Thursday, April 21, 2016

Another Branch on the Family Tree

So, we are having another baby boy!  I'm due on June 14.  As much as I'm physically ready to be done being pregnant, it would be great to have the kiddo on his actual due date.  My aunt Amanda had her son on my birthday, and June 14 is her birthday, so that would be a cool connection.  But whatever will be, will be.

What else?  I mean, I haven't blogged in almost a year!  So much...

Sheldon's sister Paige is living with us; she moved in right around the time we were settling into the new house.  She is going to school and helps out as a nanny and "Tia" to Cooper.  It's been amazing having some family here in town, and even better - right in our house!  With Sheldon & I being self-employed and doing a lot from home, it's great having another set of adult hands in the family to help run the household and our businesses.

Speaking of businesses and growth, Sheldon is training a new person (a friend of ours) in the fundraising business.  It's keeping him extra busy this spring, but will be a great move in the long-term.  We are really expanding in every way -- the size of our family, the size of our business, the size of our house.  Except on the pet front, and I tried.  We had a stray cat that was coming around daily and had even snuck into the house a couple times and would let us pet him sometimes.  I managed to get him trapped, neutered and get him basic shots, and was able to re-home him with a friend.  Maybe we'll get some fish sometime soon though...

I think about Brian a lot, and miss him.  I still dream about him.  I still wear his shirts to sleep in, and can't part with any of our Emeril cookware, or even the Emeril kitchen towel he liked, even though it is worn and might have a small tear.  I still worry about whether I got rid of too much of his stuff, and wish I'd kept more tees for sleeping.  I still don't know what to do with his glasses and wallet.  I still have a tote of things in the office closet that I can't bear to part with, or to look at.  I still worry about how long it's been since I've been to his grave, and how long it will before I'm back.

And I worry about what would happen if the same thing happened again.  I sometimes panic when Sheldon is later coming home than I expected, or if he doesn't answer his phone.  My mind goes to the worst thoughts quicker than most.  I get fleeting thoughts like "I wonder how I'll die...will it be natural causes at an old age?  Cancer in my 50s?  Car accident in 2 years?"  And I think the same things about everyone I love.  I have to push those thoughts away, because thinking about it ahead of time doesn't do a damn thing except cause pain and anxiety.  I suppose what will happen, will happen.

I wonder if I think about Brian too little, or too much?  I sometimes feel like I'm betraying Sheldon to say I miss him.  But I feel like I'm betraying Brian if I don't.  Mostly, I'm able to be happy thinking about good memories with him.  But in the interest of honesty, I don't want to pretend times were always good, or that the good isn't tinged with aching to see him again and anger about his life being cut so short.

I'll just never be someone who hasn't lost it all.  I'll never not be a widow, and never be the same as someone who hasn't been through this.

We still haven't come up with a name for the next baby.  He will be our last child.  I want to honor Brian in some way with the name, but I don't want to be weird.  A music- or football-inspired name would be a good, subtle way to do that.  But in a way that honors me and Sheldon as well.  I mean, these are Sheldon's sons and part of his family...but they are also here because of Brian's life and how his affected mine.

Cooper can pick out Brian from the pictures in our bedroom.  I only had to tell him once, and he remembered.  I don't even know if he knows some of the people in our families that well in pictures, people he's met many times.  I wonder how that works -- does he see Brian sometimes, or somehow know him from when they were both in spirt form together, before Cooper gained a physical body and after Brian lost his?  Will Brian's soul re-enter the physical world again before I'm able to reconnect with him?  Is he looking after us?  Is he happy for me?  Proud?  Have I done him right?  How will I begin to tell the story to my kids about Brian, about the first husband I had?  How do we talk about death in a non-scary, but honest way? How do I reassure them that the same thing won't happen to their daddy, or to me, when I don't really know that myself?

I'm all over the place, I know.  It still is all so overwhelming to think about what the last 6-7 years have been and how complicated and beautiful and painful life is.  So many happy, glorious moments in that time, and also so much pain and confusion, so much hurt and loss.  And it all comes together to build today.  Today feels messy to me, probably just because I'm making the time to sit down and face all these things that float around inside my heart and my head and shape my soul.  It's been a long time since I took a look in a spiritual mirror.  I've been so caught up in the daily grind -- diapers, laundry, meal planning, work, dishes, game nights, visitors -- that I have been shutting out the really big stuff.

All I know is, things are overwhelmingly good in my life right now.  I probably think and worry about things that most people don't, because most people haven't walked my path.  But maybe that can be an advantage to me, maybe it will help me appreciate what I have more than most.  I know that I can make a point to try to do exactly that, so at least that's a good starting point.

Monday, June 1, 2015

Get a Move On

Sheldon and I (and Cooper) have moved!  We found a larger house in San Antonio, not too far from our last, that we plan to have as our "forever home."  It's a beautiful four bedroom home with a sunroom, an open kitchen/living space, formal dining room and a large yard with lots of mature trees.  Deer roam the neighborhood and the community is special -- picnics, events, a park, a pool, etc.  We couldn't be happier!

