Monday, August 30, 2010

Dream a Little Dream of Me

I dreamed about Brian on Friday night, though it was so real that I might have been awake when I saw him; I just don't know. I'll call it a dream, because I was asleep immediately before it happened. In my dream:

I was laying in bed -- our bed, where I actually was sleeping -- and woke up with the sense that Brian was going to be coming into the bedroom. In my dream, I knew it didn’t make sense because he was dead, but I was still hopeful and just had the feeling it was him around the corner. I so badly WANTED to see him; I wasn’t afraid at all. And sure enough, I was right -- he was in the hallway and came into the bedroom! He walked partway into the room, past the dresser, and paused and turned his face to look at me. Shocked and thrilled to see him, I shouted, “Brian!” and he smiled at me. I have never been so happy to see his smile. He was wearing a jeans and sweater -- that orange striped sweater I loved so much on him -- and sporting his glasses. His smile was so big, so genuine, and he had that twinkle in his eye that always made me smile. I could see the happiness and love he had for me in his eyes. It was the look he would give me when we'd share an inside joke or when we'd experience something great together. It was just like he was his regular, human self. There he was, coming into the room like normal, like he might do if he'd been out that night and I was in bed waiting for him. That's exactly how it felt, too -- like I'd been in bed, waiting for him to come in. Though I understood in the dream that he was dead and that this didn't mean he was alive again, it still felt completely natural and normal that he'd be coming into the room to spend the night.

Once he turned and smiled at me, I felt a wave of excitement, love, happiness, and peace. Nothing else happened in the dream, but nothing else was needed. Nothing else could have enhanced his visit. I truly feel he visited -- whether I was dreaming or awake -- to tell me that he was just fine, he was happy, and also that he's with me and looking after me. I can't even describe how amazing it was to see him and to feel the love he brought into the room with him. Somehow, he radiated or expressed things to me that go beyond words. I could just feel the love he was giving me, I could just know what he was there to tell me, without us speaking.

I woke up Saturday morning feeling rested and refreshed, though without remembering this experience right away. Somehow, I suddenly remembered what had happened around noon on Saturday. I immediately started crying tears of joy and relief -- finally, I'd had a visit from Brian that was clear, wonderful, and that didn't cause any confusion or mixed emotions in the morning! It was exactly what I've wanted, though I probably just wasn't ready before now. In fact, I know that when I sensed his presence in the hallway, I remember thinking that I so badly wanted him to come into the room, even though I knew he couldn't stay -- I knew it was just a brief visit, and I understood in my dream that he is dead and that this wouldn't change that -- but I still fully and unabashedly wanted to see him! I've actually had the sense that he might be visiting in dreams before, but that sense is usually accompanied by some apprehension. Not that I think Brian would hurt me or anything, but there has still been a tense feeling associated with this -- what if it doesn't look like him? What if I beg him to stay and he can't? Will I wake up sad? Can I handle the intensity of the experience? For some reason, I didn't have those fears surging through my subconscious this time. I was just so open to the experience, finally, and I think that's why he was finally able to come see me. I remember realizing this in my dream -- knowing that I finally felt 100% ready -- and I think it made all the difference.

Once I remembered the experience, I went to get my diary to write about it. I wasn't sure I wanted to blog about it -- I thought I'd start with a handwritten entry in my private journal, which is still in a tote from my move back from Austin. Kicking myself for not leaving my journal unpacked during the move, I began to look for it. I was pulled to a certain tote, to a certain depth, and found …the unfinished thank-you cards! I had to laugh -- Brian was telling me I needed to finish those. Sheepish to be caught, I apologized to him and acknowledged he was right -- it's time for me to get back to those!

Since Brian wasn't going to show me where my journal was, I went to get my laptop instead so I could write about my dream. The laptop was on my bed and I noticed the bathroom light was on. I didn’t remember leaving it on. Weird. I went to turn it off and noticed that one of the three bulbs was burned out. That’s funny, I didn't notice a bulb burning out when I turned the light on. I think it was Brian playing a joke on me! The funny thing is, the day before I had replaced all the burnt-out light bulbs in the house, and even one on his car. Now I've got another to replace!

I questioned whether I should share this and I mulled it over all weekend, not sharing my experience with anybody. Ultimately, though, I feel like I've opened myself up and shared so much on this blog that those reading deserve to hear about it and I think I can convey my experience and tell the story much more accurately and fully by writing about it.

Now that this has happened, I don't know whether Brian will keep visiting (now that I'm truly receptive to it) or whether he's done now that he got his message across. Either way, I am truly content.

