Thursday, September 30, 2010

It's Your Party and I'll Cry If I Want To

Celebrations, parties, and informal get-togethers are an important part of life. I am a social creature, and Brian and I were never ones to let an occasion pass by uncelebrated. We'd have parties for fantasy football drafts, remarkable dates (we had a casino party on 07-07-07), holidays, anniversaries, birthdays, you name it. I still enjoy such events, but feel the glow of the festivities is a little less bright without Brian.

I've gone to a lot a parties and get-togethers this year, and hosted a few of my own. Sometimes, there are tears. Sometimes, I am not the best at planning and preparation. Sometimes, I don't have a card or gift for the birthday celebrant. Sometimes, I don't know if I'll feel like going to celebrate....and sometimes, I don't. Sometimes I go anyway.

Life goes on. Good fortune should be celebrated and good times shared. That's why I've made a point to keep doing this. Hell, one of Brian's good friends (who was one of his pallbearers) hosted a keg party at a bar the evening of Brian's burial. That seemed more fitting for him than a traditional wake. So I'm used to -- and I love -- socializing, mingling, drinking, swapping good stories over a glass of wine, a pitcher of beer, or a cigar.

At almost any event, though, I feel the absence of Brian. Sometimes, music will come on that he loved, and I know he's there in spirit, while simultaneously being painfully reminded that he's not there in person with us...and I miss that. I still miss him. Sometimes I know it's the unspoken thing in the room, the garage, the backyard -- everyone's thinking of Boka, and how he'd be running the table at Tippy Cup, sporting his black-and-gold, or how he'd call out the bullshitter at the party (every party has one), or how he'd be able to tell you who sings just about any given song, and probably a little bit about their background and influences.

Sometimes, I feel bad that I haven't been the full me this year. I know there are times I show up empty-handed, in a sour mood. I know I haven't been a very good friend, sister, or daughter. Sometimes, I forget birthdays and anniversaries. Simply put, I've been very self-centered this year, and I have to apologize to my friends and family for that. I know there's been a damper on some of your festivities because of my circumstances and my weakness. I am sorry.

I've broken down and cried at parties. I have my first wedding of the year coming up in about a month, and I'm afraid it will be hard. I'm so happy for my friends, but also know it will be a challenge. I already am planning to sit at the end of an aisle, in the back, so I can make an inconspicuous exit if it gets to be too much.

No one in my life signed up for "distracted, out-of-it Wendy" for 2010, but that's what everyone's getting. So, if I'm at your party, I'll cry if I want to. Thank you for understanding.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Running on Empty

This Sunday, I ran my first race of the year...the first race since Brian died. This wasn't a race I planned on doing; it just so happened to be a 10 mile race when my training program called for me to do a 10 mile training run this weekend. My friend and training partner Laura planned on the race, so it would be a good way to get the long run in with a known training partner.

Even though this race was in my mind for a couple weeks, I was really looking at it as a training run instead of a "race." It was part of my preparation for the "real" race, the Des Moines 1/2 marathon. It is the sort of distance I should have respected more, though. I treat Dam to Dam as a "race" -- I hydrate and eat well, I have GU packets to give me carbs during the run -- and, as a 20k (12.4 miles), that race is only 2.4 more than what I did on Sunday. I didn't do any of that this time -- I wasn't taking this run seriously because it wasn't a "race," it was a training run. Similarly, when friends and family offered to come support me and cheer me on, I declined. I didn't think I'd need the support for a 10 mile training run.

I even had family in town this weekend -- my sister and her boyfriend came to Des Moines for her birthday, which was Sunday. Brian's brother has the same birthday as my sister, and he was moving into a new place this weekend on top of it, so his parents (my in-laws) came to help out and to see him. I'm sure I could have gotten any or all of them to cheer me on if I had asked, but it didn't seem necessary to interfere with the moving process, to deprive college kids of the opportunity to sleep in, etc. So I told everyone, "No, I'll be fine. Thanks for the offer though. This run really is no big deal." And that's what I thought...until the middle of the night before the run.

For some reason, I just couldn't sleep Saturday night. I started to think about the race and how weird it was going to be to finish at Nollen Plaza in downtown Des Moines -- where I've finished so many races before -- without anyone at the finish line cheering me on. I started to feel very alone, even in bed. My teddy bear is nice and all, but sometimes no matter how tightly I squeeze him, it still just feels like stuffing and fake fur. Suddenly, this was one of those nights. I cried, I tossed, I turned, I flipped on the TV, I had a text conversation with another sleepless friend who probably wasn't expecting an immediate response at 2-something in the morning. Ellie got in bed with me for a while and nuzzled around, which helped a little. Finally, I dozed off, TV still tuned to the NFL Network (hey, that's been my default since the regular season started). I think I only got about three hours of sleep.

Sunday morning, I was too tired to be worried about the race and the emotions for a while. Once I arrived downtown and got registered, I got my bib number pinned to my shirt, walked around a while, and then took my pants off (I had my running shorts under them!) and took them back to the car. Seeing all the runners in their various specialty clothes, wearing belts that hold water and carb-gel supplements, waiting in the line for the port-a-potties among hundreds of others who are anxious for the starting gun...well, then it really starts to feel more like a race than an training run. Then there's the singing of The Star Spangled Banner and the much-awaited bang that jolts hundreds of people into a run. Yep, this was going to feel like an actual race...and it was going to be tough.