It has been busy and stressful, of course, as all moves are.  And the process of going through all your things and making a move tends to bring up some emotions.  I think this happens for most people -- Sheldon even has said some of the clothes in his closet aren't really to wear, but are memories on hangers -- but it has hit me hard sometimes.  I've had a lot go through my mind even without facing the objects that are packed with a sentimental punch.

It's been five years since I first arrived in Austin, sans cats, for a three-month getaway to help me bounce back from losing Brian.  I remember painfully and distinctly sitting on the patio of my East Sixth loft place, bawling my eyes out while I blogged on Memorial Day weekend of 2010.  I felt guilty that I wasn't home, felt dread about dealing with the ongoing process of getting a headstone in place for Brian, and knew that the issue of being far away from his resting place would always be a struggle (even if I had stayed in Des Moines, that was 2.5 hours from where he is buried).

This May, I got to toast the five-year Texas milestone with my good friends Erin and Chad, who moved to Austin that summer too (Erin and their cat stayed with me in that studio apartment for about a month).  They have just moved to another apartment in Austin, which I'm anxious to see, and they recently visited our new house to take a break from their moving process and see our new home.  They are some of my best friends and it's bittersweet to reflect on what we've been through together and what brought us so close.  They are a tie to my Iowa life, a large string in the tapestry of my life that winds through many places and past many faces.  I'm lucky to have them here and that we all took the leap of faith to Austin together, even though I ended up moving a bit further south when I fell in love with Sheldon.

As we move into our final family home, I feel as though I'm moving one step further away from my first family home - the one I shared with Brian.  I miss that house still, and that life.  I still grieve for those losses, and this move has stirred up the emotional waters, muddied the surface of my life.  I've thought about how many moves the cats have been through, and well they have handled it, and how grateful I am that I won't have to put them through the whole rigamarole again.  I wonder if they remember the old house and the first man we called "Daddy."  I wonder what kind of memories are being made in that house now and whether the family that I sold it to still lives there.  Did they keep the bar in the basement?  Do they use the front room as a dining room and play games around the table?  Do they socialize and play yard games?

And then there are the things.  I recently unpacked the box that had the guest book from Brian's visitations.  There were so many names; I didn't remember that many people being there.  I think it was all such a blur at the time - but several times I thought to myself, "I didn't realize they were there."  I was overwhelmed with gratitude to see the names of all those people from different phases of our life, and reminded of how lucky I was to have such a show of support.  I remembered too how strong Brian's impact on this world was - how many people loved, admired, respected, and needed him.  Hundreds of names filled those pages...hundreds of people who lost something, and many who lost almost everything, with his passing.  It was immensely painful to think of that aspect.

I still had the large poster board full of pictures of our life together, all pictures of him, that we put together and displayed at his services.  Probably a good hundred pictures -- us on vacations, at weddings, him with friends and family, at concerts and so on.  Some of the pictures had fallen off over the years and the display had been sitting in our office for the past few years, losing pictures here and there like a tree losing leaves in the early fall.  I had been trying to keep it all intact, but my efforts weren't doing the job, and I also didn't know where to display this oversized tribute to my lost love.  Where does that fit into my home and my life in a place where I'm the only one in the house who knew Brian?  Where most of my friends that visit (except Erin & Chad) know him only from stories?  And how to move such a thing (again)?  I have been wresting with the idea of taking the photos off the board and putting them somewhere else, and I finally took that step a couple weeks before the move.  The whole time I felt sad, guilty, and also had some good feelings thinking about all the fun stories and memories behind those pictures.  Right now, the pictures are stacked up in a Ziploc bag in my top desk drawer -- there for me whenever I want to thumb through and remember.

It seems like that is what's happening all over my life -- the trappings of my old life and of Brian's life are put away in secret places for me to visit, or forget about.  Those moments and that life are further and further away from the present in the timeline of my life, and the ties to those times and places are stretched thinner and thinner, and grow fewer in number.  The old gets pushed aside for the new, over and over.  It's always most acute during a move.

I still have some large things from our life together -- our bedroom furniture (now in the guest room and Cooper's room), our dining room table, Brian's car that I started driving after he passed.  I have sentimental things too -- my engagement ring from Sheldon made with diamonds Brian and I wore in our rings, my tattoo, Brian's class ring.  But with every move, the number of tangible reminders shrinks and there comes another life milestone that is one more mile marker away from the starting point of my journey in adulthood and love and away from my first camerado.

Saturday, March 7, 2015

The Next Generation

So I haven't blogged in forever, but for good reason -- this little guy keeps me plenty busy!  Cooper Matthew was born Sept. 22 at 1:30 pm.  He is five months old now and keeps us on our toes.

I never would have thought five years ago that I would be here now -- a mother, a real estate agent, remarried, living in south Texas, you name it.  All unimaginable to me at my lowest point, and all proof that we never can tell what lies around the corner if we are willing to look.

I have to say -- losing Brian has impacted me as a mother.  I'm sure all moms worry about harm coming to their little ones -- you don't dare speak of SIDS, though you read about it and take every step you can to prevent that awful fate.  I don't know that this particularly is on my mind more than it is for anyone else.  But I do think about the fact that life isn't guaranteed at any age -- that he could leave this world before me, at any stage in the game -- even as a grown man.  I think I have a deeper appreciation and understanding of what Brian's parents must have felt and gone through with his death, though I pray to only understand that in the abstract sense and to never know that pain personally.  