Week in Preview

Just to update everyone -- the CORRECT picture has arrived and should be installed on Brian's headstone today! As I've written, it is important to me to be the first to view the finished product of the completed stone with photo -- I think I deserve that privilege. So, I'm off to Muscatine today, probably leaving early this afternoon.

I think I'll come back to the Des Moines area first thing tomorrow morning. I have a friend who has offered his help tomorrow and I have some things I think he'd be great at doing, so I want to take advantage of that! Also, I have friends who are moving tomorrow and might need my help, so I'm hoping I can do that tomorrow night.

I'll be home Wednesday through Friday, but might head to Ames for the Iowa State game on Thursday.

Should be a busy, crazy, intense, but productive week full of work and fun!

Friday, August 27, 2010

House -- Episode 1

I'm thinking I'll keep a weekly post (or "episode") going about the progress I'm making with the house. Episodes will air every Friday afternoon, unless the station manager changes the schedule.

In this week's episode:

Wendy and Ellie (whose fiance, Shannon, worked with Brian at ING) clean out Wendy's kitchen cupboards, pulling every item out (one cupboard at a time), cleaning the shelves with a bleach & water mixture, and sort through items in order to both de-clutter the house before listing it for sale and to minimize what is going to be packed up and moved to Austin. Meanwhile, Ellie's 3-year-old daughter Riley has a ball playing with cat toys and pretending -- quite convincingly -- to be a cat all day.

The next day, Wendy converts the dining room into a craiglist room by laying a sheet on the dining room table for a photo backdrop and putting all the items for sale into that room with notes about prices and names. While photographing and posting kitchen items for sale (some of which she sells during this week's episode!), she simultaneously copies her CDs to her computer so she'll have her entire music library at her fingertips in the future. She smiles a lot, thinking of Brian and his musical stylings.

Wendy gets on the computer and puts out a cry for help. Soon, the offers are rolling in and things are looking less daunting!

In response to the cry for help, Roxane (who worked with Brian at Sears) and Ellie come over to spend a morning painting walls. There are several walls needing to be completely repainted because Wendy and Brian tried doing "touch up" work with fresh paint once and it didn't look the same as the rest of the walls when it dried! Roxane arrives first; she and Wendy tape trim, remove light fixtures and outlet covers, and finally begin painting after a couple of epic battles with the paint can lids and the "miracle ladder" that adjusts for use on the stairs! Ellie arrives as the major painting work is getting underway and the three of them cover several walls (and half of Wendy's body) in no time! The ladies manage to paint a wall in the dining room, 2 walls in the hallway, 2 walls in the living room, and the entryway from the garage into the house.

Thursday, August 26, 2010

P.S. I should mention...

Remember how I have a keg on tap, a fully stocked bar in the basement, and about 50 bottles of wine on hand at any given time? I'm going to need help with those too.... ;-)

Cry for Help

I'm not very good at asking for help; I like to think of myself as capable and self-sufficient. However, here goes -- I NEED HELP!

I've had many people -- family, friends, co-workers, neighbors -- offer me help. Usually, it's in the form of, "If there's anything I can do, let me know." Well, there IS something you can do, but I probably won't call and ask because I don't want to inconvenience you or make you feel obligated to drop everything when the helpless widow calls. In addition, I honestly can't remember who uttered those kind offers months ago and who didn't, and I sure don't want to call someone up for help if they didn't offer in the first place! I have read that this is very common among widows and among people in need generally.

However, part of my mission in healing and in writing this blog is to open myself up to the world, and that means admitting that I need some help. Another thing I want to do with this experience is teach others so that we can all be better equipped to help when the next tragedy occurs.

So, here goes: I would LOVE any help I can get to get the house ready to sell!

What does this mean for you? If you are reading this and want to help, please make an offer to help at a specific time or for a specific task. I realize most of you don't know what needs to be done, so just offer to come over and help at a specific time (and let me know if you have specific skills) and I WILL find something for you to do! I think this applies to any situation -- if you want to help someone, it is so much more helpful to offer a specific time and/or specific thing to help with. It is wonderful to have offers to help, but the person who is in need never wants to ask for fear of overstepping boundaries, asking too much, being a nuisance, etc.

My friend Ellie had offered to help because she is frequently free during the day. The other night, she sent me a text that said simply, "Can Riley [her daughter] and I come over and help you with anything tomorrow?" That was SUCH a great thing to do -- it gave me a specific time she could help me, and we got a lot done in that time. If she had left the ball in my court to call and take her up on the "let me know" offer, I probably wouldn't have done so because I wouldn't want to bother her. However, she offered some specific times, and now we have another work date set up for tomorrow. Thank you, Ellie. This is exactly what I will do the next time someone else is in a tough spot.

