Monday, May 31, 2010

Memorial Day

Well, today is Memorial Day. A day to remember those we have lost. A weekend that makes me think of our friends Sam & Jackie Langstaff, who we lost last Memorial Day weekend in a car accident, and who now are showing Brian the ropes on the other side. For those who don't know, Sam was in Brian's class at L-M and, like Brian, spent K-12 in that district. That alone, in a place where there are 60 or so in a graduating class, hits close to home. But it went beyond that. Sam's family was active in my church and youth group, so we'd go on day trips together and we starred in the Christmas and Easter Sunday School plays. All three of us (Brian, Sam, & I) were in drama in high school and would spend hours rehearsing together. One year Sam played Dad to my boob-taped 9-year-old girl. Sam went to Simpson College and we spent a lot of time with him there too, especially Brian. Then, after Sam & Brian got out of school, they were roommates for just over a year (in Indianola then West Des Moines), until I graduated and Brian and I moved in together. Brian and Sam tried to get together for lunch every couple of months, and we'd watch at least one Bears/Packers game a year with him. Typically two of the three of us would be griping about how awful the team was this year. Sam was the first champion of Brian's fantasy football league. I don't know when Brian & Sam last saw each other in this life, but we had seen them both at Brian's 30th birthday party in December, about 5 months before this tragedy.

I can't believe what a difference a year makes...

A year ago, Brian and I were home for my sister's high school graduation and about to embark on a fun little road trip from Muscatine to Columbia, Missouri for my friend Lena's wedding the following weekend. We were at my aunt & uncle (Amanda & Randy)'s house that Saturday night to watch UFC fights. My cell phone rang and it was Brian's brother Jeremy. He said he needed to talk to Brian and I could tell something was very wrong. That is how we found out about Sam & Jackie. I cried so hard that night. It was awful, thinking about how that young couple was driving home to see family, just as we had, but the road of their lives took them on a different route, literally, and how easily that could have been us. What if we lived in Indianola instead of Waukee? That could have been us. I was shaken to have a longtime friend taken so suddenly, at such a young age. It felt scary to have death hit so close to home, to think about how fragile life is. Brian was mostly in shock, I think, and I shed more tears than he that night, though I know there were many from us both. Brian and Amanda both held me while I tied to process the horrible news. Brian cried when we got home that night and we had to tell his mom. All weekend we thought of those families and a somber pall was cast over my sister's festivities. All the old friends, family members, and teachers who came to her party were thinking of it in the back of their minds. Brian talked to Sam's parents a couple of times and called college friends with the news. It was a very difficult time.

Brian and I had to decide, then, whether to continue with our trip to Columbia or to stay around for the services for Sam & Jackie. Ultimately, we decided to go on with the trip because the reservations were made, the RSVPs submitted, and because we knew the community was wrapping the grieving families in so much love that our absence would barely be noticed, if at all. It was a strange thing, to have to choose between a wedding and a funeral. I hope to never have to do that again. I don't know what the right choice really is, but I'm glad we forged on as planned. Although reeling from the news, we had the best vacation of our lives. We'd been to Austin, Mexico, and Jamaica together. We'd done spring breaks, concerts, football games, and all-inclusive beach trips. We hadn't done a quiet little trip full of bed-n-breakfasts, wineries, microbreweries, kitschy museums, leisurely lunches, bike rides, and minimal structure or plans. It was amazing. Every night, we knew where we'd be sleeping. That was really it. We could try to fit in four wineries, or just take our time at one and get in a bike ride too. I know central Missouri doesn't really sound like the stuff vacation dreams are made of, but it was the best trip because we enjoyed each other's company the most of any trip we'd taken. The icing on the cake is that we got to share in a beautiful celebration for our friends Lena & Josh on their big day, and we got to catch up with old friends at the same time.

I guess I'm getting off track forward a year. I never would have guessed that I would know loss firsthand the way I feared that night we heard about the Langstaffs. I never expected that, of about 30 guys in Brian's high school class, two would be gone within a year, and both just starting off their 30s. That is too much loss for our small community, our pool of classmates and friends. Statistically, it's a terrible anomaly.

But here I am, in that boat, adrift in a sea of tears.

This was a tough weekend for me. Not only am I thinking of the Langstaffs and Hauperts, but I am torn up inside to be 1,000 miles from home, from Brian. I feel like I'm letting him and his family down by being here in Austin and not hugging and holding hands with his family at his grave in Muscatine. I am really struggling with my physical location right now. I wanted to be home on my first Memorial Day without Brian.