Cooper is a very good baby.  He generally is a happy kid, and a decent sleeper (that part gets better and worse in phases).  Still, even the best baby is exhausting.  We are not young parents by any means, and we are adapting to the never-ending cycle of eating, spitting up, poopy diapers, changing clothes, entertaining the kiddo, etc.  We have talked about stopping with one child...but I know I can't do that because...what if...?  That has weighed on my mind.  Not only Brian's family, but my friend Gabby's family were both two-child families that have lost a grown son.  I don't want to stop at one and become childless in the future as a result.  I know the odds of such tragedy are slim, but I also know the reality is there.  These are the kinds of thoughts you don't bring up at Mommy & Me yoga, but they are the kinds of thoughts I have when the discussion of future children is on the table.  To be clear, this isn't going to make the choice for us, but it is a piece of the puzzle. 

I hate even putting these fears and thoughts into writing because if anything ever happened, I would feel like I brought that about with these words (a strange mental disconnect, but not uncommon amongst people in my shoes).  Yet I feel like I have to put this out there because I know I'm not the only one in this situation, and sharing my journey might be helpful to someone else.  

But for now, the reality is that all is well.  I have a happy, healthy baby boy who is close to sitting up, who has discovered he can get his toes in his mouth, who is starting to have favorite toys, and who is in need of my attention at the moment.

Tuesday, June 3, 2014

Life After Death

Another big milestone for me....I'm having a baby!

I'm actually six months along already, due in mid-September.  We are having a boy.

Sheldon and I are thrilled.  We had been trying since we got married last year, and though it doesn't sound like a long time, I was starting to get discouraged when it took us six months to get a positive test result.  The (small) bummer was that this test happened to fall one day before we took a trip to Las Vegas.  On the plus side, I realized I REALLY love Vegas when I was able to have a blast drinking only ginger ale - and I think the fact that I wasn't drinking made me get carded a lot.  At 33, I'll take that all day long!

Overall, things have been going very well.  I feel pretty good, and even ran 3.5 miles in a marathon relay race a few weeks ago.  I am just starting to feel big and notice that my belly influences my mobility and the way I move, and I'm getting up a lot in the middle of the night to go to the bathroom and change positions.  Overall, though, I can't complain.

On the other hand, there have been some triggers or emotional challenges.  Not long after we found out our good news, I had a dream that really shook me and had me feeling "off" for a while, and I cried for a good day or two.  In my dream, I was pregnant and sharing my life with Sheldon, just like in real life.  However, the baby was Brian's.  We knew that I would have two children -- one Brian's and one Sheldon's -- and we were happy with that scenario.  In the dream, I felt like it was perfect -- I would get one child with each of my loves.  I woke up and was sad to remember that this wasn't the case, and I felt disappointed about that, and again had to grieve for the fact that I never had the opportunity to have a child with Brian (or, more accurately, that we never even ventured down that path because we thought we had time for that "later").  It's not fair that he died before he could have kids, that his genes weren't carried on.  We had talked about down the road and I fantasized about having a red-headed,  smart, mischievous boy like him.  He was such an adorable kid.  The fact that this never happened still leaves me with a sinking, empty, you feel if you are holding a precious heirloom that means the world to someone and you just dropped it in front of them and saw it shatter at your feet, and you are frozen, staring down in shock at your empty fingers and the myriad glass fragments littering the ground.  Broken chances, irreversible opportunity that literally slipped through my fingers and shattered in front of me, never to be whole or real or within my grasp again.  This still pains me a great deal when I think about it.  I think this is why I've waited so long to blog about this.  The dream happened a good four months ago, but I'm crying as much today as I did the day after it happened.

This pregnancy brings about another reality -- I am carrying a child who would not have existed if Brian had lived.  This boy will owe his very existence to Brian's death.  Of course, Brian dying changed a lot of things in many peoples' lives though the butterfly effect -- I have made new friends, friendships have been forged among people I connected, a couple I introduced is now engaged, people live in houses I found for them, etc.  And I know I wouldn't even be married to Sheldon if Brian hadn't died.  But this adds a whole new level of gravity to the impact of it all -- a human being is going to be born out of the aftermath of Brian's death.  It's a sobering and heavy thought.

I think about how I'm going to tell the little one about Brian.  How will he understand?  When is it too soon to talk about death?  I know it will not be a one-time, sit-down conversation and that we will handle it in age-appropriate ways, but it's already something on my mind.  Most parents at least get the luxury to delay this conversation for many years, until a death in the family occurs.  In this case, a death in the family happened before he came along, and one that he'll ask questions about when he finds out my middle name, when he asks how he's related to his Boka cousins and relatives, when he sees my tattoo or pictures of Brian on the wall.  Will he understand that I could love Brian and Daddy the same?  Will he worry about Daddy dying too?  Will he see Brian watching over him and us?

