much better start. For the most part, our house is healthy once again, and we emerged with a much greater appreciation for our normal state of health!
A few years ago, I shared the idea of doing 30-day challenges as an alternate to New Years resolutions. The basic idea is to do something consistently — usually something you want to be doing anyway — for 30 days at a time.
I still really like this idea because it seems way more sustainable than beginning the year with a big list of ways you're going to be a better person all at once, only to become disillusioned by mid-February.
I've read that it takes 21 days for something to become a habit, so trying something new for 30 days can actually result in some long-term changes. While I don't expect to add 12 new habits this year, the plan is to try something new each month and see what sticks. My challenges are extremely small, but with the emphasis on consistency, I've been surprised to already notice a really huge difference in my daily routine.
My challenge was to read a little bit every night. Sometimes it was a chapter, sometimes less, and I missed a few days here and there. But since the beginning of the year, I've read three books(!). I've always loved to read, and I feel like I rediscovered that in January. The challenge is over, but I still look forward to getting in bed and reading for a few minutes every night.
My February challenge has been to make the bed every morning. This was a (required) habit growing up, but in the light of adulthood, it never feels like a good way to use my time. I've been surprised how nice it is to walk into the room at the end of a long day and see an inviting and tidy bed.
If you feel like tackling a few 30-day challenges of your own, here are a few tips:
· I love checking things off a list, so I downloaded an app to help me keep track of my progress and keep me accountable.
· Make it easy on yourself. During January, I let audio books count as 'reading'. This was great for the nights I wasn't feeling well and my eyes needed a rest. Keep in mind, you're making the rules for these challenges, so give yourself a break and don't make your goals impossible to achieve.
· Choose realistic challenges you actually want to do. There are plenty of resolutions that could be accomplished (the gym every day!), but I've tried to focus on things that I genuinely want to make part of my life and feel that I'm actually capable of doing.
Note: I've long had an obsession with fun pillowcases. The ones pictured on our bed are from the Xenotes Etsy shop.
i started the new year with some kind of bug and still haven’t been able to shake it. A visit to the doctor yesterday revealed that I’m not just fighting a bad cold, but I have strep. And bronchitis.
I was optimistic about 2016. Determined to make friends a priority this year and invite people to our home more often, instead of just saying that we should. I’m realizing quickly that these thoughts were very much influenced by the clean state of our house at the time. It’s so much easier to feel hospitable when you feel presentable.*
After being mostly cooped up for a few days with snow and now sickness, the optimism has definitely faded. Not only am I unable to make plans or invite friends over, but my formerly clean house seems to be imploding: with laundry, dishes, and germs. I’ve made my way through three (or four?) boxes of Kleenex in the last few days and now I’ve moved on to our toilet paper supply.
My to-do list is in even worse shape.
This is real life right now, and it’s not fun.
But I want to remember it.
I tend to forget things so quickly. But if I can remember feeling a little isolated, maybe I’ll be more inclined to make plans with friends when I'm in good health. If I can remember how it felt when friends came and took Ella to hang out at the zoo because they knew we needed a break, maybe I’ll be a better friend to someone myself. If I can remember the relief that came after getting medicine, maybe I won’t wait so long to go to the doctor next time.
And when all this medicine makes me feel better in a couple days, there’s still hope for February.
*Years later, I’m still challenged by this post from a friend of mine about hospitality. I re-read it every once in a while to remember.
I have a blog, but I am not a blogger.
I've broken pretty much all the blog rules — if there are such things. I don't write profound or poetic blog posts like others do. Even worse, I don't post consistently.
Having a blog makes me really appreciate those who do blog and who do it well. People who have something to say, regularly, and use beautiful words to communicate it. Who aren't afraid to be real.
Most of the time, I hesitate to write out my thoughts on important subjects, because what if I change my mind about that topic in six months? I don't really want my outdated viewpoints permanently documented for the world. I've started many, many posts and never finished them for this very reason.
On the other hand, having a blog has been a really great tool to help me process my thoughts. Usually, it feels like my mind is running in 30 directions at once, and I leap from thing to thing without ever forming a complete thought. When I take time to write about something, it's because I've paused long enough to think through the topic. It may not happen very often, but it's good for me.
I don't use my blog to document life or even talk about my work. For me, this is a space where I can assemble fragments of thought into coherent ideas.
Last year, I published a grand total of 7 posts over the course of 12 months. This is not something I feel guilty about. And, I didn't resolve to blog more this year.
I keep blogging because it forces me to pay attention to those little thoughts that just won't go away. To find answers to questions that I've wanted to ask myself. It's more for me than anyone else, and I'm okay with that.
Been mulling over this quote a lot lately. The more I think about it, the more I believe it's absolutely true.