On the other hand, I keep telling myself that it isn't practical for me to fly home every time I want to (or think I should) be at his side. I can talk to him from Austin. Sometimes I think he is talking to me more here than he did in Iowa, or perhaps I'm just in a better place to hear. I think I'm healing so much here that I also don't want to negate that by making multiple trips to Iowa, or making a trip home too soon, this summer. I am certainly not trying to forget about Brian -- I never will and I never could -- but, to be perfectly honest, going to his grave is just so difficult for me right now. I've only gone a couple of times in the four months since his funeral. I feel like a bad wife for not visiting more often. I have this vision of the dedicated, lonely widow visiting every day, spending hours talking to her husband. I feel like a failure for not being that dedicated wife and not fitting that mold.

For one, I knew that wasn't going to be a possibility when we decided to bury him in Muscatine. Even if I were home, the most I could do is visit on weekends. More to the point (and the real reason I haven't visited more often) just tears me up to go there. It is the most painful thing I can imagine. For some, I hear it is cathartic -- that it brings peace or closure, or makes a survivor feel more connected to the departed. For me, I just feel the loss so intensely when I go there. On one visit, I shut myself in the car and screamed so hard it hurt. I don't even think "scream" is the right word to describe what I was doing -- just a raw, primal sound that came from deep within and the guttural, raw nature of which would have probably frightened me if I had been capable of hearing or processing anything at that moment. I just remember thinking I couldn't get my pain and anger out in any more pure of a way. I think I was screaming at God.

So here I am, blogging and crying on my patio in Austin instead of putting my anguish on display in a semi-public setting, thereby terrifying other family members and friends who are visiting their lost loved ones today. I really think if I were at the cemetery right now, I'd be having an absolute meltdown and would disrupt otherwise peaceful visitors who are further along in coming to terms with their losses. I try to picture being at Greenwood today -- the winding lanes spotted with cars pulled over; the slow walk of older, infirm people visiting their dead husbands and wives; people dabbing the corners of their eyes with tissues; flags proudly flying in the breeze; teddy bears, beads, and flowers adorning the graves. I don't see myself fitting neatly into that picture. I honestly do think I would cause a scene -- I see myself crying, screaming up at the sky, breaking down into sobs, and collapsing. Strangers would turn and stare. Those with me would pity me, worry about me, console me. I would be embarrassed by my complete loss of decorum. It is not a scene for anyone else. Just me, Brian, and God. I guess being so far away keeps it that way.

Thursday, May 27, 2010

Life Without Brian

*WARNING -- This blog post may be very difficult and painful to read, so I recommend you seek privacy and tissues before proceeding.*

It's been over four months since Brian died and in some ways the reality of that, as well as the impact, is just starting to sink in. All along, I have known that I've been in a state of denial. Obviously, I understand what happened on an intellectual level. But that hasn't stopped me from replaying the scene from the hospital waiting room over and over in my head and continuing to hope that the words of the doctor will be anything but what they were that day, that I will wake up and find this was all a terrible dream. I don't remember many of the specifics of that conversation in the waiting room due to my fear and shock, but I remember the doctor explaining to me and Jeremy (Brian's brother) his condition upon arrival, the word "asystolic" (which I knew from a case at work was a very bad thing), and the words, "Brian passed away..." I remember yelling out, "NO!" and hearing Jeremy yell the same. It was as if I heard myself, but didn't have control of my voice or my body. I was beside myself. I didn't hear anything else the doctor said after that, but after a couple more sentences, I interrupted him and said, "Wait -- are you sure? Is there anything else you can do?" I just couldn't accept what he was telling me.

I've frequently thought of that horrible morning and I always think, "No, that didn't really happen. I just imagined it. I just have to imagine a different outcome and then he'll be okay." It makes no sense to say that, and I know it sounds crazy. Again, there is a dichotomy between my brain and my heart. I can understand, mentally, the events that occured. What transpired, though, is too much for my heart to understand or accept. My soul, the core of my being rejects that reality because it is too shocking, too painful, too tragic, to accept. This probably doesn't make much sense to anyone who has not experienced something like this on a very personal level. I think a great deal of it has to do with the sudden nature of Brian's death. I know many of the people I called with the awful news reacted in the same way. The gut reaction to such news was (and often is) to say, "No!" or "You're kidding! Tell me that you're joking. That can't be true." For many friends, the news was too much to grasp on a frigid but otherwise unremarkable Sunday morning. Anyone who has had that reaction to bad news -- that gut reaction to reject the information -- knows what I'm feeling. It's just that, for most people in most circumstances, that gut reaction gets quickly overcome by logical thinking and an intellectual understanding of what has occurred. I'm just taking a lot longer for the intellect to take over. My gut still screams, "No! That can't be true!" every time I think about what happened. I'm just too frail to accept the truth. I don't accept that Brian's life was taken from him at 31 years of age. I don't accept that he'll never see his nieces grow up, never travel to Australia, never again spend a lazy Sunday sleeping in with me, never again pet our beloved cats or play laser chase with them, that he won't see our friends get married in wine country this fall -- I still don't accept these things!