I don't like feeling like I see the negative side of everything, because I'm generally a very positive person.  And I do feel like I've made a lot of progress.  Early in my grief, I would have to strain to see the silver linings amongst the big, dark clouds.  Now, I feel like it's blue skies all the time, though I am aware of the dark clouds in the distance, clouds that are outside the vision of those who don't know what I know, who haven't been through what I've been through.  

Mostly though...I see skies of blue...and I think to myself, "What a wonderful world."

Friday, January 17, 2014

4 Years

It's been four years today since Brian died.  Thankfully, the details of that horrible day have softened a little bit in my mind.  If I choose to go back and remember it, it's pretty sharp and still cuts me to the core, but time has helped me add some distance and I no longer have flashbacks, nightmares, or persistent thoughts about the horrors that unfolded before my eyes and upon my life that awful day.

In a way, it doesn't sound like a long time.  Four years really isn't that long in the scheme of things - not to a normal person with a normal, happy life.  When life is good, time goes quickly.  It is true that "time flies when you're having fun."  But when you're a grieving widow who's reeling with shock, hurting beyond belief, dreading upcoming holidays and occasions, and who is fearful and unsure about the near and far future, every day seems to drag on for an eternity.  While the past couple years have gone by relatively quickly, the first year felt closer to a decade in time than one year.  It's only lately that I've started to feel capable and ready to plan far in the future again.  I don't know that I've planned anything for more than six months in the future since Brian died -- and that one thing I did plan that far in advance was my wedding.  I'm still not the future-planner I once was.  I'm too leery of unexpected change, too timid to dare to presume that I (or anyone else) will still be alive and well that far ahead.

Yet so much has happened.  I moved, I changed jobs, I picked up another (!) cat, I moved again, I bought a condo, I went to Europe, I had a breakdown and went back to therapy, I bounced back, I struggled to fit in, I made amazing friends, I ran a couple more half-marathons, I irreparably injured my ankle on a Mexican waterside (thus insuring I won't be doing any more full 26.2-milers), I traveled to Mexico three times, I went to Bonnaroo twice, I have made mistakes, I met a few celebrities, I took up golfing, and my online diary of grief has been viewed over 100,000 times.  I literally could not have imagined any of this four years ago.  At that point, all I knew was I was lost, I was shocked, I was devastated, and I knew life would never be the same again.

Yet, on that day, I also knew that life would go on.  I remember distinctly thinking, "I'm still breathing. I'm going to keep breathing.  I'm going to wake up tomorrow, and the next day, and the next.  I don't know what to do with this, but I know my life is going on."  And from there, I just had to take it hour by hour, then day by day, and week by week, and finally - month by month.  I'm finally able to think ahead and to dare to dream about what will happen years from now, what life will look like when I'm middle-aged, when I'm old.  It's something a lot of people take for granted, this ability to dream and plan for a future.  It's the thing that has taken the longest to build back up in my life.  Some combination of fear and the cold reality of possibilities has kept me from daring to think long-term and to build toward an uncertain future.

Brian was quite a planner.  Not only did we always have a packed social calendar, but he was diligent about his professional and personal goals.  He had a target income he wanted to hit by 40, and a position within his company.  We started seeing a financial planner before I had even finished my schooling with the idea to set our long-term goals and take the steps needed to achieve them.  I was like that to a lesser extent, but loved the structure of this way of thinking and happily participated in these discussions and plans, and we started socking away money into our IRAs and 401(k)s.  Once he died, I was like a sailboat in a windless sea, drifting about deflated and without direction.  I literally wrote about how I moved to Austin because "that's where the wind took me."

Today, in Brian's honor, I resolve to get back to my forward-thinking, future-planning ways.  I know that life is uncertain.  I also know that the things I want in life aren't going to happen if I don't plan for them.  If I don't dare to dream it, I won't achieve it.  It's time to start dreaming, goal-setting, and forward-thinking again.  I've let the wind take me where I needed to be, and I'm ready to use this place in life as my new launching pad.  It's time to draw up a road map to the future I want.  It's time to dream big again.

Tuesday, January 7, 2014

Déjà Vu All Over Again

It's been a while since I've walked the early days of fresh, sudden grief.  Well, it had been a while.  Over the holidays, I treaded that footpath again and remembered what a hard and fierce walk it is with Sheldon's family dealing with the sudden loss of his beloved Uncle Matt.  I have to admit, it was very hard to be in that place again, and this trip was very hard on me.

I heard the story about how Sheldon's uncle died in the middle of the night, about what his fiancé went through calling first responders and doing chest compressions, how helpless she felt, how this experience was so utterly traumatizing.  I heard family members talk about getting the phone call, about  being told the news by the doctors, about what it was like to see someone you just talked to -- someone who was just walking around, breathing, living, and doing so on a grand scale -- now lifeless on a table in a small room where family and friends take turns paying their respects, saying private good-byes, and being forced to reckon with a cold reality that is undeniable once you have touched a cooling body and realize there's no breath coming back.  I wasn't there when his uncle passed, but I can see it as clearly in my mind as if I was.  It was eerie how similar the stories from everyone in Ohio were to my own experience four years ago in Iowa.