Laura and I ran together and I could tell from the get-go that the pace we were running was going to be doable, but tough. We started and ended in downtown Des Moines (race course here: As we were turning to head north out of the downtown area, about a mile and a half into the run, I looked up at the building at 801 Grand, the tallest building in Des Moines. I saw a lone hawk circling around the building. I felt it was Brian, watching the race and encouraging me from the sidelines as he would normally do.

The race went very well from there. It was a gorgeous day, a challenging but mostly comfortable pace for me, a pretty and relatively flat course, and good company for running. Yes, my friends/training partners and I talk while we run. Not the whole time, and certainly not as much toward the end of a race, but enough to keep from getting bored. For the most part, it was a wonderful race.

However, during the last 1/2 mile it did get hard. We ran by ING, where Brian used to work. There were people sitting on the ING bench outside, and I thought of our friend Bobby. He recently told me about how he would wait on an ING bench in the skywalk when he was waiting to meet Brian for lunch. I thought about how I'd never again pull up to the building and wait for him to come out when we had plans after work. Then I saw the finish line and thought of how he wouldn't be at the other end of the chute. I started to feel like crying; my breath was choppy. At the same time, I just wanted to get through the race, to finish strong, to prove to myself that I could make it there (to the goal) and so I'd be done with the damn race already!

Laura knew I was struggling; I think I said it, but if I didn't, my face and body were telling the story. She encouraged me, reached out and held my hand, and told me, "We started this together. We're going to finish it together. Brian's with us today. He's been with us the whole time." This was a strong emotional and physical challenge, and she pulled me through. I made it across the finish line in time to log a sub-11 minute pace.

As you've already read, I didn't really prepare my body for this race either. I probably didn't come into this with the right hydration level or with the right food/fuel in my body. Combine that with pounding waves of emotion and the fact that I picked up speed upon seeing the finish line...and you've got a recipe for physical breakdown. Thus, while I crossed the finish line in a good time, I also did so with some complications. I threw up right after I crossed the line. Luckily, it was just a small amount (having no food in my system), and I was able to lean over the side of the finish chute to get rid of it. It wasn't even enough for me to feel embarrassed or feel terrible. Once I got some Gatorade and caught my breath, I was fine. It was just weird though -- that's the first time I've ever thrown up from pushing myself running.

Anyway, it was an emotionally taxing experience that even manifested itself physically. I had shared my anxieties about the race with Laura, and shed a few tears, right before the race. She said she thought it was good for me to do this race before the Des Moines Half Marathon, to get in "up to your knees" before jumping right in. It felt more like I was in up to my belly button (because it's so intense when the cold water reaches your navel!), but the point was -- it was a good stepping stone on my way to my first "real" race; the Des Moines Half will still be hard, as it is a bigger race and it is the end goal of this course of training. I thought her comment was spot-on, especially after I ran the race. It was harder than I had thought, so I'm glad to have gone through it before "the real thing."

It turned out that this weekend's race was a good training run...physically and emotionally, I am more ready for the real thing next month.

Friday, September 24, 2010

House, Episode 5

In this week's episode....

WINDOWS ARE GOING IN!! That's really all that happens this week, as Wendy is preoccupied with writing an appeal brief for work.

Next week's "episode" should be longer, and should include a report that all the windows in the house (save one decorative window and the basement windows) have been replaced.


Thursday, September 23, 2010

Murder in the City

I'm busy today, so just going to share this link to an article about the Avett Brothers:

The article also includes a link to Scott Avett singing "Murder in the City" live in front of 9,000 people. It was really neat to read about Scott Avett's thoughts on the song and the first time he played it. This was one of Brian's favorite songs, and the last line has been both a torment and a comfort to me in the past 8 months. Brian and I sang this line to each other when he was alive, I whispered it to him in the hospital right after I found out he was gone, and I put this in the Valentine's Day card I left at the cemetery this year. I never thought it would ring so true as it does after his death. It's just an incredible song about life and death, family, and love between spouses.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Set in Stone

Looking back at what Brian's burial place (that sounds so much nicer and more respectful than "grave," doesn't it?) looked like before the headstone was installed and (finally) complete, I now feel that I even further appreciate the closure and peace that the headstone provides. (You can see the burial site with the temporary marker here: and the completed stone at the burial site here: I hadn't really done a side-to-side comparison before, and there was a long gap in time between cemetery visits so I hadn't really thought of how drastic the change was.

I guess I knew how much the stone would mean, and that's probably why I put it off as long as I did. As you might remember from my previous posts, I had a hard time facing this step in the process -- just seeing sample headstones caused uncontrollable tears, even months after Brian's death. I think a part of me knew that seeing the headstone with Brian's name and the date of his death (complete with date of birth, so there was no mistaking that this was the same Brian Boka I was married to) would help end the denial part of the grief process. And I wasn't ready to face reality -- I needed that denial to last a little longer.