When I briefly -- and foolishly, I might add -- tried to return to work a couple weeks after Brian died, one of my co-workers shared some insight on grieving. He told me that it is the permanancy of death that is the hardest, and that realizing the impact and the permanancy is something that happens later on down the road. It is realizing that there will never be another Christmas together, that milestones will happen without that person, and the fact that the departed will never again be seen in human form that is the hardest, and this is also something that takes time to realize. I think I am starting to realize this, and to feel the pain and impact of losing Brian.

There have been a few birthdays that have come up -- a shared 30th birthday a week after Brian's death and Lily's 4th birthday to name a couple -- and Wine Club gatherings where it has started to sink in. These events have given me pause, thinking how unfair and sad it is for him to miss out and for us to not have him there adding to the festivities. But what is really hitting me now is the little things. "Does this dress look good? Which earrings/purse/shoes are best?" Brian had a good eye for fashion and I trusted his taste. More important, he was honest with me. Do you think a slightly pudgy widow can get an honest opinion from anyone else?! Ha! Not there there is anyone to ask every morning anyway. I miss not only the honesty and voice behind the opinion, but the constant availability of having someone there to ask. "Can you fix that?" I hate having to ask male friends for help with things like fixing the mailbox or taking down Christmas lights. "What do you think of [insert person/food/wine/restaurant/throw pillows/any situation imaginable]?"

I looked to Brian for guidance on career, relationships with other people, cooking, dressing, decorating, making social plans, everything! That is what spouses do -- they share a life. Now, I don't have that, and I miss it terribly. Living alone, no one else knows the whole of my life the way Brian did as my husband. No one else knows the ins and outs of my life -- the people I know, the things I like, the personality traits I have, etc. -- like he did. I have lost my primary advisor and counselor. As my husband, Brian was my best friend and true companion. I am just starting to understand the depth of losing him. I know that, moving forward, there will be many more things that will trigger my sense of loss, of pain, and of anger. The cruel irony is that it is the things that we enjoyed the most together that -- though they often give me the most comfort -- are the most painful to experience alone. I think football season will be the hardest for me. That was what he loved -- and we loved sharing -- the most.

I'm just glad I told Brian all the time how much I loved him and how much better he made every part of my life. I keep trying to remind myself that I was lucky to have someone who made my life that great. And, yes, I'm writing this paragraph in a slightly pathetic attempt to cheer myself up. But, hey, it's working a little. Forced optimism does wonders when you have no other alternative to stop the tears. I really was lucky, though, to have him and share as many good times as we did...though I may be forcing myself to be an optimist in this trying time, I'm not lying to myself. I was lucky to know him, to have him, to share my life with him, and -- most of all -- to be loved by him.

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

My Mason Jennings Night

Saturday I hosted my housewarming party. It felt so good to play host again -- I really miss that about Iowa! At home (Iowa), our house was always the center of the social universe. I actually thought about how much I'd miss that before I came down here, so it was nice to pull out that part of my personality, dust it off, and display it. I'm pleased to say that I don't think I missed a beat! Granted, I didn't have all the cool serving dishes and platters, and we had to use plastic cups for wine rather than matching crystal stemware, but it was a success nonetheless! A lot of people, and two dogs, from my building came by. I was really impressed at the community feel of my building. Someone referred to it as "an adult dormitory." I felt like I was surrounded by Midwestern kindness.

Saturday night, six of us attended a Mason Jennings show at Antone's. It was an incredible show! It was just Mason with an acoustic guitar and, occasionally, a harmonica. I don't believe I've ever seen him completely sans band. I knew all the songs save one. Much of his music either evokes memories of Brian or has lyrical value that speaks to me in my current situation, so it really was an incredible show. One of the songs he played, "Nothing," was the very first song of his I ever heard and I was with Brian in Muscatine at the time. The year was 2002 or 2003 -- I know this because Brian became obsessed with Mason Jennings and played that burned CD over and over -- to the point that it ran through my head frequently on long runs while I trained for the 2003 Des Moines Marathon. He also played "Butterfly," a song that we listened to over and over on a road trip to Austin with Brian's brother and that was on Brian's memorial CD (incidentally, we remembered that the word "fuck" was in this song after making the CDs and just hours before the first visitation). He also played songs from his most recent disc, which evoked memories of seeing him in Iowa City with our friends Shannon & Ellie. I realize I'm getting wordy....but suffice it to say that it was a wonderful show. Meeting him and getting a picture and autograph afterwards were just icing on the cake. (Picture above is me & Mason Jennings.)