I knew the family had to tell their stories, difficult they may have been for them to articulate and for me to hear.  I remember reading in some grief book or literature how important it is for survivors to tell the story of the death, to say the word "dead" even, to help reality sink in.  It was after reading this that I had started to tell my own story and even wrote about it on this blog, to help me accept reality.  I knew that this was about acceptance and processing, so I listened.  I offered comfort. I felt the familiar heave of heavy sobs of shock, confusion, helplessness and pain when Matt's fiancé cried into my arms.  We talked about where the spirit goes, about signs that our departed leave for us to let us know they are okay.

We put together a photo collage for the funeral on the long, oval-shaped, oak dining table.  As we told the stories behind the pictures amidst a blend of tears and laughter, I was pulled back in time to the preparations for Brian's funeral.  I remember someone at that time making a remark about how this task serves to not only honor the life of the deceased, but it gives the survivors something concrete to do, a chore to keep hands busy and to keep the hours passing in those first few, most difficult days.

When we went through Matt's clothes, there were many tears shed.  Still, we managed some chuckles when the words were said, "Matt had terrible taste."  (He always looked nice, but he did have quite a few mock turtlenecks and Cosby sweaters that made the comment completely fair.)  A box of tee-shirts was put aside for the making of a memory quilt, just like I did with Brian's Bears attire.  Sheldon's mom is keeping a suitcase full of ugly sweaters so we can wear them around the holidays to keep Matt's presence with us in future years.  I thought about how, desperate to be practical and knowing I was downsizing in my move, I got rid of a few shirts of Brian's that I wish I had back.  On the other hand, I also know I'm okay without them and that no one will ever get the disposition of things just right.  Life does go on, with or without the things.

Still, it has taken time, a lot of effort, and a life full of love and support for me to come full circle, to get to where I feel mostly happy thinking about Brian.  It took time for me to really understand how his presence and spirit live on, and how they don't (and I'm still sorting some of that out).  There is no magic pill.  Grief is not short-lived, nor is it simple.  Most of all, it is not easy.  I had to dig deep to think about what advice or insight was most relevant now, at this time when the loss is so fresh and when we haven't all really absorbed his death as fact quite yet.

I kept coming back to one thing:  One day at a time.  Sometimes, one hour or one minute at a time.

This mantra got me through the worst times.  The other thing I would say to someone who is freshly grieving is to embrace the grief.  That's not to say you should seek to enjoy it -- because no one will.  It will completely suck.  But, like a root canal, it is necessary and you just need to suck it up and deal with it, or the problem and pain will remain festering under the surface.  When you feel the pain, lean in.  When you want to cry, cry.  When you want to tell a story about the loved one, go ahead and do it.  Ignoring his life and memory won't help anyone.

I think that living with grief is ultimately about how you are able to cope with what has happened.  While a death happened, a life happened too.  Remember that, celebrate it.  Mourn the loss, both of what you had and what you will not have.  You have to acknowledge those feelings, and feel them.  But also celebrate the good times.  Be honest about the persons flaws and laugh about them if you can -- such as the ugly sweaters or Hawaiian shirts (Brian was guilty of the latter).

Eventually, the pain will be less.  Eventually, the smiles will be more.  It just takes time.  And work.  And love.


Monday, December 16, 2013

Birthday Blues

Today would have been Brian's 35th birthday.  He would not have liked it.  First off, he would have been less than excited about hitting that midway point between 30 and 40.  Second of all, it's a Monday.  He much preferred a Friday or Saturday birthday, or even a Thursday, so people could celebrate in style the whole night long.  We probably would have had a blowout party over the weekend, followed by a day of recovery (and pizza) watching football yesterday.  Still, he would have wanted more today.  He'd probably have taken the day off work, stayed home and played video games or fooled around watching internet videos or music DVDs.  Maybe we would have gone to Kenny's Pub in Waukee for steak night, if in fact Monday is still steak night there.  All in all, even a birthday he didn't like very much still would have been pretty darn good.

It's silly to think that someone would see 35 as being old, but he felt that way starting around age 28 or 29.  He just wasn't excited about getting older.  Maybe it was because he was a kid at heart; maybe it was because he was scared to get to the "kids or no kids" phase of our life; maybe he was afraid everything would change with our friends as we grew older and made such choices; maybe he just realized life is short and hated seeing it go by so quickly; or maybe it was because, deep down, his soul knew his time on this world was particularly limited.  Looking back at his attitude on aging, I have mixed feelings.  On the one hand, I think of the youthful ignorance behind not wanting to get older -- surely it beats not getting any older.  Being 35 sure sounds better than never having the chance to reach that age.  We should just relish every day and every year of our lives, and appreciate the bounty of friends, family, fellowship, food, drink, music, fun, faith, and so on.  Every day that we get to do that is a day to enjoy, not to dread.  The older you are, the more opportunity you've had to enjoy what this world offers.

On the other hand, I have to admit that Brian was right.  (God, he would love that I'm admitting this.)  At least in his own case, he actually was nearing the end of his life at 28, 29 years old.  We just didn't know it at the time.  It's strange.  If only we could have slowed down the clock, made him 29 or 30 for just a while longer…

Perhaps a healthy dose of appreciation for enjoying every day needs to be tempered with the awareness that we are all getting older and that every day that goes by represents one less day of your life that remains -- one less day to achieve what you want to accomplish, to take a trip to the place you've always wanted to visit, to tell someone dear how much you love them, to take a chance you've always wanted to take.  Whether or not you are objectively "young" or "old," life is short and our days on this earth are limited.  That is true for all of us, whether we die young or last 100 years.  It's still a finite number of days, and no one has any guarantees.