From The Millionaire Mind, p220
It's been ten years since I took a college business class and learned the mantra "Do what you do best, and hire out the rest." I haven't forgotten it since.
This makes perfect sense in a business context, but the basic principle (you don't have to do everything) also applies to personal life. In some cases, it's simple: I don't know how to fix a toilet, so (maybe I will google a solution, but) ultimately I will call someone to fix it for me.
The trickier situations come about when there are things that I could do, but maybe shouldn't. Either I don't have the skill, the patience, or simply the bandwidth to tackle something. Often, it's just an area where I need to learn how to delegate — a skill I'm still working hard to develop.
Ella's birthday last week — during one of the busiest weeks of the year for me — was a good test of this principle. I wanted her birthday to be special, but knew I couldn't do it all.
We decided to throw a very small party — a collective undertaking if there ever was one. I made a tiny garland and the cakes — using sprinkles from my brother and sister-in-law, a frosting recipe and a candle from Erin, napkins and balloons from my mother-in-law, and plates borrowed from my mom. We added leftover flowers from Indie Craft, and enlisted the whole family's help getting the house ready.
Also, I turned over one of the most important tasks — capturing photos of Ella's first birthday party — to good friends and very capable photographers, Brittany and Evan. This was maybe the best decision of all. If you want my best party-throwing tip, this is it: hand the camera to someone else. The party was short and I didn't have to spend it worried about capturing the perfect shot or missing a moment.
And everything turned out just right. Special, and not stressful.
It was exactly the kind of birthday party I wanted for Ella and a very fitting cap on what this first year of parenthood has been like — friends and family coming alongside, lending, sharing, giving — to make sure everything comes together.
Once again, I'm glad I don't need to do everything myself and thankful for the community of people who are there to remind me of that.
After five!? years of blogging on Tumblr (at least three of which I spent planning to move away from Tumblr) I have finally updated my blog!
I actually started the process a few months back, but it's taken me a little bit to figure out those last little pieces I needed to wrap it up. A wise person once told me that it's the last ten percent of a project that takes ninety percent of the effort. I have absolutely found this to be true in my quest to finish more things than I start this year.
On that note, I'm very happy to introduce the brand new version of elizabethramos.com!
I spend too much time feeling restless, looking for what’s next, being uncertain about where I’m going and why I am where I am. I think it may be a creative thing — these phases of doubt and the desire to always do/be/make something better.
But I don’t feel that restlessness right now.
Last week, we relaunched our Indie Craft Parade organization as The Makers Collective. I don’t think I’ve ever had this much clarity about what we’re doing and why we’re doing it. It’s a great feeling.
At this moment, I am sitting alone in the middle of my city. It’s the perfect weather in my book — a breezy 86°. The sun is shining, my to-do list is waiting patiently on the sidelines, not pushing or pulling.
The city is literally growing around me. Construction behind, a shiny new plaza in front, green growth everywhere I look. It’s a good time to live in Greenville, SC.
I sit in a space that many people probably had a part in planning. I’m grateful to them for their thoughtfulness and for each decision that turned this into a place I want to be. This space was not the work or the vision of one person.
It makes me think about the small army of people who surround me, fulfilling their own roles and in the process, reassuring me that I’m where I am supposed to be: Alissa, who cares for Ella two days a week (and sends me pictures while she does it). Andrew, who is the best partner and co-parent I could ask for. Friends who also happen to be coworkers, who share the list of to-dos. More friends who are willing to pitch in and share their talents to make up for my lack of skill and/or energy. Parents and in-laws who watch Ella, wash dishes, and generally make themselves available. A community who supports good things.
I know the feeling may not last, but for now it feels good to take a deep breath, knowing that — without a doubt — I’m where I’m supposed to be.
The eve of my 32nd birthday seems like a great time for some reflection. Apparently this season of life is all about finding my limits, which includes the difficult lesson of learning how to say “No”.
Being a people pleaser at heart means I’m pretty bad at saying no. And you know what’s even harder, is saying no to good things that just aren’t right for me at this moment.
We’re in the middle of re-focusing and clarifying the mission of Indie Craft Parade. As a result, I’m having to come to terms with my own personal goals and motivations. To say it’s been healthy is an understatement.
Here’s what I’m currently saying yes and no to:
YES to creating more margins in our lives. Intentional negative space.
YES to a more flexible definition of productivity with a (now crawling!) baby.
NO to more stuff. Feeling the need to purge and clean house of all the excess.
NO to more commitments and projects. This should just officially become my life motto: “Just because you can, doesn’t mean you should”.
NO to wanting everyone else’s lives, houses, clothes, etc.
NO to perfection at the cost of real relationships.