After the show, I went to a place called Lambert's, which has GREAT food. It is a bbq and music place downtown. I went with Shane, Kristen (pictured below with me), and Kristen's dad, who joined us at the concert. There was a singer there named Nano Whitman ( who played original stuff and covers. Among the songs he played was "Murder in the City," by the Avett Brothers. This, along with "Mr. Bojangles" was Brian's favorite song. One of our favorite lines in that song was, "Always remember there was nothing worth sharing like the love that let us share our name." Brian and I talked about that line a couple of times and how incredible love was that it would literally cause someone to change one's identity. Think about it -- "I was Wendy Cooper, but I love you so much that I want to cast aside my identity and take on your name. Linking myself to you is more important than the surname I've been using my whole life. That is who I am now." Collectively, we were blown away by the concept and realized how awesome it was that we had that kind of love. I was awestruck that I would find myself eating dinner with two people who were strangers a month ago in venue that happened to have a band covering that song. It seemed to be fate. I felt like Brian was speaking to me.

What happened next, though, was as if the universe was speaking to me. The next song Nano played was "28." It has a line that says, "My best friend died at 23." Kristen's best friend died of cancer a couple of years ago at a young age, so this song spoke to her too. It seemed to be fate that we were there to hear those songs together.

Sometimes when I struggle with the idea that "Everything happens for a reason," I think of seemingly circumstantial happenings like this and it helps to reaffirm my faith in this belief.

Thursday, May 20, 2010

"Hi. I'm Wendy, and I'm a widow."

Although I came to Austin knowing quite a few friends and family members, I've also met a lot of new people in my short time here. A short run through of a few new faces in my world:

Clint, 37 -- went to UNI with my friends (and co-workers from H&H) Nick & Randy. Our mutual friends gave me Clint's number and insisted I call him when I got to Austin. Clint works for a company that does fundraising for high school sports. He is very outgoing and fun and has brought many more people into my circle. I went to Cowboy Mouth and golfing with him.

Bonnie, 28 -- I met Bonnie through Clint. Oddly enough, she met Clint in the same sort of roundabout way as I did, but in a much more roundabout way! Her aunt sat next to Clint on a flight and started chatting, Bonnie's aunt got Clint's information and told her to call this really fun guy, and now they are friends. Bonnie is finishing college after spending 5 years in the military. Like me, she enjoys running and kayaking at Lady Bird Lake. We went to a fabulous wine bar for wine flights (then a bottle of sparkling wine, and a bottle of red wine...) and dinner last night, and she has intruduced me to friends of hers who live in my building.

Kristen, 27 -- Kristen met Hart & Wilson in Las Vegas a few years ago and they have stayed in touch since. Oddly enough, she also went to high school and hung out in the same group as Jessi Boka, Brian's cousin from Austin. I noticed our shared friends on Facebook and sent her a friend request and a note. Kristen is studying for her LSAT and is looking at her options for law school. She showed me the best happy hour deal of any Mexican restaurant in Austin, I'm convinced!

An interesting thing about those three people is that they all have personal experience with the loss of very close loved ones at early ages. They, like me, know death and grief intimately, more so than one should at this point in life. This has led me to ponder, with these new friends and on my own, how a seemingly random encounter -- on a plane, in a bar, in a dorm -- can lead to connections like this. It is remniscent of the movie The Butterfly Effect. We have no idea what impact a little decision, action, or event might have in our lives or those of our friends and family. Meeting these people in Austin -- even having just met them each a couple of times -- reaffirms that there is a reason I am here. I feel these people have been brought into my life to help me, and I also hope that I can help them, as grief is a lifelong process.

Normally, I wouldn't be the type to reach out to a friend-of-a-friend on my own to hang out, despite assurances that I "have to meet" that person. But I'm not the "normal" me right now, and I might never be her again. I am doing things I wouldn't normally do (like moving to Austin!) because I don't have anything to lose. Losing so much and feeling so much pain has made me realize I shouldn't take life so seriously and that there's no harm in taking a shot and hoping something works out in your favor. So far, it has.

With those moves paying off, I decided to do something here that I never did at home (despite thinking about it) when Brian and I moved into our house -- I just made cookies and delivered them to my neighbors. I went around and knocked on the doors of the other 15 units in my building, cookies in hand and smile on my face. I introduced myself to those who were home, gave out sweets, and invited my new building-mates to a housewarming/open house I'm having on Saturday afternoon.

One thing that has me worried, though, is something that has come up a few times already here in Austin -- when I meet new people, they naturally ask what I do, why I moved, whether I am married, etc. I don't always like opening up and talking about what brought me here, though. For one, it is an incredibly painful thing to talk about. I don't particularly enjoy crying in front of strangers. To do so in the first 5 minutes of meeting someone can put a damper on things and can make it hard from the other person to know what to say. The other thing is that, frankly, being 29 and widowed is a very rare thing. It is the kind of thing that could leave me with the equivalent of a scarlet letter. Instead of being "Wendy, that fun girl who just moved here from Iowa," people probably say, "That's Wendy. Her husband just died and she's down here to get away from it all." Certainly, the latter is true, but that is not all that I am. That, alone, does not define me.