So, I'm sending out the call -- please contact me with specific times you are available to come over and offer a helping hand! It might be as simple as being with me to offer moral support while I sort through Brian's things, I might need help painting, it might be odds & ends around the house, it might be yard work, etc. If you have preferences to do (or avoid!) or special skills (or are terrible at something!), I will work with that. I have a flexible schedule, so I'll probably take help pretty much any time! Even if we do things that I could technically do alone, it goes much faster and is much more enjoyable with company.

E-mail me ( -- I can promise in exchange for helping, that I will feed you, give you drinks, and make it fun!

Making a Mark

Right before I left Austin, I did something that -- until this year -- I never thought I would do. I got a tattoo. I'm not someone who judges people for having tattoos, but I always just thought it wasn't for me. I couldn't ever imagine having something mean so much to me that I had to have it permanently drawn onto my body. In fact, I always used to have a rule about tattoos that I still believe is a pretty good rule of thumb: Decide on a design and a place on your body, then wait 5 years. If you still want the same thing in the same place, get the tattoo. You haven't lost anything by waiting. If not, aren't you glad you didn't get it? See, failproof rule.

Well, I broke my own rule. This wasn't a spur-of-the-moment decision by any means though. By the time the Superbowl rolled around this year (early February), I was discussing designs with Brian's brother and close friends. I talked about going to Austin for South by Southwest with Jeremy, Hart and Wilson in March and if that had happened, I was going to buy us all matching tattoos in Brian's memory. Well, that was scrapped due to a number of circumstances, but I still had this design in my mind. I'd say I came up with the design in February or March. I didn't actually DRAW this, but I knew what I wanted.

I wanted to get the tattoo somewhere other than Des Moines -- I wanted it to remind me of a trip or a journey. Then I made my plans to spend the summer in Austin, and it seemed like the perfect time to do that. I knew -- even before deciding to make the move permanent -- that my time would make a lasting mark on my life, so it seemed like the best time to make a permanent mark on my body.

As soon as I got to Austin, I started soliciting recommendations for tattoo artists/parlors and suggestions as to where on my body it should be located. Before May was over, I knew I wanted the tattoo in between my shoulderblades and I knew where I was going to get it. (I went to Royce at Southside Tattoos on South Congress:

The only thing I had to do, then, was set up my appointment. It is recommended that you not go swimming or expose your fresh ink to excessive sunlight for the first two weeks, so I realized that I'd have to wait until right before I left Austin for Des Moines. I finally made my appointment for 2 days before I moved back north.

My appointment was at 4:30 on a Tuesday. My friends Erin & Chad met me there to take pictures, watch the process (neither of them has ink, either), and provide moral support. Once we finalized the design and selected colors, it took about 45 minutes to an hour. And it did hurt a little! At first, I thought, "Oh, this is more annoying than painful." But, by the end, it did hurt and I was ready to be done! Once I was done, we went out for drinks to celebrate and had a great night.

The design is a shamrock with a Chicago Bears "C" in the middle. The significance of the tattoo is that Brian was very proud of his Irish heritage and, of course, was a huge Chicago Bears fan (and I am too!). In fact, Brian would have passed my "tattoo test" with flying colors. For as long as I can remember -- at least since he started college -- he talked about getting a tattoo of a leaping leprechaun holding 2 mugs of beer and said he would get it on his upper arm. He was steadfast in wanting this, and I would have supported him fully if he'd done so. However, he never actually followed through. Just a fun little fact about him, and something that surprised some of his friends and family members when I've shared that. :) As an aside, that's one of the reasons we all still need to talk about him -- it's fun to keep learning about a person, and he needs us to tell his stories now.

Anyway, I didn't wait 5 years. I waited a matter of months from the time I finalized my design and location. I am so certain I will never regret my decision that I didn't feel the need to wait. I guess my rule-breaking means I just made those "rules" without thinking about what life might throw at me and what might help me along the way. I really believe getting the tattoo furthered my healing.

For one, Brian is a permanent part of me, whether I have a visible tribute or not. My tribute to him is because he didn't get a chance to get his ink and because he's made a permanent mark on my life and deserves a permanent spot on my body. I like the permanence of this -- he is with me always, whether or not I'm wearing his ring or whether or not I'm thinking of him at any given moment. Fittingly, the design is a representation of what Brian loved and what I loved about him -- it reminds me of happy thoughts. It shows that I've come through this with flying colors -- that I can remember my best friend and husband in a loving and happy way, despite the gauntlet I've run, despite the fact that I'm not out of the woods yet.