What "denial Wendy" didn't know, or couldn't appreciate, was the healing that comes with closure and acceptance. Don't get me wrong -- I'm not "over" Brian's death, not by any means. It's something that will always cause me pain, confusion, and anger. I will always be defined and shaped by having experienced this. But I don't think I'm in denial anymore. I am finally coming to terms with the fact that he is gone, that he no longer exists in human form on this earth.

Reading that last line makes me cry because it seems like such a basic thing to understand, but it's taken me this long to get here. What is one small step for logic is one giant leap in the grieving process. At least I hope I've made a giant leap. In any event, the credo remains: One day at a time.

I think it is a giant leap to acknowledge that Brian is in my past. He was, of course, a big part of my past -- the most important person in my life -- but, nonetheless, that time is over. His influence has shaped who I am and what I am going to do -- more so probably than anyone else in my life -- but he does not exist in my future. I am incredibly sad about this, and it wasn't what I wanted or imagined for my future, but it is where I am. And I'm finally understanding and accepting this. Not necessarily liking it, but accepting it.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Walking on Eggshells

One thing that has been a natural yet fascinating thing about my situation is seeing firsthand how other people treat me. I know that people don't know what to say or do around me or how to treat me. This is getting better with the passage of time, but I still see a difference.

For example, some people didn't want to call me or contact me any more than they did before Brian died, thinking it best to treat me "like normal." While well-intentioned, a person who is grieving and going through the worst time of her life needs a little extra TLC to get through the hard times, even though she might not tell anyone that. Getting phone calls from aunts and uncles that didn't really call for no reason before was a GOOD thing; it helped me so much to know that people were thinking about me, praying for me, cared enough to call and check in, and that they were there if I needed anything. I might not respond all the time, but keep calling, keep sending cards, keep visiting. This is not specific to my situation, really, but just general advice. Knowing there is a great support system surrounding you -- whether or not you actually use it -- can make all the difference in one's attitude and levels of energy and optimism. And believe me -- I might not have randomly called my family members back, but I sure appreciated their phone calls a LOT during the early months. Now, I don't need that same level of support, but the first few months were pretty tough and those extra calls, cards, e-mails, etc. made a big difference in getting me through.

Another thing I've noticed, and that is present to this day, is that people often feel guilty for complaining around me. I've had friends who describe hating their jobs, feeling overwhelmed by financial or family pressures, and who have marital problems or other challenges who will start to open up and then -- either directly or by a sudden change of topic -- tell me that they shouldn't be complaining. In some ways, I am glad if my experience can serve to change one's perspective on life and make them think, "Hey, you know, I don't have it too bad after all." On the other hand, suckiness in life comes in degrees and is not a zero-sum gain. Just because my situation might suck more than yours, doesn't mean your life is a rose garden. If you are facing a crappy situation or a difficult dilemma, I can still appreciate that, even if it doesn't "equal" the sudden death of a spouse. Let's face it: not very many things do. But people catch themselves and say, "I shouldn't complain." Wait -- you basically just told me you hate your life....why shouldn't you complain? Just because I got a shitty hand dealt to me this year, doesn't mean your cards will win any poker game anytime soon. Brian's death doesn't make your lemon of a car any less sour, or it doesn't negate the fact that you hate your job. I can still empathize with you and can still, objectively and honestly, say, "Yeah, that sucks. I'm sorry you're in that situation." That being said, you might not complain about your nasty hangnail to a widow at her husband's won't get any pity points there. (No, that didn't actually happen! Just trying to point out that there is a time and a place for everything.)

The other side of this coin is when people totally let their guard down or don't have any sort of filter in talking to me. I don't want anyone to feel bad for a verbal slip or thoughtless, offhand remark, but I do also know I am able to brush such things aside better than most, so what I can ignore or dismiss as a careless remark might really upset another, perhaps to the point of poisoning a relationship. I like to think that when someone says something particularly thoughtless that they at least realize it later, if only because what I could brush off could be enough for another person to hold a grudge.

For example, when I announced that I was planning to spend the summer in Austin, people were excited for me and I was excited about it too, despite the fact that I was only going because I needed the time and space to help me deal. I had a couple of people say they were "jealous" and even one that said, "I want your life for the next few months." I wanted to say, "Really? I want your life for a few months. I'd rather be going to work every day and coming home to my house and my husband. You know what? I'll trade you. You can suddenly have your life fall apart, and I'll take the 'same old, same old,' complete with a living husband, please." Don't get me wrong -- I had a lot of fun in Austin, but it was a healing journey. I went there to do some serious soul-searching and to put in some hard work on the grieving process. I know people meant well with these comments, but it did -- and sometimes still does -- sting when someone says something that thoughtless. Life is getting good again, but it isn't enviable, and it most certainly wasn't this spring when these things were being said to me.