Or does it? Is there any aspect of me that is not shaped -- or at least colored -- by Brian, his life, our marriage, his death? Honestly, probably not. We were together for 14 years, married for 5. I am here because he is gone. I am lost because I lost him. This experience will shape me forever, but will it always define me? What is the difference? Sometimes it is nice to let people get to know me once, or at least wait a few hours after meeting them, before I tell them "the real story" about why I'm in Austin. It is nice to be Wendy first, and a widow second. At this point, though, I'm still so rocked, so hurt, so numbed, that I'm not sure those aren't one and the same.

Yes, I am a widow. But I am also Wendy. I just have to figure out to show people both.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Austin Celebrity Sighting!

See the redhead with the fedora in his hand? Anyone recognize him? That is Jesse Plemons, who plays Landry Clarke on Friday Night Lights (the critically acclaimed TV series, not the movie that inspired it). It is a favorite show of mine, so I was stoked to see him sitting outside, enjoying live jazz at a coffee shop on South Congress.

FYI, Friday Night Lights is filmed in and around Austin, so I'm hoping for more cast sightings! I already saw Ray's BBQ, which is a shooting location featured heavily in the show.

And, to answer your anticipated, I did not ask for his autograph or for a picture with me. I thought I would be that kind of person, but I just couldn't. He was enjoying a leisurely Sunday with friends (and seemed to be into that cute blonde girl!), and I just didn't want to bother him or create a scene. Just getting this picture was enough. In the right circumstances, though, I might have been "that girl" who asks for a picture.

My Place

While living in Austin, I'm subletting a studio efficiency loft.....i.e., one room with a tall ceiling! This is the first time I've lived somewhere without a separate bedroom, kitchen, etc. At least the closet, bathroom, and utility/laundry closet have doors!
The owners of the loft had a tenant who moved out at the end of April and the owner's cousin is going to move in around August 14 (to attend UT Law), so they needed a short-term renter. Worked out perfectly for me! I found this place on Craigslist, which was replete with short-term renting options in Austin. The great thing (beside the location and price) is that I write one check a month for rent, which includes all the bills. I even have high speed internet, expanded cable, and a DVR! The DVR was an unexpected bonus, which I'm sure my friend Shane appreciates, as I would have made him record all my shows on his otherwise! (He lives a couple blocks down the road.) Alas, now I don't have to choose between Monday sushi/karaoke night and new episodes of The Big Bang Theory and How I Met Your Mother. :) Oh, and the place came fully furnished, so all the furniture, bedding, towels, etc. were included so I was able to fill the entire SUV with clothes, shoes, and purses. Not that I brought that least by my standards.
Enjoy the pics....most are pretty self-explanatory...the metal goat, however, probably warrants an explanation -- my neighbors across the hall have it outside their door, which is at the top of the stairs leading to the second floor (where I live). As some of you might know, I'm quite clumsy and frequently have mishaps on stairs. I am always fearful that I will trip up the stairs and be impaled by this goat-devil's sharp, rusty horns!

On that note, enjoy the pics!

Monday, May 17, 2010

The Turtles

Can't get the pic to post at the bottom of my previous post, so here it is on its own, out of context.

How's Austin?

In a word....awesome!

What have I been doing to keep busy? Well, I've gone running and kayaking on Lady Bird Lake (Townlake). My place isn't far from Zilker Park, a huge park with botanical gardens, a sculpture garden, a swimming area, and boating. I rented a one-person kayak there and went out on the lake and springs for an hour last week. The picture to the left was taken from my kayak as I paddled toward downtown. It was a nice change of pace from running and it was cool how much ground -- er, water? -- I can cover in an hour compared to running. I saw lots of turtles that day! There is a picture above of a bunch of turtles sunning on a log.

I've also been to the Alamo Drafthouse twice. The Alamo Drafthouse ( is a really cool movie theater with locations all around Austin. You sit in normal theater seats, but there is a bartop in front of you and you can order food & drinks. I saw Iron Man 2 and Kick Ass. Both good movies, if a little more fight- and explosion-heavy than is my typical taste.

Last week, I went to Antone's (, a great music venue downtown, to see a band called Cowboy Mouth. I had not heard of this band, but my friend and co-worker Nick loves them, and I trust his taste in music, so I thought I'd give them a shot. They were fantastic! A very lively group that really got the crowd involved. If you ever get a chance to see Cowboy Mouth (, do it! Bring a red plastic spoon, too (you'll see). As a side note, I'm going to see a longtime favorite musician, Mason Jennings ( at Antone's this weekend.

Let's see...I also caddied and drove the golf cart for a friend at Lyons Municipal Golf Course one day, but we were rained out after 9 holes. Was still a fun way to spend some time outside and doing something different (I've actually never golfed in my life!).