I do also think, though, that the tattoo also serves as a battle scar. It is there to tell my story, to open discussion. People will see it and ask me about it, what it means, why I got it. That is my opportunity to tell the world about Brian, how great he was, and what he meant to me. It also shows the world that I've been through hell and survived. It will open the door for people I meet to know me better and to get a glimpse into the life I once had.

These pictures are from the day I had the tattoo done, so they're a little raw. I will try to obtain and post a picture of my ink post-healing as well.

Update from Iowa

Greetings from Des Moines! Let me bring you up to speed on what I've been doing since I got home.

I'm busy getting the house in order, and I'm trying to treat that like it's my job. That is, I spend my days doing this and leave nights and weekends free for fun. However, I also know there will be times when it makes sense to do work on nights and weekends, and I've done some of that too. The first thing I tackled was unpacking my clothes, shoes, and purses back into my house. I am currently taking up the entire master bedroom closet, both pieces of bedroom furniture, part of a spare bedroom closet, and a few totes under the bed. Think I have a lot of clothes and accessories? But on to actual house tasks...

The first order of business at the house is windows. I've gotten the contract signed and the windows have been ordered. Installation should begin in the next couple of weeks and will take about 4-5 days. In the meantime, I'm going through the house getting each room looking its best so it will be attractive to potential buyers. I am finishing up on the dining room and kitchen. My friend Ellie came over with her daughter Riley the other day and we went through EVERYTHING in the kitchen! We emptied out cupboards, cleaned shelves, and got a massive sell/giveaway pile going. I've already made some money and gotten rid of a few kitchen things thanks to Craig's List! I didn't realize how many duplicates we had, nor how many kitchen appliances that we just didn't need or use! Wow.

I've managed to do some good things for myself personally and socially as well. I've seen my parents, my in-laws, some extended family, and many great friends already since getting back two weeks ago. I've hosted Wine Club and the Boka & Friends Fantasy Football draft at the house. I've continued to spoil and bond with the cats. It has been kind of nice having a roommate again, someone to eat dinner and watch TV with, though Pat will be moving out and into his own place soon.

I haven't been back "home" to Letts/Muscatine yet, but will do so next week if all goes according to plan.

I will keep everyone posted on the developments here and my timeline for the big move!

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Home Sweet Home

I made the 955 mile door-to-door trip from Austin to Waukee last week and made it back to my home in Waukee, Iowa, on Friday the 13th (a good omen, to be sure). I spent the night in Stillwater, OK, along the way and stayed with Mitch Langstaff (his brother, Sam, was a good friend of Brian's and was killed in a car accident last May; I wrote about this in my Memorial Day weekend post). It was very nice to catch up with Mitch. He is working for Oklahoma State and doing very well. He looks a lot like Sam, too.

I rolled into Waukee about 3:30 on Friday. This time, the cats were more receptive to me than they were when I came back in June. They have hardly left my side! Picaboo woke me up at 5:15 this morning just to be petted and cuddled. It's great! Seriously, I like this and I will never part with them like that again.

My friend Pat is living at my house for the time being, having been transferred from the H&H Quad Cities office to the Des Moines office. It is nice having him around to hang out with, talk to, etc. I think the cats liked him -- Ellie would always climb into his bed -- but now they're mostly focused on me again. :)

I took the weekend "off" from working on the house, unpacking, etc. and just tried to squeeze in friend and family time as much as possible. I had Wine Club on Friday night, just a few hours after I got home. It was a small group, but so much fun. We were up late, talking, laughing, telling stories, and sharing memories. I couldn't ask for a better welcoming committee. On Saturday, I saw Brian's brother, nieces, and parents. I also saw his uncle, aunt, and 2 cousins who live in Altoona. Saturday night, I saw Kristine (best friend in Iowa/running partner) & her husband Bobby, as well as Kristine's sister Jenny and her boyfriend, Justin. We went out for Old Chicago and watched TV at Jenny & Justin's place. On Sunday, I saw Hart & Wilson, then Kristine & Bobby again.

I've decided I'm going to pretty much treat my housework/home repair/packing/purging/house-selling as my "job" and work on that during the work week, while giving myself time to see friends, go out, read, watch TV, etc. on the nights and weekends. I started yesterday by unpacking my clothes and toiletries. I think I have a little bit of OCD about my clothing and accessory organization; that took a little longer than it probably should have....but, in my defense, I think that color-coding within each category of clothing is so efficient!