Finally, there is the issue of social plans. I'm no longer part of a couple. This is the first time in my life that's been true (well, at least since I've been old enough to be in control of my own social life). Just because I don't have Brian anymore, though, doesn't mean I don't want to do things we used to do together. It doesn't mean I don't want to see our old friends. Please don't stop asking me to do things. Don't punish me by taking away social opportunities because my husband died and I'm no longer part of a couple. Here's the thing -- I might not always accept the invitations, because there will be some things that are too hard or certain situations when I anticipate that I would feel too much like a fifth wheel. But I still want to be asked. Let that be MY decision; don't decide for me what you think I will or won't want to do. But remember that I'm only one person, so if you have two extra tickets to a concert or game, only invite me if you know another single person to take the other. Please don't make my ability to go dependent on my ability to fill the other spot. I don't want to put my ability to have fun and participate into the hands of others. I'm not part of a couple anymore; I don't have that person to automatically fill that slot. I'd sure hate to have to pass on that concert, play, fundraiser, etc. because I can't find a friend to take the other spot. Doing that only reminds me that I am single, that it was not my choice to be single, and that I became single under the worst possible circumstances.

In short, my advice to anyone on how to deal with someone in my situation is:
Treat us like normal people going through a tough time. Give us extra care and support, but you don't have to walk on eggshells. Be understanding and patient, and understand that we might need some alone time, but that doesn't mean we don't need you anymore. Please don't drop off the face of our earth, and please keep inviting us to social functions. Treat us the same as you would any other single friends (though don't assume we want to be set up with anyone!). And, when in doubt, just ASK. Ask if we want company or need time alone, ask if we want you to call more (or less), ask if we want one ticket or two. If you make assumptions without asking, we have no say in the matter and we feel robbed of our social lives on top of having lost a spouse.

Finally, I want to say that I hope this post didn't come across as too much of a gripe or downer. It's just come to my attention that a lot people don't know how to deal with a widow (or any grieving person, really). I've had people tell me that directly. I simply thought sharing this would help for the time you are in this situation. The funny (odd, not ha-ha) thing is, I've never been in that situation either -- I don't know anyone who's lost a spouse before age 70, and no one really close to me, either. I can only speak from my perspective as the widow. My friend Wilson says, "We all look through different windows." Most of us has never seen this on the horizon when we look out the window, though. This is a weird situation, a unique position -- and I'm in the weirdest place of all. We're all learning together, and I just wanted to show you what I see when I look out my own window.

Please, don't ignore me when we make eye contact through the window. Open the window, talk to me, and go ahead and gripe about your obnoxious boss or your overbearing relatives.

Monday, September 20, 2010

8 Mile

I ran 8 miles with my friend Kristine yesterday. That's what our training program (for the Des Moines 1/2 Marathon next month) called for, but I wasn't sure I was up to it, to be honest. I've been having some pain and problems with an old ankle injury, I have been busy at home and am doing some work for the firm too, I have a new kitten I'm caring for, I got short, I started making excuses. I don't know why I started doing this, but I'm glad I'm back on track!

I think, subconsciously, I have some apprehension about doing another road race. I haven't done one since last year, since Brian was alive and cheering me on from the sidelines. It will be a strange experience to run a half marathon and not run right into his arms for a congratulatory hug. However, that makes it all that much more important for me to run the Des Moines Half this year. I need to get through what I know will be an emotionally difficult experience so I can get on with enjoying my life. Besides, I've realized that sometimes the fear of how hard it will be or how much it will suck is greater than the actual challenge before me.

I suppose one can compare my approach to life to the way some people get into a swimming pool. Some people just jump right in, instead of starting by dipping a toe in the water, then stepping in up to ankle-height, and so on. I've never really been one to just jump into a pool, but I did just that the last time I went swimming, and guess what? It wasn't as much of a shock to the system as I had anticipated. In fact, I kind of liked it. That's what I need to do with running. I just have to get back into it. If this were a normal year in my life, I'd probably be running a half marathon this fall. That's just something I frequently do. So I need to do that again. I can't "put my toe in" by sticking to a shorter race like a 5k, where I wouldn't miss Brian's presence (I wouldn't ask him to put the time and effort into meeting me at a crowded finish line for a 3.1 mile run; it just doesn't mean that much to me).

Anyway, I met Kristine yesterday morning and we embarked on our run, both a little hesitant about our training progress and unsure about how far we should go. We were thinking about a 6 miler, but a couple of miles in, we realized it was feeling pretty good, weather conditions were ideal for distance running, and that we'd really be back on track and feel proud if we went for the full 8 miles. So we did, and we were right. Our pace was even better than it has been for shorter runs, better than it's been in a while. It felt great to have knocked it out, and to have done it so well! When we finished, Kristine commented that if we had not pushed ourselves, "we would have cheated ourselves." She was so right -- the day I stop pushing myself to go a little further, to reach toward the next step to get me where I want to go, is the day I cheat myself out of what could have been.

It's time to run those extra miles, to face those totes of stuff, to take a chance on a stray kitten, to move 1,000 miles away. It's time to stop cheating myself out of opportunities because it's easier to not put in the effort and time, or because it seems like I'm not ready. I'll adapt, I'll get it done, and I'll feel better in the end for having done so.

Come October 17, I'm going to be glad to have tackled those 13.1 miles!

Friday, September 17, 2010


I noticed when I looked at the clock on my laptop screen that today is the 17th. Today makes the eight month anniversary of Brian's death. I only realized this by happenstance, and I don't really feel any different about the day after having realized this. I should mention that last month, the 17th slipped by without me noticing it at all until after the fact.