As far as food goes, I've eaten a lot of meals in my apartment, but I have enjoyed some good grub out too. I've had Mexican fare at Maudie's (near Lyons Muni) ( and Guero's ( Guero's has one of the best burritos I've ever had! I also fell in love with a sandwich shop today, Which Wich? ( There, I had a 'wich called the Montecristo, which is ham, turkey, grape jelly, and other toppings of your choice (I just stuck with provolone), with the bread dusted by powdered sugar. Amazing!

Today, I went out to run errands and stopped at Waterloo Records (, a great music/movie/gift store that has a ton of great, kind of off-the-beaten-path music, both in CD and on vinyl. I bought a bunch of CDs from The Avett Brothers (, a band Brian discovered about six months before he passed away. He was mildly obsessed with them, even creating a Pandora radio station ( based on one of their songs. The Avett Brothers will be at Bonnaroo ( -- which I'm finally going to this year! -- and listening to the new tunes will get me even more excited for that show!

I also went to Whole Foods and fell in many choices for fresh, exotic fruits; such a nicely organized and extensive wine collection; plentiful cheeses; organic and local ingredients and products. They had a roasted nut station and a make-your-own-trail-mix station, for God's sake! Nothing like any grocery store I've ever been to.

Well, I think that about wraps up this post. I'll keep y'all updated on the rest of my TX adventures!

Sunday, May 16, 2010


I started this post with no theme and planned to just update everyone on how I've spent my time, but when I started writing about how I spent last weekend....well, my thoughts took over and pretty soon I had more than a full post.

I spent last weekend in Burnet, TX, which is about an hour northwest of Austin. Brian's Uncle Bruce & Aunt Kay just built a house there on about 4 acres of land. I got to see them, their dog, all 3 three of their daughters (Brian's cousins) and their 2 sons-in-law and one grand-kitty. It was great to be with family and to see everyone. The fun chaos of move-in time can be really fun, as there is no formality and no forced conversation -- everyone is busy, working, communicating, and bonding over shared memories and minor victories like organizing the spice racks. In some ways, it was the perfect environment for catching up with this branch of the Boka family.

I did have a little internal sadness, though, that came with helping Bruce & Kay move in. Brian and I had planned to do some fix-up work to our house and put it on the market this year. In fact, we had picked up a bunch of real estate magazines just a couple days before he died. I kept thinking of how, if life had gone according to plan, I would be unloading boxes in Iowa filled with XXLT clothes, Bears memorabilia, empty wine bottles that hold many memories and serve as kitchen decor, etc. We were supposed to be going through these motions together. It should have been us and our friends and family who groaned about how much crap we had, all the while knowing that just means the shared history is long and the blessings have been great.

As a result, helping Bruce & Kay unpack the trappings of their collective life together -- cookbooks sold to raise money for churches and schools, photo albums, toys their children had played with twenty-five years ago that their grandchildren now enjoy, board games whose worn-cornered boxes reflect the hours of enjoyment and fun shared -- was sometimes a challenge. These things were tangible representations of the life they have built together. I thought about the life Brian and I built together and, more somberly, thought of what we would not share -- children, grandchildren, dogs, a retirement home, brand-new furniture (with the exception of a bedroom set, we still have hand-me-downs and moving sale finds), etc. I haven't had a lot of anger yet (and maybe I won't really go through that), but I did find myself feeling indignant that day.

I know "indignant" sounds a lot like anger, but it is more -- I felt robbed, cheated, and a feeling of injustice at what we would miss out on. I feel it as much, if not more, for Brian than I do for myself. I must admit I feel angry that he doesn't get to keep experiencing things. At least life goes on for me. At least I will (and have) travel to new places, see family again, reunite with old friends and meet ones. For someone who loved life and enjoyed the company of others as much as Brian did to lose that opportunity seems so cruel and tragic. I really haven't thought, "Why me?" as much as I have thought, "Why him?" It just isn't fair.

Right before I left for Texas, as we said good-bye through tears, Kristine said something that has really resonated with me. She said, "Life is good, but it isn't easy." The fact that life isn't fair is part and parcel of it not being easy, but that doesn't mean life isn't good and can't be enjoyed. Life is good, and I'm enjoying it despite how much I miss Brian. Despite some of the difficult feelings I had while helping the Bokas move, I had a good time seeing the family and getting out into the country. I can't let my sadness keep me from enjoying such things. Following this theme, I will write more about some of the fun things I have done in Austin in my next post.

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

On Running and Grief

Yesterday I went for a run at Lady Bird Lake, or, as it is known to native Austonians, Townlake. I spent the morning creating my blog, then got ready for my run. By that point it was 11:30 or so. I planned to run 4-5 miles; this shouldn't have been too hard given that I was up to 6-7 mile runs before I moved. I didn't anticipate how much the heat and sun would affect me, though, and I was only able to run 4 miles, and had to walk a few times at that. That did, however, give me chance to stop and read a big display about the famous bats that live under the Congress Ave. bridge for the greater part of the year. I ran under the bridge and could hear -- and smell! -- the bats. Only after that did I stop to read the display, which informed me that there are approximately 750,000 bats that dwell under the bridge! But I digress....for some reason (perhaps sun-induced deliriousness), I had a lot of thoughts run through my mind while running and wanted to share some of them.