Make the most out of today.  That's what Brian would have wanted.

Saturday, December 14, 2013

Heavy Hearted Holidays

This year marks the first time I won't be in Iowa for the holidays at all.  I haven't always been there on Christmas Day since moving to Texas, but I have always spent some time there during the holiday season, had some kind of celebration.  Not this year, though, and that's kind of hard.  I made this choice with Sheldon a couple months ago, and with good reason - we went to Iowa in October for another wedding celebration and I returned again in November to attend a charity auction for Brian's animal shelter.  Plus, it is always stressful to try to go to two different states up north.  I have gotten quite sick over the holidays the past two years, probably in part due to the stress and travel.  Not to mention the fact that the cats hate being left alone so long, even though our sweet neighbor Carol checks on them daily (actually, more than once a day).

Still, I was thinking it would be strange this year.  I was missing the idea of seeing everyone, the excitement of the season.  I knew we were making the right choice, but it still tugged at my heart a bit.  Add that to the warm Texas weather, and I just haven't quite been very quick to get into the holiday spirit.  I only started to come around a week or so ago, after we got all our decorations up and went to an ugly sweater party with some friends.  I started to finally get excited about Christmas.

Now, some bad news has come along that is going to make Christmas really, really hard this year.  Sheldon's uncle Matt passed away of a heart attack this week.  He was only 50 years old.  Far too young.  We are still in shock, and very much grieving the loss of this man, who was very close to Sheldon.  Matt got Sheldon into the business he is in now, and we would see him on company trips.  We just spent time with him in Colorado a couple months ago.  He was always around when we were in Cincinnati.  He helped Sheldon plan and orchestrate our engagement, and did a reading at our wedding.  I can't imagine a trip to Cincinnati where I don't see his face, hear his voice, feel his arm around me in a hearty embrace, and smell his cologne.  It just won't be right.

This year, like last, we were to have Christmas dinner at Matt's house.  He was going to make prime rib.  It was amazing last year, one of the highlights of the trip.  He was a great cook and host.

Matt also had season tickets to the Cincinnati Bengals.  Every time we went there, we'd try to go to a game as well.  This year, we'd planned a big group outing to the last game of the season with over a dozen people going.  Matt would have been the heart and soul of this, the one who had the best tailgating spot, who told the best stories, who brought the best food.  He may have been but one of 15 or so people, but his presence (and now absence) was much bigger.  It will not be remotely the same without him.

Matt reminded me of Brian in a lot of ways.  He was big-hearted, big in stature to match, he was outgoing, liked to have fun, liked to drink, not at all shy or reserved, spoke his mind, loved people, loved food, loved football, could be silly at times, and kind of acted kind of like a big kid.  They both liked dirty jokes and Jaegermeister and were the life of the party.  They both had unique voices that I will remember clear as day for the rest of my life.  They both died suddenly on winter mornings, and their deaths were followed by major snowstorms.  These men were powerful forces in life, and their sudden takings from this earth seemed to literally suck the air out of the atmosphere and wreak the same havoc on the weather that their deaths were wreaking on our hearts.

It will be with heavy hearts that we head north this week.  Instead of having Christmas dinner at Matt's house and going to a football game with him, we'll be going to his funeral and comforting his fiancé the best we can, which will be helpful, but I know will never be enough to fill the hole in her heart and life.  Thinking about what she is going through now and what lies ahead for her absolutely breaks my heart.  I know this pain all too well, and wish to God she didn't have to go through it too.

Please keep Matt's family and friends in your prayers this holiday season.  And please, cherish the time you spend with your relatives and friends.  You never know which Christmas will be someone's last.  Live your life with love, have fun, host parties, go to football games or museums or whatever trips your trigger, engage in good conversation, tell funny stories and jokes, and hug one another tightly.  And have a Jaegerbomb for Uncle Matt while you cheer on the Bengals.


Thursday, November 14, 2013

Your (Grief) is Like a Roller Coaster, Baby Baby

My grief is largely under control now, something I carry with me, concealed and small.  I don't cry that much anymore and rather than being actively grieving all the time, I function as a more of a "normal person" whose past just happens to shape the way she thinks, feels, and acts.  Most of the time.

Sometimes, though, I get caught off guard.  Sometimes grief still sneaks up on me and overwhelms me.  My dark days may be less severe and far less frequent than they were two or three years ago, but they are not gone completely.  Despite my overall improvement and well-being, I am not immune from crying spells and bad days.  My grief is kind of like a wild animal that I've spent years training and domesticating.  While it usually rides around with me inside my pocket, sometimes it returns to its feral ways and, when I'm not looking or I forget how strong and savage it can be, it gets out of its neat little spot and attacks me when I least expect it.  It claws me up and sinks its teeth into my skin, but instead of drawing blood it brings a stream of tears.