Until last month, there hadn't been a 17th day of the month in all of 2010 that hadn't brought tears and a heavier heart for me. July 17th was worst of all -- the six month mark. It seems after that, it's gotten a lot easier. Maybe I'd just built up the six month mark so much that after that, I lost track. Maybe it's because 7 and 8 months don't have that same emotional attachment. I'm sure I won't gloss over the one year mark (January 17). In fact, I'm already dreading that, though I'm trying not to even think about that until after the holidays. One thing I've learned is that you have to take it one thing at a time. I can't worry about the one year anniversary until it's next at bat, or at least on deck.

I think it's a good thing that I haven't noticed or agonized about the 17th for the last two months. It's a sign that I'm moving forward, that I know it's possible to live a life without knowing I'll break down like clockwork at least once a month. I know I'll have breakdowns about this for my entire life, but the frequency is lessening, and that feels really good.

Cleaning Out the Closet

Among the things I've been doing around the house is cleaning out cupboards, closets, and storage rooms. For one, I'm trying to cut down the amount of stuff I am going to have to move. The need to do this is increasingly evident when I think about how much stuff has been moved from place to place without being looked at, enjoyed, or used at all. Another reason I have to do this is that a house will sell so much more quickly if it is not cluttered. I actually have great storage in the house and plenty of room, but it sure looks small and insufficient with things spilling out of closets and jammed into tight spaces. Finally, of course, I have to go through things to get closure.

This process, of course, requires some difficult decisions to be made. I've done a good job of not attaching a false sentimentality to things -- just because a small appliance was a wedding gift does not mean it has a special value. Just because someone gave this to us for our wedding does not mean I have to keep it, make room for it in my kitchen cupboard, and continue to move it as I relocate throughout my life.Of course, some wedding gifts will, but not every one (even though I have an uncanny memory of who gave us which gifts). If something has little to no sentimental value and I am not going to use then, then I am not going to keep it. Those are the no-brainers.

Things with purely sentimental value, but no useful purpose in my life, I struggle with. Gifts that were given thoughtfully but that just aren't my taste, cards, photographs that aren't good enough to frame and display, but seem weird to just discard....there is so much of that in my life! I even found a pair of pegs -- one pink and one blue -- from a game of Life I played with my friend Troy in high school in which I declared that the pink and blue pegs were me and Brian, and I became a lawyer and won the game by retiring on Millionaire's Estate. Yes, I saved those pegs. Yes, I know that is not normal. But now I have them and I feel guilty getting rid of them.

I didn't think I would have so many emotions about getting rid of things that haven't seen the light of day in years. Yet, here I am, blogging my agony about discarding two tiny pieces of plastic from a board game I played thirteen years ago. I know they take up no space, so that isn't the issue. It's just that I don't need to hold on to everything like that. I'd rather have space and freedom than things. I don't need those pegs to remind me of the excitement and hope I had for our future as that 16-year-old girl who dreamed of walking down the aisle and living happily ever after with her doting high school sweetheart.

Keeping this in mind, I forge ahead. I know I have the option of putting things in storage, including keeping them at my parents' or in-laws' house, to go through later or to keep for the future, but the fact is that I have to make those decisions at some point, and this is the best time to do so. I don't feel rushed, I'm not trying to cram these decisions into a weekend (as I probably would in the future when I'm back to full-time work), and I have help as I'm going along. Certainly, grieving people should not rush this process. However, it has to be done at some point. It isn't practical to keep hauling and storing a roomful of totes of assorted things that apparently I don't actually use for the rest of my life, and I don't want to do that.

I have to admit, though, I'm not as clear-eyed and pragmatic when faced with an item before my eyes, as my quandry about the game pieces demonstrates. Most of the things I own are things Brian and I acquired together -- things that we bought or received with the purpose of building our life and enjoying our home together. I had a little breakdown when I realized it made sense to get rid of my -- our -- Christmas tree. It was the first tree we bought together and I remember being so excited to get it and put it up together. We used the same red and gold decorations -- bought at Dollar General in Urbandale while I was still in law school -- every year. I love that tree. Thinking about my life NOW though, and not what it was, the tree has no place. It is large, heavy, and difficult to move. I don't know if I'll have enough room for a tree like that in Austin. It just doesn't make sense to move it 1,000 miles away if I don't even know if it will work for me. The good news is that Brian's brother said he would take the tree, which makes me very happy. He went through a divorce this year and they are dealing with making one household's worth of things work for two households, so that is a win-win. It just lessened the sting a bit of getting rid of it.

It was while pondering the fate of the tree that it hit me: Letting go of things means acknowledging that the life I had with Brian, the life I used to know, is over. That's why it's hard. It's not that the Christmas tree itself is any better than any other pre-lit artificial option, or that I really love playing football video games on the XBox. It's the fact that I loved the life we had together in this house and with those things -- I loved decorating the tree with him in anticipation of another holiday season together, I loved ribbing Brian about how much time and effort he put into his EA Sports football games, despite being over the age of 30 (a habit I found secretly endearing because it was a part of who he was and I loved him fully).

