What is this?

What is this? I don't really know, other then a continuation of my updates and writings that I was sharing previously on Caringbridge of this journey through cancer and now widowhood and single parenting.

Maybe it won't end up being anything at all, or maybe it will be a glimpse into my heart, my life, my current situation, my testimony.

Whatever it becomes, I am touched that you are interested.

Sunday, March 25, 2018

12 year anniversary

I can’t believe it’s been since September that I wrote anything. I feel I have so much to share about this journey that’s good, bad, ugly, embarrassing, honest and just plain real. I just can’t find the time or correct mindset these days to put the words down. 

But today would have been Brandon and my 12 year wedding anniversary. Outside of death I had no doubt we would share this day together. That was our commitment, and that was our love. 

But death happened. Three and a half years ago. And we are not spending this day together.

I had a number of people send me well wishes hoping I was doing ok. (Thank you all!)

We all have certain dates that are just the worst in grief. In spousal loss wedding/dating anniversaries can often be the worst. It’s the epitome of what differentiates an intimate relationship from all the other relationships in our lives. (As a birthday is often the hardest to those who lost a child.)

As I sat - ok, laid on the sofa in a DayQuil induced haze- I thought about this. I reflected on what today used to mean to me; A celebration of another year together growing closer together, overcoming the obstacles of life together. Success.

Then I thought about what it meant to me after death; a marking of time lost unique to only me. Our loss. Love is hard to find, and it reminded me of the depth of my loss. 

But today was different.  This is my 4th anniversary without Brandon. I believe time has helped that shift. I also believe love has helped that shift. 

I am glad that (for the most part) I look at this date as the start of a beautiful part of my life. One of the biggest influences on the person I became, becoming a wife. A partner. One with another. 

That part of my life was unfortunately short. But it is what it is. I don’t like it, I never will. A good man was taken from the lives of so many at only 33 years old. 

I am going to be transparent here and say that my “tolerance” to this day is not just from time, and counseling, and support groups and perspective. Yes, that is a huge part of it. 

But is because of love too. I struggled to open my heart to love someone else. Not only to love a man other than Brandon, but to love another man and still hold love for Brandon. 

That is hard enough. But it gets harder. Then I had to allow myself to love another more actively than Brandon. To put another before Brandon. Because that is what it takes to commit your life to someone. 

This is very hard for a widow(er).  It is very unique to widowhood. It is judged from the outside. We are told milestones that we “should and should not” be doing things in. We put a lot of pressure on ourselves to know what to do and what not to do and when to do it. 

It took me 16 months before I actually found myself able to completely do that. Thankfully Karl is a very patient man! But it has not been easy.

I can say at the moment I have come to a place of peaceful remembrance on this day. Yes, I shed tears. That’s ok. Love and loss can exist in harmony together. And I’m so grateful that God allowed me to find such an amazing man that has helped me get to this place in my messy life. Who Aria loves as a father.  Aside from doing it himself, I can’t imagine Brandon wanting anything more.

So I look back, 12 years ago, 22 and newlywed. I’m grateful for those years that Brandon taught me how to love unconditionally. And I only hope that the love he poured into me will truly shine through me as his legacy. And I can carry that with me forever. 

Friday, September 22, 2017

Destination Sadness

Onboard a plane, destination sadness. Or at least that's the goal. 

Well that was kind of dramatic...<rolling my eyes>

On September 23rd it will be 3 years since Brandon died. It took 3 years to use that word instead of "passed". 

It seems silly that I need to seek out sadness. Connect with my loss. Most would think I've spent enough time with sadness in these 3 years. But no - seems I've avoided it like the plague. I guess it's not all that uncommon.  But it did take me by surprise.  

I worked SO hard on my grief. I went to therapy. I got involved in support groups. I attended Griefshare and grief seminars. I read books, listened to pod casts and journaled. I started a monthly Young & Widowed support group at the HeartLight Center. I thought I had "dealt" with this. 

On the contrary I'm finding that I accepted my grief, but I never felt my grief.

That first year I was in shock and survival mode. From diagnosis thru death I had to stay strong to show Brandon I could do this. He broke when he'd see me cry, so I couldn't. He could no longer be my strength when I was weak - so I had to be strong for both him and Aria. I could not allow myself to feel the pain, fear and anxiety that was bearing down on me as I watched him slip away.

Then I had a newborn and Lupus and a house and a job to take care of on my own. I simply could not allow myself to feel, I had to just do. 

So I "did" grief. I did everything I could. I kept myself busy, I smiled and laughed. On rare occasions tears would slip through the facade, then I'd logic them away with statements of faith and acceptance. 

I could not allow myself to carry the sadness because I feared I could not hold one more thing without it all crashing down. 

So I didn't. 

And I became quite good at compartmentalizing those feelings. 

But the reality I have found is like the quote: "That's the thing about pain, it demands to be felt."  