Obviously, I had a bad day recently.  There was definitely a trigger, one I don't care to discuss, but I had a full day where I simply couldn't stop the tears.  I knew there wasn't much I could do except let them come.  I had to let the emotion out, to validate my feelings.  Each tear was the anguish, the pain, the hurt coming out.  It would do no good to try to fight to keep all that inside.  Why would I?  There was nothing to prove by not crying.

Sheldon was understanding, as always.  He couldn't rationally understand the pain, but he didn't have to.  Emotions don't always listen to reason anyway.  He just let me have space, and gave me lots of hugs.  He let me talk if I wanted, but didn't push.  I told him I just needed a day to process some things and to work through my feelings.  I told him I needed one day to cry.  And I did.  I alternated between sobbing on the couch and silent tears that just flowed without permission while I went about my daily routine.  These tears were coming whether I "allowed" them to or not, and each one carried out a little of my pain.  (That last statement is a scientific fact; tears that are produced from emotional crying actually contain more toxins than those produced from a physical stimulus such as chopping onions or having something in your eye:

What's nice is that now I know that I can handle the ups and downs of grief.  I've lived with it so long that I know I can manage a bad day here and there.  I know that crying and feeling bad are okay and are normal.  I know this isn't permanent.  I know that sometimes, the wild animal that is grief has to be a wild animal, but that it will tucker itself out and I can put a leash on it again eventually and put it back where it belongs.


Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Laces Out

Perhaps you saw the commercials that were running recently featuring Sam Gordon, the girl who is a football phenom, promoting the "Together We Make Football" contest.  The contest allowed people to submit an essay and five photos or a video telling their football story about why they love the sport.  The grand prize was a trip to next year's Superbowl.  Naturally, I was excited and set out writing my essay right away!

I spent hours writing, proofreading, and editing my essay.  I also spent considerable time rifling through years' worth of digital pictures (even busting out an old hard drive) to find the five best pictures that would illustrate my story.  Unfortunately, the amount of time I spent on these tasks would be just the beginning, and I ended up spending just as much, if not more, time just trying to submit my entry due to repeated technical glitches and ended up feeling about as crazy as Ray Finkle in Ace Ventura…hence the name of this blog post.

Here's exactly what happened.  The contest ended at midnight on Tuesday, November 5.  By the 4th, my essay and pictures were ready to go!  I started trying to submit them that morning.  The website had you first fill out your personal information.  Then, there was a box for uploading pictures and a box for submitting your essay.  Once those things were done, a blue button below read "Submit Your Photos" The first several times, the blue box to submit the photos wouldn't light up - it remained pale.  Eventually, I figured out that I needed to first copy and paste the essay, then upload the photos one by  one.  If I did that, the "Submit Your Photos" button would light up and could be clicked.  Still, I kept getting error messages.  The message said something to the effect of "Sorry, there was an error uploading one of your photos.  Please try again later."  This happened every. Damn. Time.

I read and re-read the contest rules.  My photos were well below the maximum size allowed.  The rules said the photos could not have been edited at all, and I had cropped them, so I thought maybe that was the problem.  I went back through my old files to dig up the un-cropped versions for submission.  No luck.

I thought maybe it was my computer.  I was at a friend's house, so I emailed my essay and photos to her and tried it from her computer.  Same result.  I asked Sheldon to try from his computer.  Same problem. Another friend offered to try from her computer.  She also had the same problem.

I tried using less than all 4 photos, tried using different photos.  I figured maybe there was a glitch with one of them, so I tried systematically removing each photo, one by one, and only submitting four of them.  I STILL got the same error message.

I thought maybe web traffic was just too high on the site, so I tried in the middle of the night.  Repeatedly.  I got the error message.  Repeatedly.

I thought maybe Internet Explorer was the issue….until I got the same error message using Firefox and Google Chrome.

I bet that in all, at least 75 attempts were made over the course of 36 hours by four different people using four different computers and at least three different operating systems.  We were ALL unable to submit my essay.  I was getting incredibly frustrated, but I always like to try to plan for the worst-case scenario.  I decided that since the error was photo-related, that I would just submit my essay without the photos and add a couple sentences explaining my technical issues and asking to submit photos another way, by email or something.  This meant I had to pare down my essay a bit more though, to squeeze that explanation in and still stay under the word limit for the essay.  I did that, and….STILL got the same error message!

At this point, I had literally spent hours just trying to submit my entry and was very frustrated.  I had no idea what to do, so I posted my essay and photos on Facebook, asking my friends to share the status to the NFL's Facebook page.  The problem?  You can't "share" something on a business page, only that of a friend.  You have to post it directly, not using the "share" function.  So I did that.  I posted my story on the NFL page directly, and in the comments section of a post they had made promoting the contest.  On the same thread, I reported my technical issues and found I was not the only one having this problem.