In short, my journey has now taken me to the point that my inner thought process is equivalent to watching an episode of Clean House or Hoarders. Like I've tried to do with all of my grieving work, I'm trying to get on top of this and address it before it becomes a persistent, unaddressed, buried-only-to-resurface-again-later-and-worse, problem in my life. I'm trying to focus on keeping my memories alive in my mind and in photographs more than in things. That being said, I am going to allow myself to keep a few silly, useless "things" that remind me of the best times of my life. Even if they only sit in a tote in the basement. A small tote, though. I want enough to look back on, not enough to overwhelm me.

House, Episode 4

In this week's episode, Ellie and Riley spend two days helping Wendy attack the most overwhelming project of all: the basement. They arrive at this task in a roundabout way: they begin cleaning out the coat closet and Wendy realizes that Brian's coats need to go into a tote and be stored with the rest of his clothing (which will be dealt with later), an empty tote needs to be found, and somehow, the storage room becomes the project for the week. They take everything -- everything! -- from the storage room and put it into the bar (for those who have not experienced the joy of the Boka Bear Den, Brian and Wendy had two rooms in the basement: a storage room and a Chicago Bears bar room complete with beer on tap, a dartboard, a bar, a mounted tv, neon signs, and all the Bears memorabilia you can shake a stick at). Once the Bear Den is full to the brim, they discover a bit of mold on a wall where some ceiling tile had been leaned against it, as well as an outlet with damage from a cordless drill having been perpetually plugged in there. They realize that now, another wall will have to be painted. They clean the mold, put up painter's tape, remove outlet covers, and get out the painting supplies (which, at least, have been conveniently grouped and stored together).

Jeremy, Brian's brother, plays a role in the basement renovations as well. He replaces the damaged outlet and then patiently explains to an admittedly clueless Wendy what various tools are, how they are used, and what she should keep and what to sell or give away. Comically, he does not show Wendy how the cordless drill and its components actually fit into its case, and Wendy and Ellie struggle with it for several minutes the next day before mastering the spatial skills challenge.

Wendy's friend Jackie (whose husband Troy worked with Brian at Sears) comes over one evening and helps Wendy do some cleaning around the house. This happens to be the first day Wendy's allowed the new kitten to wander around the house, and Pat the roommate has finished moving out, so now there are no rooms "off limits" and Wendy is greatly relieved to be able to vacuum (or, to have Jackie vacuum) all the upstairs rooms at the same time and to regain the use of another closet!

In one of the cuter moments of this episode, Riley (who is 3) shows that she is at home in Wendy's house by coming in and calling Picaboo by name and then asking about Mittons. Ellie the Cat remains leery of children and continues to make herself sparse.

Monday, September 13, 2010

Kitten Mittons

I am trying to bloom where I am planted in every way possible.

This includes being open to things I thought I would never do, or even swore I'd never do. I never thought I'd get a tattoo, I never thought I'd up and move to a new city without a job there, I never thought I'd buy cowboy boots that weren't part of a Halloween costume...and I never thought I'd be single with three cats.

But it seems that's what's happened after I took in a stray I found while on a long run last weekend. Look, I know what this looks like. It looks like a first class ticket on the express train to Crazycatladyville. I know it means more fur, more vet bills, more money spent on cat food/litter/toys, more wisecracks at my expense, more responsibility, etc. I was just fine with two cats and never wanted more than that, especially not another female (females tend to be more territorial). Believe me -- I know of all the reasons I should not keep this kitten I found. It's just that those don't outweigh the feelings I have to the contrary.

I'll start with an explanation of how I found this sweet furry thing. I was on a 6 mile training run with Kristine and Laura, my friends I ran a marathon with last summer. My Garmin's batteries were shot, so we had to approximate our mileage using a combination of memory (having run so many training runs on these trails before) and trail markers. When we had about another mile to run, with about 1/4 mile of walking back to the car after that, we turned a corner near a brushy, woody area and Laura stopped in her tracks. "Look -- a cat!" And there was Mittons, a tiny black and caramel-colored tortie, sitting in some tall grass and just looking directly at us as if to say, "Excuse me! Please notice me and help me! I'm scared and hungry."

It took us a few minutes to catch her, but we all marveled at how close she'd let us get to her and how she never really ran "away" when she recoiled at our attempts to pick her up. This cat was friendlier than your average feral cat. Finally, while Laura and Kristine distracted her, I grabbed her body from behind (my previous grab at the scruff of her neck had proved fruitless, as there was no spare skin to get a hold of). She hissed at me, but once I had her in my arms, she curled right up into my body, nestled her head into the crook of my elbow, and began to purr. We walked like that for well over a mile back to the car and she was content and comfortable the whole way. I've never seen a cat accept being held by a human so well. While walking back to our cars, we got some funny looks from other runners and cyclists. I finally started proactively explaining, "We found this cat on the trail. We're not just taking a kitten for a walk!" I had some ideas about people who I thought would want a kitten, so I said I'd take care of her until I could find someone to take her -- and she was so cute, friendly, and lovable that I thought that would be no problem!