I might head to the Iowa State Fair today, depending on the weather. I am also having lunch with Brian's aunt Pat, who is flying in from Arizona today to visit family in Pocahontas, then stopping my my old office to see people there. I can't wait to catch up with everyone!

For anyone in Iowa: call me, text me, e-mail me, Facebook message me! I can't wait to see everyone!

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Random Update

In the last couple of weeks, I've gotten to see a lot of family on the Cooper and Boka sides of the family.

My mom and my aunt Amanda visited July 30 - August 3 (Friday -Tuesday). My aunt Amanda is just 32 years old and we grew up more like sisters, so it was really fun to have her visit. Not that my mom isn't cool too. We all had a blast together! Also, some of the Boka clan was visiting from Ohio July 28 - August 4 (Wednesday - Wednesday). Was busy trying to catch up with everyone, but fun!

When Mom & Mandy got in, we went out for lunch at Chuy's Hula Hut, a great Mexinesian (Mexican/Polynesian) place on Lake Austin -- a place I've been visiting for almost a decade on my trips to Austin. Great mixed drinks, great food, great atmosphere. Then I drove them around central Austin, showing them the sights. We stopped at the Umlauf Sculpture Garden in Zilker Park, which is a great area to walk around and take in some great art. We also helped celebrate my friend Kristen's birthday that night with dinner at Max's Wine Dive downtown. Great wine selection and food.

Saturday, Mom & Mandy & I went to Burnet, TX to visit the Boka clan. Brian's uncle (and godfather) Mike, aunt Stephanie, and cousins Nick & Ryan were all in from Ohio and were in Burnet to visit Uncle Bruce & Aunt Kay. Bruce & Kay's whole clan was there too -- daughters, sons-in-law, grandkids, etc. Then another Boka cousin and his family came over, so it was a full house! That night, upon returning to Austin, I took Mom & Mandy to the Mean Eyed Cat, a Johnny Cash-themed bar that always has good live music and a laid back feel. We met Erin & Chad there (they live right next door). From there, we went to a 10:30 showing of Spiderman at the Alamo Drafthouse. You might be wondering why Spiderman was on at the movie theater...well, the cinema did a "Master Pancake" presentation of that movie, which means they had comedians mic'd up to ad lib lines, mock the acting and special effects, do skits, etc. There is always a drinking game involved in the Master Pancake showings, which is fun. By a fluke of luck, the theater was very full and we got to sit in the balcony on a loveseat with private drink and food service. It was pretty cool! Definitely a uniquely "Austin" thing to do, and I think my mom and aunt loved it. When the movie was over around 12:30 Saturday night/Sunday morning, they also go to see 6th Street in full swing.

Sunday, we went to San Marcos, which is about 35 minutes from my place. It has the best shopping I've ever experienced -- a Prime Outlet mall right next to a Tanger Outlet mall! They have a Cavender's (cowboy boots), Old Navy, 2 Banana Republic stores, Aldo, Betsey Johnson, Michael Kors, Tory Burch, Gucci, Prada, Kate Spade, Coach, Bath Junkie, Bath & Body Works, Victoria's Secret, Dooney & Bourke, Levi, Gap, DKNY, etc.....but I digress....that night, we met up with the Bokas to watch the bats fly out from under the Congress Avenue bridge. Unfortunately, the bats waited until after dark to come out, so it wasn't the spectacle it typically is, but it was still neat. Then we went to Gourdough's, a trailer that sells gourmet donuts and which was featured on Anthony Bourdain: No Reservations. Mandy got the Flying Pig, which is a donut with maple frosting and bacon. Mom got one that was all chocolate and coconut. I made up my own donut that had raspberry jelly, cream cheese, honey butter, and candian bacon. Hey, don't knock it 'til you try it! They were outstanding!

Monday, we slept in and didn't do anything until lunch. We went to Juan in a Million, a Mexican place a few blocks from my apartment that has been featured on Man vs. Food. After a tasty lunch, we went to the Museum of the Weird, a little stop on 6th Street that has things like shrunken heads, mermaid bodies, and mummies. Totally up our quirky alley and definitely reminded me of a place Mandy & I would have gone on vacation with Mommo & Poppo (her parents and my grandparents -- I vacationed with them all the time when we were younger). Then we went shopping on South Congress, and this included a stop at a soda fountain/weird candy store called Big Top, which was also recently featured on a Food Network show! That night, we actually just ate leftovers from all our meals out and enjoyed some wine and weird candy from Big Top.