I think now that I am engaged to Karl and in a loving and supportive relationship the walls of those compartments are coming down because unconsciously I know that someone will be there if I fall, so now I can take this on. And in due timing as I think the sadness and pain and fear are starting to overflow those walls and seep into other areas to get the attention they need. 

This is surely a realization I do not want to face.  To be honest I'm annoyed. I thought I had done the hard work. 

Trust me, I know that everyone's grief journey is different, and we do not "complete" this - we "incorporate" it, and we need to be gentle with ourselves, and I'm doing the best I can with what I have and blah blah blah. Yes, all of that is absolutely true - but it doesn't make it any less annoying or scary to have to deal with.

I'm tired. 

I'm tired of dealing with grief. 

...Or not dealing with grief. 

So I sit here on a bench in Miami staring out at the water, writing and trying to connect with the sadness I have distracted myself from. To feel it and give it a home in my heart. 

It's hard. 

I keep trying to "schedule" my grieving. I do it when I go up to his grave. When I run to Miami. But the truth of it is that I can't do it that way. Yes, it gives me needed time for reflection, but not authentic bereavement.  

I will need to feel the sadness when it surfaces, of course at the most inopportune moments in life.  And I know I need to give it that space instead of stuffing it back in that box.   

I need to incorporate it.

And embrace it.

Wish me luck...

Monday, April 3, 2017

Widowhood FAQ: How are you doing?

Q: How did you get out of bed in the morning?
Q: What did you do with his stuff?
Q: When did you start dating?

You know you're curious, and that is very much ok.  It's the human condition. People's stories of trial are intriguing.

I've had the random nail technician ask me how I could still sleep in the same bed without him in it.  Fellow widow(er)s inquire on how to know when you're ready to date? Friends of friends ask if I've taken all his pictures down. 

So I want to share more about this experience. I hope it can help other widow(er)s to put words to the chaos in their mind knowing they aren't the only ones thinking crazy thoughts or doing downright stupid things.  Maybe it will give those supporting others in grief to know better how to help. Or maybe it will just quench some curiosity. 

God created me to have large holes in my filter, be incredibly blunt and sarcastic and share my life like an open book...unashamedly.   (Sometimes I really should be more ashamed...) And I just hope I can use these traits to bring something out of an incredibly difficult experience. 

So - send me a message if you have something you're curious about and I'll try to answer it. 

And I'll start with a brief disclaimer. I am in no way representing anyone else's journey through this. Grief, like love and like a fingerprint, is completely unique to each of us. There are absolutely commonalities, but what was right for me to do is not right for everyone to do. And generally speaking there is no "right" or "wrong" way to do it.  This is just my individual story.

Also, I may share things that can lead to painful judgement.  That's fine - I know who my Judge is, and it isn't you. (Sorry!)  I'm not proud of a lot of my ways of coping, but I am continuing to do the best I can with what I have.  (Thank you therapy for allowing me to finally accept this truth!) 

I am only human.  Would I do things differently?  Yeah - probably.  But it was a journey I had to take, mistakes I had to make, and victories I had to experience.  

The truth is that no matter how many times you put yourself mentally in a situation, until you are living it you truly do not know what you would or wouldn't do.  I proved my own preconceptions wrong over and over and took myself by surprise.  

Even when asked a very common and simple Frequently Asked Question:

"How are you doing?"

Well - in grief that changes day to day and minute to minute.  Most often my reply would be generic:  "Fine.", "Getting through.", "Tired."  

Believe it or not, it is a very hard question to answer.  Everything in me wanted to say "Awful.  I'm a brand new mom with lupus grieving the death of my 33 year old husband while trying to keep a newborn alive.  Daily I wish for a Mack truck to take out Aria and I while driving so we can just be done with all this.  Or you know what - maybe a carbon monoxide leak while we are sleeping would be less traumatic for those we will be leaving behind.  Whatever the method, I don't care, just make sure to take us both at the same time, and soon.  Everyday is like the movie groundhog day and I hate my life.  Thanks for asking, and how are you doing?"

However, I don't think that's the response anyone is prepared to hear!

And it's not a bad thing to ask that question, whether out of true concern or out of just not knowing what else to say.  

But here is a little suggestion I learned along the way.  Instead when conversing with someone going through a really hard time, ask "How are you doing today?"  It breaks it down into a manageable chunk for the grieving brain to attempt to process and answer.

And if you are in that person's inner circle, don't be afraid to say, "No-really, how badly are you doing today?" -if you can handle the truth.  Just know, we don't expect you to know what to say or how to fix us.  I often just wanted to tell someone the shit I was going through and just say to me, "I am so sorry.  Yeah - you're life really sucks right now." and just allow me to unload the chaos spinning in my mind.

These days, 2 1/2 years later, I can answer that question much easier.  I am not in shock anymore.  I have accepted that Brandon died.  Accepting does not mean I am OK with what happened, this is a common misunderstanding.  For me it meant that I knew it was real.  Denial and disbelief are very real parts of grieving.  And once I got beyond those feelings I knew I had a choice with what to do with that reality.  Pretty much solely for Aria's sake, I knew I had to find healing and live life not death.  