Of course, since that was more than a week ago, you can guess that I was wrong. I couldn't find anyone to take her. I put out the word to all my friends, posted a Facebook posting, begged a few people, and even had a lead that involved e-mailing pictures and serious consideration. Alas, these efforts were for naught. I continued to take care of her health needs while trying to find her a home. This has entailed a first examination, testing for leukemia and FIV, booster shots, treatment for worms and ear mites, getting her spayed, and a front declaw procedure. On top of the $500 in vet bills, I bought her special kitten food, treats, and milk; a bed; toys; and litter. She will come with all of these things, in case anyone's interested!

For now, I'm calling this girl Mittons Radcliffe. "Mittons" comes from my favorite TV show, It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia. There is an episode in which one of the characters invents mittens for cats to reduce the noise they make "stomping around" all over the house. However, this character is only marginally literate, so he spells the product "Kitten Mittons." Since she was a kitten, I thought the name "Mittons" fit, and I actually thought it might help her score a home with a friend who also loves the show (no such luck). Her middle name, Radcliffe, comes from British marathon superstar Paula Radcliffe. Fitting for a kitten found on a training run with my marathon runner friends.

Anyway, I've got a kitten now. I'm now a single girl with three cats. I'm still willing to give Mittons to a good home....I think. Or am I? I've been thinking that it was a fortuitous thing that she popped up at that moment, when three cat lovers happened to be passing by (the timing of which was wholly dependent on happenstance and not precise mileage accrued as would be the norm). It's remarkable how wholly she trusted me immediately, and I feel I can't betray that by making her go to a new, unfamiliar place where I don't know that she's being treated with the same attention and love I know I can give. I feel this kitten views me as her provider and protector for some reason, and I feel obligated in that role now.

I know that might sound crazy, but remember -- I'm trying to bloom where I'm planted and to take advantage of opportunities even when I didn't expect or even want
them. That is what I'm trying to do with my life trajectory, and how can I do that if I don't live it on a day to day basis? I need to take trips, try new places out, wear new types of clothes, make new friends, and -- just maybe -- take in new kittens. Make that, "take in a new kitten (singular)."

House, Episode 3

[The WB sincerely apologizes for the delay in broadcast of this episode.]

In this week's episode, Wendy has a scheduled "work night" with Andy & McKenzie, a couple who are high school sweethearts from small town Iowa and who now reside in Waukee. Andy and Brian met at ING and bonded over their shared loves of mixed martial arts, music, and barbecue. However, Wendy is not very prepared for their visit, having a full day of lunch with co-workers, afternoon coffee and dessert with Lisa the college friend, and an early happy hour at High Life Lounge with those co-workers that ends in a minor parking lot fender bender that, surprisingly, is NOT Wendy's fault.

Andy, McKenzie and their daughter Brianna (who, though Brian enjoyed teasing Andy about this, was NOT named after him) arrive ready to roll up their sleeves and work -- which, in Brianna's case involves entertaining herself with an Elmo DVD in the other room. Wendy decides the best task for the night would be painting a wall in the dining room that had gotten dinged up the prior week. Within minutes, the ladder is out (with protective padding added to prevent further damage) and up and the couple is taping and painting away. It should be noted that this involves standing on top of cupboards and working from a ladder 13' feet from the ground. Encouraged to tackle another task, Wendy is able to do a few more craigslist postings to cut down the clutter around the house.

Also, in this week's episode, Wendy continues to care for a kitten she encountered while on a training run last week. She totes this little furball -- known for now as "Mittons" -- to the vet two times for necessary tests, vaccines, treatments for ear mites and worms, and to be spayed and declawed. While this new addition to the house is being introduced, another member is leaving. Wendy's roommate moves out this week too, in a series of steps.

[Stay tuned for next week's episode, which will return to its normal Friday time slot.]

Friday, September 3, 2010

House, Episode 2

In this week's installment:

Wendy amasses a landscape crew to help her with yard work on Sunday. Ellie, Joy, Bobby & Kristine all come over at various times Sunday to pull weeds, trim bushes, cut plants back, tend to the garden, and clean out the shed and garage. Pat the Roommate joins in upon his return from his third out-of-town wedding in a row. The work is completed in good time and the group enjoys a bounty harvest at the Pizza Ranch buffet in Waukee.

Brian's friend Travis, who met Brian while they worked together at Sears, was an usher in Brian & Wendy's wedding, came over to help with some handy-man chores one morning. Despite a light rain, Travis fixes a gate that was dragging and sticking on the ground, cuts down two trees that had sprung up behind the shed, and installed two mailboxes (a new one for Wendy and a matching one for her neighbor, whose mailbox is attached to the same post. That afternoon, Wendy pays the favor forward by spending four hours helping friends move.

Wednesday, another group effort occurs. First, Wendy's friend Kay (who came into the circle by dating and then marrying Brian's friend and ex-Sears co-worker (and current stand-up comic) Greg comes over and the two ladies clean, do laundry, and sort through and photograph items for Craigslist postings. Greg comes over after work and gets to work on the ice maker on the fridge, staying true to the task until it is fixed! Brian's brother Jeremy and Roommate Pat join the club after they are off work and the guys then install a new ceiling fan in the dining room/kitchen, which is interesting because the vaulted ceiling is approximately 20 feet tall and the power has to be out to that entire level of the house. Jeremy balances on the cut-out portion of the wall between the kitchen and dining room while Wendy stands atop the kitchen cupboards to lend a hand and a flashlight for the actual installation. Then, the five enjoy a dinner of grilled pork, vegetables, and macaroni. Several bottles of wine, draws of beer, and a cigar are enjoyed along with some great conversation and hearty laughs.