On Tuesday, we took our cameras to Walgreens to get pictures developed and albums of the trip made, just so they pictures would ever leave our cameras and computers! After going out for lunch in the UT campus area, I took them to the airport. After that, I headed to San Antonio to meet up with Brian's cousin and her family, and the Ohio clan for dinner one more time before the Ohio group flew out on Wednesday. Wednesday morning, I took the Ohio clan to the San Antonio airport, met a friend in S.A. for coffee, did a little shopping, then met the S.A. cousins and some other Boka cousins (Brent & Heather and their daughters, Leah & Savannah) for lunch. Whew! Lot of family time squeezed into a week! Then, I went to the McNay Art Museum, a hidden gem in San Antonio. I went there alone and spent over two and a half hours there! I was just enthralled with the works and the selection of great artists who have pieces there -- O'Keeffe, Degas, Picasso, Monet, Pisarro, Diego Rivera. The museum itself is beautiful and has an interesting history. There are courtyards, fountains, and sculptures all over the grounds, and I was able to enjoy the outdoor areas even after the museum closed.

Then, it was back to Austin, but not for too long. I took a quick trip to Dallas this past weekend (a couple days ago) to visit my friend Erin, who is a yoga instructor there, and her husband. I went to one of her classes, a 90 minute hot yoga session -- wow! What a workout! Then we went to a party at the house of Erin & Garrett's friends, who they met at Iowa State. One thing I love about Texas is that it's full of people from the Midwest, so you don't have to go far for Midwestern charm and friendliness!

Now, I'm finally back "home" in Austin, but not for long!! I am packing up, as my summer here draws to an end, and I'll be leaving here on Thursday (the 12th). I'll get home (to my house in Waukee, Iowa) on Friday the 13th.

I'll try to post once or twice more before leaving for Iowa, but in case I get too busy....thanks for reading about my Texas adventures! I will be keeping this blog up and going for the indefinite future, so keep reading!

Thursday, August 5, 2010

Carved in Stone

I've never had close, personal experience with funeral planning, monuments, obituaries, etc., until Brian died. One thing I'm grateful for is that we had good life insurance so I was able to choose what I thought he would like or what was fitting, every step of the way. Of course, it cost more to do a visitation in Des Moines and one in Muscatine, and we paid more to make both of them longer than the standard 2 hours. Of course we did, though -- everything we did was all out, all the time. Those of you who went to his 30th birthday party know "the norm" was never enough for the big guy -- he had 75 people and a live band at his birthday party. Our bar tab was something like $500 that night, but hey -- it only happens once, and I had saved up for months to give him a great celebration (the band was a surprise). I am blessed that I was able to give him the services he deserved -- hundreds of people, scores of photographs displayed, hours of his favorite music piped in, stories and memories shared by all. Of course, I wanted the biggest and best headstone, too, to commemorate the biggest and best influence in my life. It only seemed fitting.

However, choosing the headstone was so hard for me. It wasn't the selection -- I knew right away what shape, size, and color he would want -- it was actually going to look at them and place the order. It was acknowledging his death in a very concrete way -- literally carving it in stone. It was so hard to decide what would be inscribed and what wouldn't -- how do you sum up a life in just a few words, on one slab of granite? Mostly, I couldn't bear to see the headstones. It was too much to see his death date carved in stone. Unlike the obituary, the plot, the visitation and funeral (all of which you plan while still numb with shock), the stone does not have to be ordered right away. In fact, there is no reason to do so because they take a very long time to be ready from the time they are ordered. Unless you've pre-ordered one while you are living, it would never be ready in time for someone's burial.

I finally was able -- not ready, mind you, but able -- to look at headstones by the time Easter came around. This was two or three months after Brian died (I don't remember when Easter happened this year, to be honest). I went to the display room with his parents and brother to meet with the sales lady. I was on the verge of sobbing the whole time. I just couldn't stand or comprehend the fact that I was ordering a headstone for Brian -- that my husband, the love of my life, Brian Boka -- was gone. I wasn't there yet. Tears were just streaming down my face the whole time, involuntarily. There was nothing I could do to stop them. I remember Diane, Brian's mom, having to go over and get the box of tissues and bring them to me, and I remember being so angry that the sales lady had not offered them up herself even though I quite obviously needed them.

