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.

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. 

Thursday, July 7, 2016

That time of year...again

It's that time of year again. 

Everyone burdened by grief has certain trigger dates and seasons. For me it's the end of June thru the end of September, kicked off by Father's Day. 

This 2nd Father's Day was much different then the first. Last year Aria and I had a breakfast picnic at Mount Lindo (where Brandon is buried) and painted bird houses. I spent much of the day deep in grief and broken dreams.

This year Aria spent the morning with her Grandad Hayslip and when I picked her up had I planned to have our typical breakfast burrito picnic, but it already being in the 90's early in the day I put it off till later in the afternoon, but by the time it cooled down Mount Lindo was about to close for the evening. 

I felt awful for not making it to his grave on Father's Day and started coming down hard on myself.  But then I remembered the discussion Brandon and I had when we knew we needed to have "that talk". When I had to ask him the awful question of where he wanted his body to rest. His response:  "I don't care, I won't be there."

As I remember the moment tears come to my eyes. His sights were already on Heaven, he knew his body was simply that - a body, a vessel. He would not die with his body.

So as I let the guilt slip away I took comfort in the fact that Aria and I could walk to "our park", where I have memories with Brandon, and I can clearly see the cross of Mount Lindo.  There I'm reminded more of his life, not his death.

I tried to get Aria to sit  with me on "our bench" so we could have a precious moment together talking about daddy. But, of course she's a toddler and refused to sit still.

However while swinging we did have a sweet little chat.  I asked her if she knew where daddy was, and she responded; "Daddy's in Heaven."  I nodded and told her that he loves her just as much from Heaven, as tears slid down my cheeks.

"Mama sad?"
"Yes, mama's sad" I said with a small smile to let her know it's ok to be sad.
"Daddy sad?"  
"No baby, Daddy's not sad."
"Aria kiss it better?"
"Yes, that would be very nice." and I leaned over and let my (sometimes) sweet 2 year old kiss my tears.
"Mama all better?"
"Yes Aria, thank you."
"Daddy all better?"
"Yes, baby, Daddy is all better." I agreed, taking a moment to be thankful for his Heavenly healing.
"Mama happy?!  Mama swing?!"  And we laughed and swung away in the oddly empty park.

Later we enjoyed a delicious steak dinner with my boyfriend Karl and his daughter, honoring the amazing father that he is.

I never could have imagined this is how it all would have turned out, especially from last year to this year.  This whole 2nd year has been much different then the first.

I have returned to the land of the living, I exist in the present again-not the past, and I actually look towards the future without dread. I am lucky that I can even experience happiness and love again, all coexisting with my loss.

Time may have changed how I cope with that loss, but that pain is still there and I think it always will be because love does not die.  Yes, it hurt differently this year.  And I expect it to be different next year, and the years after that as life goes on and my grief transforms.  But I am ok with that, I'll just continue to try to "not cry because it's over, but smile because it happened".

Saturday, May 14, 2016

HeartLight Gala

Last night I had the privilege of my story being honored at the annual HeartLight Gala Fundraiser.  It was a beautiful evening raising awareness and funding for a place so dear to my heart.  I was surrounded by some of my "village" and could not have asked for more.  Ok, well, to not need to be a part of anything for grief support would be nice, but these are the cards I have been dealt and I'm going to play them as best I can.  I am so grateful to the HeartLight center and what it has done for me in my journey of loss and grief.  I hope that in time many other HeartLight facilities will be available to serve as a warm place to take a broken heart all over Colorado and the nation.

If you feel lead to honor Brandon in a donation to the HeartLight Center you can do so here.

Forgive my video quality, I am far from technically gifted....that was Brandon's forte...

Wednesday, March 23, 2016

18 months...(re-written)

18 months. It feels so much longer. I am somewhat at a loss for words as to a reflection on this date. 

I think I've come far in my healing, I don't get taken down by a wave of grief on the 23rd of every month anymore. Some months the 23rd passes just as any other day with no special thought. When I realize this days later I'm hit with heavy guilt. How could I possibly not have noticed the date?!  How selfish of me! 

But I think feeling this way is normal. I also think loosing track of the days is normal too. I have returned to the land of the living finally.  It's been a year and a half, I don't think Brandon would want me to continue to live in constant grief anymore, counting every month he has been gone for the rest of my life.  I don't need to be sad on the 23rd of every month when the reality is that I think of him every day.  Sometimes it's joyous thoughts as I relive the good memories and I am thankful for the time I did have with him.  Other times it's terribly sad thoughts as I once again realize what happened and my heart aches that his life was so short.

It's a constant battle of conflicting emotions. The negative thoughts, the guilt and the pity hit first and hit hard. Sometimes it takes">everything in me to hit "pause" for a moment and separate myself from my feelings and look objectively at the situation and try to find peace within it.

Today as I stepped back and looked at my life from Brandon's eyes I felt contentment. The guilt of living life, not just surviving life, eased. 