This episode closes with a visit from Becky (whose husband, Chad, works at ING). Wendy and Becky go through the mail, pay bills, and do some light cleaning. They are assisted by Wendy's sister Laura, who has just arrived for a weekend visit.

Stay tuned for the next episode....

Thursday, September 2, 2010

Beautiful Tribute

***Apologies for the disarray of the photos -- the website is acting up so I can't choose how/where they are displayed on the post.***

Brian's headstone is now complete, with a fantastic picture of him shown on the front. I went to see it and to spend some time at the cemetery on Monday afternoon. For the first time since January, I actually felt better and at peace after my visit. Every other time I've gone there, I have screamed, sobbed, and generally felt like my heart was being pulled slowly out of my chest.

This isn't to say there weren't any tears this time; there were. This time, though, the crying was a quiet, controlled, "normal" crying and not wild, snot-bubbled, gasping for air, screaming, kicking and punching crying. Yes, it took me eight months to get there. Boy, it felt good to not go through all that yet again!

I made sure that I would be at the cemetery very soon after the photo was installed, and that I could make my visit before Brian's parents would be off work, so I could have some privacy and alone time to talk to Brian. I didn't tell my family about the trip ahead of time, unsure how I would feel or what I would need/want (or not want) to do after the experience, though I did have an overnight bag packed so I'd be prepared to visit my family if that felt right. I just didn't want to have any time constraints or expectations at all, not having any idea how the visit would go. Keep in mind that this was my first time seeing the stone at all (at least, in person) and I had such a hard time with the headstone concept, selection, and process.

I left Waukee around 1:15 Monday afternoon and arrived at the cemetery around 4:00. It was overcast, but not raining, and warm. There was no living person in sight, which was a big relief to me. I felt some apprehension as I drove to Brian's neck of the woods, but that actually disappeared as soon as I spotted his stone. I parked and was actually anxious to go over and see it. It didn't disappoint -- it is beautiful, as you can see from the pictures.

I was so glad to see Brian's smiling face looking back at me. It is a bigger, clearer, and better picture than the one that had been on the temporary marker. After looking at his picture for a while, I inspected the rest of the headstone. It is perfect -- just what we wanted. I think he would have liked it too. We always had the same taste in decor, so I truly believe what I picked was exactly what he would have if given the chance. You have no idea how good it felt to see it completed and perfect and to be proud of how it came out!

After looking at the headstone and the things that others have left on Brian's grave, I sat down to talk to Brian. This is the first time I've really been able to do this -- previously, in addition to just feeling too much dread/anger/rage/emptiness to enjoy this kind of moment, the weather has always prevented that. It's always been snowy, cold, rainy, muddy, windy, etc. This time, the weather was perfect, the grass was green and soft, and the ground was firm enough that I wouldn't sink or get muddy if I sat or kneeled.

I spent a good chunk of time just talking to Brian, sometimes sitting down and sometimes actually lying down, imagining how we used to lie in bed and talk. I was finally able to say some things to him that I needed to say, thanking him for being the person he was, shaping me into who I am (and who I will be), and for the love he showed me and the good times we shared. It felt so good to be able to tell him those things.

I'm sure part of why I was able to do this is weather-related, part is the headstone being complete, part is that time has lessened the shock and bitterness, and I also think part is the fact that my dream of him last week brought me a great deal of peace. In any event, I felt really good when I left the cemetery. I never thought I'd say that, but I did. I am sure I'll continue to cry on my visits, but I also know now that it can be a positive experience.

After my visit, I still wasn't ready to open up about it or to really be around anyone, so I decided to drive back to Waukee so I'd have the trip home to sort of decompress and think by myself. So, yes, I drove 2 1/2 hours, visited Brian at the cemetery, and then drove 2 1/2 hours home. I know that might sound crazy, but it was exactly what I needed. I think it was a major milestone for me in my healing, and it went as well as it possibly could have. It was a good way to start out the week, and the rest of my journey.

Happy Thought for the Day

"Bloom where you are planted."

I just saw this quote and I really like it. I've been planted somewhere I never thought I'd be, I'm going to be putting down roots anew after being so suddenly uprooted from where I had planted myself. Regardless of where life plants me or how many times I'm transplanted, though, I can bloom.

Lights Out

I knew it was Brian who made a light bulb in our bathroom go out!

Keep in mind that before he came into my dream, I had replaced 4 light bulbs around the house that had burned out over the summer and one of my taillights on the car. The next day, I had the dream and then another bulb went out (which I wrote about).

One day after posting about all this, two more light bulbs in the house and one of my headlights went out! Also, I noticed the back porch light was out. Now, that may have been out before, but I never noticed it. So at least two, and maybe three, lights going out right after my post about the bathroom light? Come on, Brian! :)