Despite my fragile state, I managed to pick a color I liked. The sales lady went on and on about where the different marbles and stones were from -- I finally think I told her I didn't care where they were from, that I knew what color I wanted and we needed to move on and get this over with. So then we started talking about sizes and shapes. I liked -- well, preferred (I hate to say "liked") -- a big one they had on display. Then I found out they couldn't do that size, that the cemetery had size restrictions. Something that would have been good to know before the appointment, or before I chose the largest one. So we found out how big we could go, and decided to go as big as we could. Then we started talking about pictures -- should we engrave an image of Brian, or go with an actual photograph? Ultimately, we decided on the actual photograph. We also wanted a vase on the stone somehow. I had kind of wanted the kind that go on the back of the stone, next to the names. Brian's mom preferred to have one on the side. The sales lady also suggested the side option, and I realized it would look nice as long as there were always flowers in it. Brian's parents assured me there would be. (Remember, he is buried in Muscatine, our hometown, so I can't be there to do that myself.) We ended up picking out a design we really liked, and finalized the wording on the stone, that day. I do remember that the sales lady mentioned vandalism over and over -- you don't want that kind of attached vase, in case the stone is vandalized, the photo will be flush with the stone and can't be pried out with a crowbar even if people try to vandalize the stone -- yes, she actually said that! -- etc. I was already on the brink of a breakdown just having to be there and do what we were doing -- that was too much! I finally had to go outside and cry. Brian's family finished up the meeting with her, and we were on our way.

We had taken notes and had a drawing of what we wanted, and we decided not to use the first company we met with (whose name I won't mention) because the experience was so traumatic and it didn't seem that the sales associate had done anything to make it easier (Um -- hello?! How about offering a blubbering widow the tissues that are sitting on your desk?!) and, in fact, she had made it more difficult with the repeated reference to vandalism and by just not letting us set the pace of the meeting. I know my emotions were high, but let me tell you -- some of the people we encountered have been wonderful and really helped us through some tough decisions, and she was not one of them! So, we went to another company with our idea.

After getting a design picked out, Brian's family and I selected a photo. I wanted a snapshot and not a staged wedding photo. Besides being staged, our wedding pictures were almost 6 years old. It took a while to choose a photo, as I wanted to make sure Brian's parents and brother approved of my choice. My first choice didn't fly, but my second one did, with some minor alterations (removing some of the background). At the same time we were selecting a photo, we were also finalizing font size, etchings, etc. for the stone with the new company. I was also planning my summer move to Austin at the same time. So things got busy and the final order was not placed -- that is, contract signed and check written out -- until mid-May. We were told at that point that it would be about eight weeks before the stone was done and installed.

Cut to mid-July. Brian's parents had been in contact with the monument company because they saw that the foundation had been poured at his grave for the headstone. They were told that the stone would not be installed until we had a chance to come look at it and approve it. I had planned to fly back to Iowa to do this, and so I could be there when it went up. I am his wife, I am the one who had final approval rights, I am the one who wrote out the check (by the way, headstones aren't cheap!). Well, on July 17 -- which happened to be six months to the day that Brian died, so it was obviously a hard day already -- Brian's family found that the stone had been erected without any notification to us. Not only that, but the photograph was not in yet (it can and will be installed later). I was devastated. Thank God the rest of the stone was right, and it really does look good -- but I would have never wanted it to be put up until it was complete and I know Brian would have felt the same way. There are some things in life (er, death?) that just have to be right, and by God, this is one of them! I was so angry that I wasn't consulted about this like I was supposed to be -- as I said, I am the wife and widow, I am the person whose name and signature are on the contract, it was my name on the check that paid for the stone and the funds came from my account! I was just appalled that this would happen, and for it to happen on July 17th was like rubbing salt in the wound. I was already feeling guilty and terrible for not being in Muscatine to spend the day with the rest of his family (his brother and nieces went back to be with the Bokas that weekend), and now, I'm the last one to see the headstone?! It made me feel like a bad wife and bad family member to my in-laws. I was ashamed that I had missed this milestone. Knowing it wasn't my fault didn't assuage my guilt and remorse, either. It really put an extra damper on an already (figuratively) cloudy day.

I expressed my extreme disappointment and frustration to the monument company and received a sincere apology. Brian's dad received a personal visit and apology at work one day from one of the owners, and we were told this would result in a change in procedure so that this never happens again. This does make me feel better, as I can't even begin to describe the trauma this caused. I really have been in a downward tailspin since the 6 month mark, and I don't know for sure how much is related to the headstone fiasco and how much would have happened naturally as part of the grieving process, but I do know that there was an impact. The length of this blog post alone tells you how much I've thought about this. For the installation to be botched in this way only dredges up all the initial feelings about this step -- the dread, apprehension, difficulty, etc.