I do not need to spend my life in mourning to honor my love for Brandon. No, exactly opposite. I need to let the legacy of him live through me, and through Aria. He taught me how to love, how to be compassionate, how to be welcoming to everyone. I can not let his impact on me die with him. And the only way to show it, is to live it. So, it's ok to return to life again, to feel happiness despite my loss.  How much I love him and miss him is not mutually exclusive to my misery. 

At moments this truth sinks in deep and I believe it with everything in me. Other times it's not so easy. 

But today I have found some peace in that truth. And God knew I needed that.  

Monday, January 25, 2016

A new part of grief?

Every now and then I have one of those mornings when Aria spends the night at my brother in law's and I wake to silence and my own thoughts, not to toddler cries and mommy duty. These mornings leave room for some much needed reflection.

As I enjoyed a rare long hot shower I was taken back to this time a year ago and some advise I was given to find a daily time to allow myself to break down and let it out, then put my big girl pants on and do what I gotta do. Be a widowed mother and take care of my infant. Last January my shower was my safe place, where my tears merged with the water and slipped down the drain to out of sight and out of mind.  The only way I was able to survive.

A year later I find that I want to feel the tears. They are almost a tribute to my love for Brandon. Time may heal the wound, but like the scar left behind, it will never erase the love. 

I find that I no longer need to have my daily cry or release of the grief in order to function. I no longer cringe on the 23rd of every month. This realization beings conflicting feelings. Relief in realizing the weight has been somewhat lifted. Fear that the memories of my life with Brandon is slipping further and further away. Guilt that I am returning to the land of the living and continuing on with my individual life. It's incredibly confusing.

For me, I have found that there is a lot of truth in a statement I have heard often in my support groups: Grief never goes away, we just learn to incorporate it into our lives. 

I think I have worked very hard on my grief.  After that first 3 months of paralyzingly shock I jumped head first into support groups. A small Widowed group led by a therapist, a 13 week course called GriefShare, and a continuous drop in Widowed group at a non profit for grief support called the HeartLight Center. I surrounded myself with those in the same battle. I accepted the love and support of my amazing "village" of friends and family. I returned to my therapist for weekly sessions. I journaled, read books, blogs, pamphlets, went to seminars - you name it, I likely did it. 

I came to a place where, at the moment, I am comfortable around my grief. I'm not scared when it shows it's face, I don't run away from it anymore, in fact, I tend to lean into it. I want to understand it and embrace it in my life. That's where I am at the moment. However tomorrow may be a different story completely. 

I have found this journey is like riding a roller coaster blindfolded. You have no idea where it's going and it takes a few moments to get your bearings with each turn, climb and drop and every now and then your world turns upside down again.  The long ride up to the top of the big drop gives time for the anxiety to build up. Just like the the days before a "trigger date" of an anniversary, birthday or "Angelversary". Often the anticipation is worse then the actuality of these days, just like the slow journey up the seemingly never ending incline.  Then the day comes and feelings rush, some of which is the relief in the passing of the dreaded day. 

What I've found more difficult then surviving the trigger dates is the small day-to-day little dips and turns you don't expect. 

The smell of a hair product that momentarily zaps me back to our first apartment together 9 years ago. An ad on TV that brings a flashback of binge watching Breaking Bad together while bed bound from lupus and pregnancy.  Driving past a restaurant that had the best chicken fingers that Brandon loved. 

Right now I seem to be in a place where I recognize the rush of feelings for what they are.  The shock of the unexpected memory, the rush of the good feeling associated with it, then immediately the sadness of the loss of the future we'd planned, the pain of once again realizing the reality that Brandon is gone...like not coming back...ever, the self pity for the road Aria and I now walk, the fear of what is next. 

Except at the moment I am usually able to control the direction I go from there. Instead of spiraling out of control I am coming to a place of feeling gratitude for the memory flashback, sinking into it to pull out all the lovely details and trying to burn them into my mind. We are so afraid that we will forget and that moving forward is leaving them behind. So I take these moments and allow them to be the way I carry him with me. 

Yes, they still bring tears, but I embrace that almost as a tangible way of showing my continued love for someone I lost. 

I think I am coming to a different part of my journey in grief now.  The part where I start to use what I've experienced to come alongside others in it.  The part that isn't just accepting help, but also giving it.  Recently I have humbly accepted an invitation to be a part of the HeartLight Board of Directors, and am actually kicking off the first of a Young Widowed peer support group tonight.  Please pray that God gives me the words (or for those of you who know me, the lack of words- lol) needed tonight, and that He guides this group to be what we all need it to be.

The funny part is the way God works is just so beautiful.  Usually the one I am trying to help is unknowingly also helping me.  It's a remarkable experience and I think an essential part of my healing process.

This was a long entry, and I know I haven't updated in a while, so thanks for sticking with this to the end! I have so much more I want to share about this journey because I truly believe shared grief is diminished grief.  However I feel if I struggle to express what is on my mind or my heart likely it's not God given words to share here. But this seemingly just flowed from my fingertips, so I'm going to put it out there for whatever reason He intends it for. 

And again, thank you for continuing to walk with me and pray for me no matter where I am on this roller coaster. 

...oh and here's a few pictures of Aria and I lately...


She isn't always smiling! lol