Some days I did "Fine.", some days I just "Got through", and some days I was "Tired of trying so hard."  

These days I have been able to answer with, "Really good, actually.", and it still surprises me. I hope that brings hope.

Saturday, March 25, 2017

11 Year Wedding Anniversary

Today would have been Brandon and my 11 year wedding anniversary.

This date has held such mixed feelings over the years.

 I remember March 25th 2006 with happiness. The joy of making a life long commitment to an amazing man and taking his last name.

March 2011

March 25th, 2011 was tainted with fear as we faced a cancer diagnosis, chemotherapy and uncertainty.

March 25th, 2014 was full of excitement as we anticipated the arrival of our daughter.

Then March 25th 2015 came with deep grief as I faced what would have been our 9 year anniversary alone with our 8 month old.

March 2014
March 25th, 2016 I sought distraction from the sadness of our 10 year anniversary and I asked my fellow widowed friends to join me for an evening out.

This year is different yet again. As I expected it to be because grief is a journey not a destination.

March 25th, 2017 came with less dreadful anticipation. Less fear. Less ache.

 Today I feel more grateful then sad.

 That doesn't mean it doesn't hurt at all. Of course it still does because love does not die with the body. It lives on in legacy and memories. Forever.

 However, this year I can focus on the fond memories I've collected from all the years we lived out our vows, not the despair of the life stolen from me through death.

 I am in a good place these days. It's refreshing to be able to say that finally and consistently. When deep in grief it feels like it will never be any other way.

But God has redeemed my life yet again. As He has done over and over. He has given me many new roles in my life and a new sense of purpose. I have been renewed not destroyed.

It has taken time and hard work, but would it be any other way?

As I visited Brandon's grave this morning tears fell of course, and my (sometimes) sweet girl wiped them from my cheeks. Unlike the past 2 years, those may be the only tears I cry today. And that's ok. Brandon hated to see me cry. 

Thursday, February 23, 2017

A new chapter in life after loss

It has been some time since I've last updated and much has changed since then, so I'll just start there.

At the end of the summer my lupus got to a new level of difficult.  Back to back steroid treatments, steroid shots, maxxing out on numerous NSAIDS and I still was in excruciating chronic pain and fatigue.  My doctor recommended I start the next level of medications.  For the most part once one progresses to this next treatment level there is no going backwards again.  Some can find long term remission or medication managed lupus, but I have yet to go more then 6 months without needing to adjust treatment because of progression.

I was just not ready to go there yet, especially since there is a risk with these immunosuppressants for developing cancer, a door I just cannot easily open, especially since my mom did develop Non-Hodgkins Lymphoma as a result of her autoimmune disorders.

So, I requested and was granted a 3 month medical leave of absence from work to allow myself to attempt to recover from the past 5 years of stress and seek some alternative "Hail Mary" treatments and appointments as a last ditch effort before infusion treatments.

I started weekly acupuncture and a supplement called Mannatech my mom has been trying to get me on for years.  I was referred to a Neurologist, a Pulmenologist, a Dermatologist and seemingly all the other "ologist's" to get fresh eyes on my health.  Thankfully all checked out well and the Lupus has done no permanent damage, and my grab-bag of symptoms were solely flare related.

About 9 weeks into my leave of absence I started feeling relief and by the end of my 3 months I actually felt the best I've felt in years.

I spent a lot of time reflecting on the situation and what the next steps were and I came to the difficult realization that at this time, I just can not work full time and have lupus and be an active parent to a toddler.  Something had to change, and lupus and motherhood were not exactly negotiable.

So I considered resigning from job.  A choice that when laid out logically makes no sense whatsoever.  My position allowed me to work from home and had been incredibly supportive of the challenges I had faced in the past 5 years.  I had health insurance for Aria and I and relative job security as I was recently given an amazing opportunity to create and direct a new department.

But God.  He had a different plan for me.

When there is great risk and uncertainty in a choice and yet I have complete peace about the decision I am about to make - that's when I know I am following His direction for me.

And so I resigned from my job.

Something I never have done without having another job lined up.

And so starts the next chapter of my life.  I do not know what direction it will take me, just that I'm following it one day at a time.  So far God has made things just fall in place where they are needed.  My amazing boyfriend Karl has made it possible for me to take this leap of faith, I've been able to trade some child care with a friend so that we both have some kid-free time, and I've had the ability to really step into my role on the HeartLight Board of Directors and help in the preparations for our annual Gala and invest more time into the group of Young Widow(er)s that I facilitate.  I have even been able to take on a little interior design work on the side and after trying (and LOVING) a couple products - just became a consultant for Rodan + Fields.

I am grateful that in this moment I turn the pages of this new adventure with hope and anticipation, something I really didn't think would be possible again in life after loss.