The worst thing is that the headstone went up unfinished and without me there to see it, but this is not even the end. Twice now, the photograph (which is treated and coated and designed offsite somewhere) has come back with the wrong background. The first time, I was still in the photo (even though we expressly chose to just have Brian in it) and the background was apparently a fake light blue. Weird, ugly and not at all what we wanted. The monument company immediately recognized the mistake and re-ordered the photo. Last week, while my mom and aunt were visiting, I got an e-mail from the monument company telling me the new photo was in and they hoped I liked it. It was the wrong background again! It was the right photo, and just Brian, but the background was not the black that we selected (which, incidentally, is the actual color of the background in the photograph we submitted), but a fake brown marble-y background that: a) looks like a fake, chintzy Sears portrait screen; b) would clash with the dark gray marble of the stone; c) Brian would effing hate; and d) IS NOT WHAT WE ORDERED!!! I was so upset to see that a mistake had been made again and that the headstone would stand incomplete for an even longer time -- and this happened while I had family visiting. Not only are they robbing Brian of having his monument be complete, and not only was I robbed of the opportunity to be the first to see it -- which actually meant a lot to me -- but now, I'm being robbed of relaxed and carefree time with my family that made the 1,200 mile trip to see me. I just feel like this ordeal has been nothing but difficult and painful, and that continues to worsen.

So, we're still waiting on the correct photo to arrive and be installed. It has been over five months since we started the selection process and about three months since we finalized our order. This has been such an ordeal, and I will only feel better and get some much-needed closure on this topic once the right picture is in and installed, and when I get to be the first to see it and have that special moment with Brian. I tried so hard to pick something that would make him happy and I just want to see that come to fruition and to be there to see it happen.

On a positive note, though, those who have seen the headstone have told me how much they like it, and I really do like it too, though I'm just ready for it to be a finished product. Also, having the stone up has made it easier for our friends and family to locate his burial site. That is a good thing, as I know he'd want a lot of visitors. Just like he liked to in life.

Here are pictures of his stone. The oval is where his picture will go:

Sweet Home, Austin, Texas

Well, as many of you may know, I've decided to make the move to Austin permanent. It will be my new home shortly. I will be going back to Iowa next week and will have a lot to do there before I can return to my new home city. I have quite a bit of work to do to the house, not to mention going through things, etc., before I can expect to sell it and get back here.

A lot of people might wonder why I would move away from familiarity, family, and dear friends. I sometimes wonder that myself. But you must understand -- I am not moving away from anything or anyone. I am moving to something -- a place that I am absolutely in love with, a city brimming with passion, zest, kindness, and opportunity. The Avett Brothers (who I've mentioned several times in past posts) have a line in one of their songs that says, "When you run, make sure you run to something and not away from, 'cause lies don't need an airplane to chase you anywhere." I know moving to Austin wouldn't help me run from the truth of my life, even if I wanted that to be the case. That's not why I'm moving. I'm moving to Austin, not away from Des Moines. I just feel that I'm being called here, and I have to follow that calling.

What will I do? Well, I don't exactly know yet. I am licensed to practice law in Iowa and Arizona, and can likely get accepted to the Texas bar without having to take the exam if I apply this fall. In Texas, you can waive into the bar without the exam if you've been licensed and practicing for 5 years in another state, and I will hit the 5 year mark for Iowa in September. I plan to do this, though I don't want to return to the full-time practice of law. It is simply too negative and draining. I have been thinking about this for a long time, and there is just not enough that I love about the practice of law to keep doing it full time for the rest of my life. What I do love about it -- what I'm passionate about -- is appellate work. I love researching, writing briefs, and making oral arguments. A lot of people dread this, so I'm hoping I can do some freelance legal work in Iowa, Arizona, and Texas, as this kind of work can be done remotely. I also think I will get my Texas real estate license. I have always wanted to be a realtor, so this seems like a good time to try that out. In any event, I know everything will fall into place.

Where will I live? Good question. I'll rent an apartment, since buying a house doesn't make sense until I have my job situation figured out and more secure. It will have to be close to Lady Bird Lake and downtown, and it will have to allow for my two cats. I am going to spend my last week in Austin checking out some options. Of course, I don't know which places will have vacancies when I'm able to move back down here, but it will be nice to have some options picked out ahead of time.

This is a big decision for me, and I didn't take it lightly. I know I don't have a lot of the specifics worked out yet, but sometimes you have to make the decision and then figure out how to make it work. I liken this to a couple getting engaged. Both parties decide to get married, but a lot of times there are many "details" or even major issues to iron out, yet they both decide to commit to marriage. People get engaged all the time without knowing where they will live once they marry, or anything about what kind of wedding ceremony they will have. It is enough to make the big decision and commit to it first, and figure out the rest in time. Sometimes that's the only way to make something happen that you really want.

I might not have everything worked out, but I have purchased cowboy boots -- a literal reminder to take it one step at a time!