There is a saying common among law students that advises, "Law school is a marathon, not a sprint." So true, and so it goes with grieving. Just like a marathon, you can't expect to make it through without some planning and some "training." For my grief work, I have to anticipate days that will be hard -- anniversaries, holidays, football season, etc. -- and plan for how I am going to spend my time and handle the emotions that will come up. So far, friends and family have been great about this. I spent the one month anniversary of Brian's death by having lunch with Jeremy, Brian's brother. We were both able to talk about where we were and to cry together. That evening I went to a comedy club with Erin and Chad (yes, Austin Erin) to keep my mind off things. I spent Valentine's Day weekend with my parents and in-laws in Muscatine, and I visited Greenwood Cemetary. I know the next thing to plan for is Memorial Day, so I will be thinking about that.

Just like training runs, talking through things and expressing feelings is an essential part of grieving (at least for me anyway, and the conventional wisdom is that this is better than keeping things bottled up). Just like training runs, I sometimes dread this because it is hard, I don't have the time, or I'd rather be doing something more fun. This is how I felt about my sessions with the grief counselor, visits to the cemetary, and designing a headstone. In some ways, I feel that way about this blog. But, just like training runs, I have to put in the time and work to see any results. And, just like after a hard training run, it starts out hard but in the end, I feel proud to have completed the task and liberated -- that it is not hanging over me, that I did something daunting. I usually even feel good at the end. The funny thing about facing my emotions, talking about difficult things, screaming until my throat is hoarse, or crying until I can't breathe is this -- afterwards, I usually feel much better. Maybe not right away -- the aches and pains have to subside -- but it is good for my soul. My grief counselor said every tear is therapy and gets me further down the road of grief.

Of course, there are times I just don't think I can bear it. It gets overwhelming, even terrifying. I must admit, there have been many times where I have just wandered around the house, sobbing and crying out, "What am I going to do?!" I'm not proud of this, but it's happened a number of times. And I keep telling myself something I read early on in one of my grief books -- "Just get through today." Only, I sometimes have to modify it, "Just make it through this minute." Again, this compares to running in an eerie way. There are times during a long run -- and this is especially true in the last 5 or so miles of a marathon -- where I pick a target in the distance and think, "I just have to run to that tree/stop sign/lightpost/water station." Then, when I get there -- which I always do! -- I choose the next goal. It is too overwhelming and discouraging to think of running 5 more miles after you hit the wall, but I've been able to do just that by breaking it into short-term goals. I don't know where I am on the grief marathon, but that doesn't matter -- I can't think of the finish line. That's too far ahead. I just have to focus on one day, one week, or one event at a time. On hard days, I go by the minute or hour. And so far, I've made it through every time. As an aside, this coping strategy was really reinforced when my dear friend Joy took me to see a lecture from Alison Levene, a woman who has trekked to both the north and south poles, and who is currently attempting to scale Everest (her first attempt had to be called short just a few hundred yards from the summit due to an incoming storm). One of the things she spoke about is how difficult it is to advance in the extremely thin air and that she would also choose landmarks very near to her team to keep her going. That night, listening to her speak, the connection between her journeys, my grieving, and running all came into light and I was truly moved and inspired. (BTW, you can follow Alison's current Everest expedition on her blog:

Getting back to my sun-induced occured to me that one other corollary between running and grieving is that everyone can -- no, should -- go at his or her own pace and it really doesn't matter what that pace is, or even if it changes, as long as one keeps moving forward. It occured to me after the third time I had to walk yesterday that my body was ready for the conditions -- I wasn't ready for the heat (admittedly, part of that was my fault for not being properly hydrated). I had to listen to my body on that run, just like a grieving person must listen to her soul. Just as my body wasn't ready to run 4 miles in the Austin sun, there are certain things I am not ready to face yet. I was not ready to go through Brian's things, so in preparation for my housesitter moving in, I simply boxed them up to do that later. I am not ready to go back to "normal" life, and it is important that I listened to that. I know there are more phases of grief ahead, and that at times I am staying busy doing fun things to avoid facing those. And I think that is okay. I can slow down, even take a short break, from grieving, as long as I stay on the path. Everyone has to do this at her own pace.

The other thing that hit me is how much the environment and one's surrounds affect the pace and the run. I hope that Austin, though it might be bad for my running, will be good for my progress on the path of healing.

Tuesday, May 11, 2010


A lot of people have asked me -- and probably more have wondered, but refrained from asking -- why I'm spending the summer in Austin. Why am I leaving? What will I do? Why Austin?