Desperate, I even tweeted the NFL asking about the problem.  I got some tweets in response suggesting various things to try (including, ironically, cropping the photos and saving them a special way with Photoshop).  None of them worked.  Eventually, I got a direct message from someone with the NFL saying he would try to submit my entry for me before the deadline.  I thanked him profusely.  The next day he told me he wasn't actually able to submit it after all, but would still see what he could do and told me to "stay tuned."  I haven't heard anything since, so I decided I'd write this post.  I plan to post a link to this post on the NFL's Facebook page, tweet it to the NFL, and send a direct message with the link to my contact at the NFL.  I want someone in charge to see what this contest experience was like for me (and probably many other fans, though I doubt any were as manically rabid about continuing to try to post their entries scores of times using a network of friends and family).  Most importantly, though, I wanted my story to be told.  I wrote this essay hoping it would be read.  I truly believe my football story is powerful and moving, and football means the world to me.  I just want to tell my story one way or another.  If this is my only platform, so be it.


In the seventh grade, I made the football cheerleading squad.  Not knowing too much about the game, I started watching college football on weekends and tried to learn the basics of football from the other girls on the squad.  In high school, I continued cheering and started dating a football player. Brian and I would spend Sundays watching games with his family.  He taught me not just about downs and player positions, but also about Papa Bear Halas, Walter Payton, and the Superbowl Shuffle.  The boy bled blue and orange, and quickly converted me into a Bears fan.

My last Bears game with Brian
Once we got to college, Brian and I had our own weekend ritual during football season.  I would stay in his dorm room on Saturday nights, we’d have a frozen pizza for dinner, and on Sundays we would sleep in as late as we possibly could while allowing time to hit the cafeteria and be back in time for the noon kickoff. 

A few years later, Brian and I got married.  By that point, I was as big a Bears fan as he was.  My "something blue" on our wedding day was a Chicago Bears garter.

In our first home, we converted our basement into a Chicago Bears bar - the Boka Bear Den (Boka being our last name). We filled the walls with banners and memorabilia, down to the Bears keg tapper.  We loved having parties for Bears games and also cherished our annual trip with “Da Tailgating Crew” from Des Moines to Soldier Field for a game.  My favorite memory at Soldier Field was witnessing Devin Hester return two touchdowns one frigid Chicago night to help the Bears defeat the Broncos in overtime.  Whether at home or at the stadium, we loved watching football together.

Tattoo tribute
Tragically, after five years of marriage, Brian passed away suddenly of a pulmonary embolism.  As friends and family filled my house that cold Sunday in January, we turned on the television to the playoff games.  As his brother said, it wouldn't be right to be at our house and not be watching football.  I don't really remember much of that postseason, but I do remember the way our friends, family, and the members of his fantasy football league came together to support me.  I had a Superbowl party at our house less than a month after his passing because we always had one and that's what he would have wanted.  That fall, I hosted the annual draft for the fantasy league that he founded eight years prior.  I was honored to be given Brian’s place in the league, as a player and as the commissioner.  That year, we had the trophy named in his honor.

In time, I decided to start anew.  I moved 1,000 miles away to Austin, Texas.  I wasn't going to abandon my team, though, or my husband's memory.  I got a tattoo in remembrance of Brian -- a Chicago Bears "C" set against a shamrock background -- a tribute to the big, Irish guy who made me love football and whose mark on my life would never fade away.  I remained active in his fantasy league, too, and won the trophy that had eluded him for over a decade.  I went on our annual trip to Soldier Field with our friends, and we celebrated a bittersweet victory without him. 
First Bengals game with Sheldon

Eventually, I met another Midwest-to-Texas transplant.  Sheldon was from Cincinnati, but lived in San Antonio.  We began dating, and one of the first times I visited him was for the 2011 Superbowl…in part because he had a better TV than any of my friends.  One Sunday, watching football together on the couch, he told me how much he loved that I was a fan of the game.  He enjoyed watching me me and liked that I didn't feel ignored on Sundays (because I, too, was on my laptop, following fantasy scores and the Bears game blog).  For my part, I was just glad he wasn’t a Packers fan!

This summer, Sheldon and I got married. Now I’m in two fantasy leagues – one started by my late husband, and one founded and run by my current husband – and I dream of winning both trophies in the same year. 

First playoff game - in Houston!  (Tank top in January?! Okay!)
While I’m no longer able to make an annual trek to Soldier Field, Sheldon and I see our teams whenever they play in Texas -- we gleefully watched the Bears destroy the Cowboys in Dallas last season, and been crushed by Bengals playoff losses in Houston the past two years.  We also catch Bengals games when we visit his friends and family in Cincinnati. These game day experiences together have given birth to a dream of ours to see a game in every NFL stadium.  This fall, we were able to cross Mile High off our list. 

Ready to see my fantasy QB in Denver!
Rooting for a different team than my husband is something new, but it has its perks.  When the Bears and Bengals played earlier this year, the result was not just a Bears victory, but also that I got out of laundry for two weeks!  For the most part, though, we enjoy getting to have two teams to root for, giving us twice the chances to celebrate a win.

The past four years of my life have been filled with ups and downs, awful times and joyous moments.  One of the things that got me through it all was football. Football provided a distraction when one was needed, an opportunity for my friends to surround me with love, fond memories of my time with Brian, and fertile ground for new love to take root. Football made me the person I am today and the person Sheldon fell in love with.  I wouldn’t be who I am or where I am without football, and I love football for that.