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.

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.

Friday, September 23, 2016

2 Whole Years

At 12:15 today it was two years since Brandon passed away.  730 days. I can say that not a single day has passed that I have not thought of him. 

The reminders of his life come in many different forms. Be it a silver Jeep that passes by, seeing Haribo Gummie Bears in the checkout line, or a random toothpick I still find somewhere in the house - two years later.  These are the things I smile about. Little tokens that keep his memory alive in my heart. The things I tell Aria so she gets an opportunity to know about her father, especially those little quirks that make a person unique. 

I still can't believe that I have made it through these two years. My breath is often taken away as my Facebook timehop pops up in the morning.  The CaringBridge updates, photos and posts on my page transport me back in time.

Sometimes I get lost in reliving traumatic moments of those 3 months.  Last night after popping a handful of wheat thins in my mouth I was unexpectedly transported back to the hospice facility as images that cut like a knife flashed through my mind. At first I was taken aback by the memory, but I then realized that was the last time I had those crackers, which were a staple snack at the facility. It blows my mind that our senses can link us so deeply to events in our past.

These moments still happen often, but I recover from them quicker now. 

Most of the time when I am reminded of Brandon I smile warmly and sit in the moment, truly and deeply grateful for the time we had. But this perspective does not diminish the pain. It is still very much there, I just have more power over it-then it has over me now.

I think Brandon would be proud of where I am, two years later.  I surely couldn't imagine how I would survive, and for quite some time I honestly didn't want to. But I've found a place where I can carry him with me as I move forward.  It doesn't have to be one or the other.  And I think that is exactly how Brandon would want me to live. 

Tuesday, August 23, 2016

2nd Heavenly Birthday

Yesterday was Brandon's birthday - he would have turned 35.

I have a hard time typing that.  The words "would have" just don't sit well with me.  As I pause and think through it (and thanks for participating in my stream of thought) I realize it's because I know his soul lives on. So the past tense tone of "would have" doesn't seem to fit.  His body would have turned 35, but to me, the soul is ageless.  So I guess I'll rephrase it to: Yesterday was Brandon's 35th birthday and his second birthday in Heaven, and I'll leave it at that.

Anyhow, I like to celebrate his life on his birthday.  Take time to gather, remember, and honor the man who touched so many in such a short time.

I spent most of the day in bed recovering from a camping trip over the weekend (thank you Lupus), but it gave me time to reflect, which is time typically hard to find these days.  As I picked Aria up from the babysitter and drove up Mount Lindo I listened to my special playlist that helps me to lean into my grief.  Sometimes the ability to compartmentalize is as difficult as it is beneficial.

I let the words of songs of loss sink deep into my heart and allowed myself to open that compartment and just feel.  I don't tend run from the feelings of my loss, I feel them for what they are and I let them serve their purpose.  They remind me of a life I am grateful I got to live and of a person I was blessed to have.  Then I put them back in their box until I need to go fetch them again, or until they find their way out on their own, released by an unexpected event or just because they needed to be felt.  I can't explain it much better then that, but it's how I've been able to cope and survive this and be who I need to be for Aria.

Our first activity planned for Brandon's annual celebration of life was to gather at the grave and release balloons to Heaven.  I had done everything I could to have his headstone (that took me a year and a half to be able to order) be placed by his birthday, but unfortunately it just didn't happen.  Hopefully it will be done soon - I'm anxious to see it.

Only half the room at dinner

Next we headed to Fox Hollow Golf Course, one of Brandon's most frequented driving ranges.  We met even more friends there to hit a few buckets of balls in his honor before heading in to The Den, Fox Hollow's restaurant, for dinner.  One of the items on the menu was a brisket burger that I know Brandon would have loved.  It was a burger topped with brisket, bacon and cheese.  Oh. My. Yumminess.  Seriously, if you are in the Lakewood area - you should go get this in your mouth.

Memories, laughter and tears were shared and we were all grateful to spend time together, united by our loss. It was a lovely evening and I am so thankful for everyone's presence.

I never got around to posting about last year's 1st Annual Celebration of Life, so I'll briefly share about that too.

Top Golf 2015
Last year we started at Top Golf and it happened to be opening weekend of the new facility.  Brandon was so looking forward to it finally coming to Colorado so we played in his honor.
Ring finger heart for Brandon

My friend and I dashed off to go get (tiny) tattoos, in which she had arranged to be done by the same tattoo artist that did Brandon's sleeve.

We then met a large group of friends and family at the park near our house for a chick-fil-a picnic and a lantern release at dusk.

We wrote messages to Brandon and sent them to Heaven, and some to nearby trees and fields.  A number of us chased after the misdirected lanterns trying to keep them from starting a fire and soon we were met by a couple fire trucks and firemen - which the kids thought was super cool!  Thankfully we were doing nothing illegal and they kindly told us to be careful and they were just doing their job of responding to a call.  However, it was enough to make the decision of doing balloons, not lanterns this year quite easy.

The lanterns with the cross of Mount Lindo in the background

I hope to continue honoring Brandon's life in years to come to keep his memory and legacy alive, and I am so grateful to have so many who want to continue to join me in doing so. 

Thank you for following our journey.