Why am I leaving? Good question. For one, I just know I wasn't ready to go back to the same life I had before without Brian by my side. I think losing Brian the way I did was such a shock to the system, that I'm not ready to go back to life the way it was and pretend that it's normal and good without him. I don't want to be living in the same house, working at the same job, eating the same foods, hanging out with the same friends, doing the same things, without my partner in crime. That was the life we created together, and it was meant to be shared by us together. I don't want this to be interpreted as me saying I didn't like our life -- I loved it! I always told Brian how happy I was, how blessed we were, and I felt 2009 was our best year yet. I also don't want anyone to think I'm going to cut ties with that life -- no, that isn't my plan, either. I just needed more time before I could go back to it. I think I just needed a little more time to process things. I thought getting away from everything would help that.

What will I do? The short answer is, anything that I think will help me in my path. I want to take this time to grieve, process my emotions, find myself, and (I hope) grow from this. What will I do to achieve such lofty goals? Well, for one, it is a journey, not a destination. I just want to make progress; I don't think I'll leave Austin in August as a "healed" person who is "over" her loss! That being said, I do think that discovering a place is symbolic for discovering one's self. Similarly, taking care of one's body also nurtures the soul. So I plan to explore Austin -- museums, parks, nature, restaurants, coffee shops, etc. -- in an active way. I hope to run, bike, kayak, go rowing, go hiking, etc. I think these things will help keep me focused, positive, and healthy while I work on my emotional journey. I plan to mix those active and fun activities with my grief work. This blog will help me process my feelings and emotions, so it is part of the grief work. I also have a private journal to help with the grieving process. In addition, I have several grieving and self-help books that I plan to get through this summer. Finally, I might join a grief support group. I have gathered a little bit of information on some options and will see if any are helpful. I had been seeing a grief counselor in Iowa and found that helpful.

Why Austin? Well, Austin is a great city! There are plenty of things to do and explore here, which is what I need. I lived in Austin for a while as a child and still have fond memories of things we did as a family. Brian's brother lived here after college and we visited frequently, enough to kind of know the city and what it offers -- definitely enough to love the place! In addition, I have many friends and Boka family members in Austin and nearby cities (Dallas, Houston, and San Antonio). This will allow me to still have a social life and to have face-to-face interaction with people, which was important. I wanted to get away, not become a total recluse! Finally, I just felt called here. When I spent a week here in March, as soon as I arrived, I thought my time would be too short. The day I got back to Iowa, I was online looking for a place to sublease. I'm glad I listened to what my gut was telling me. A couple weeks after I finalized my plans to spend the summer here, my good friend Erin got a job in Austin, so I will even have an Iowa friend joining me here in a couple weeks. Me being here when she and her fiance Chad (who is also a friend of mine) move will be great -- I can introduce them to the great people I know here, and show them the best places to eat, drink, shop, bike, and run.

This is the first time in my life I've ever done something without a "plan." I've spent my whole life (since deciding I wanted to be a lawyer when I was 12) working toward ascertainable goals, so this will be an entirely new thing for me. I've always done that which fits into the plan and advances me toward the goal line. Now it is time for me to take some time, listen to what life is trying to tell me, and to let the wind carry me for awhile. The wind brought me to Austin, and I believe it will be a good thing.

Intro to My Blog

I've created this blog for a couple of reasons.

First, it is to keep people informed about how I am doing in coping with Brian's death, and what I am doing with my time. I am blessed to have incredible friends and a large, supportive, and loving family (both my side of the family and Brian's, who are like my own family). Many people have sent cards, e-mails, have called, etc., to see how I am doing. While I am very grateful, there are also times I am simply not up for it. It is my hope that writing this blog will help keep everyone in the loop and provide a way for me to share my thoughts and experiences, perhaps in a forum where I can better express myself.

This leads to the second reason. I think this blog will give me a chance to express a more complete view of my grieving and rebuilding process. I am a "people pleaser" by nature and tend to put on a happy face for others. When people ask, "How are you doing?," my gut reaction is to say, "Fine, thank you," or, "As good as I can; thanks for asking." I say this even when it is not true. Sometimes it is just a kneejerk reaction, the "right" or "polite" answer to such a query. Sometimes it is because I'm in too much pain or turmoil on the inside to want to crack the shell (or split the bellybutton) and let the inside come pouring out. Finally, sometimes, I just can't find the right words in the context of a conversation to express what is going on inside my heart and mind as I continue to cope with losing my best friend, soul mate, and lover so suddenly and far too soon in life. I think I could be more honest and authentic with the "How are you doing?" question if I try to answer that in writing, where I can take the time to honestly assess, rather than answering quickly to keep a conversation going, and choose just the right words and imagery to paint the picture of my soul.

Hence, this blog. I hope it will provide me a way to not only keep my loved ones informed about my goings-on and my progress, but also that it will give me a way to better express my feelings.