Friday, December 31, 2010

Looking Ahead

I am attending a wedding reception tonight in Des Moines, that of some dear friends. I will be sad to not have Brian to celebrate with us, or to kiss me at midnight and to ring in another year together. However, I also know I'll have a fun evening and that next year holds great things for me.

Here's to moving forward, emotional growth, wisdom, health, and happiness in 2011!

Happy Birthday to Me!

My 30th birthday went by relatively quietly and it was a good, productive day spent in beautiful Austin, Texas. I'll blog about my thoughts and a bit more about how I spent the day in another post, but wanted to let y'all (yeah, I'm going to incorporate that word into my spoken and written vocabulary immediately) know that it was a nice day.

Friday, December 24, 2010

Stop the Insanity!

One thing that is unique about those who are grieving is that it makes you question everything and sometimes a paranoia sets in. For example, I think things like, "I wonder if I don't think about Brian enough -- I don't seem to cry that much lately," or, "I have to look somewhat put together when I [see so-and-so/attend such-and-such function], so people know I'm not on the verge of a breakdown...but if I look too good, will they think I'm in denial or simply heartless?" Sometimes I worry about what people think when I smile and have a good time. Yet I want to hide my pain and anguish from everyone, or at least not allow it to affect others. I'm always aware of how I'm perceived, and I never know what is right, only that I walk this tightrope of perception vs. actual emotion on a daily basis. How often am I supposed to talk about Brian? Will people who never met him think I'm obsessed, will they think I'll never move on? Am I denying his existence if I don't at least tell everyone I meet that he existed and what happened? Do I really have to get into that with every acquaintance I make, in the first 10 minutes? Or how long do I wait?

I suspect this is something that everyone who is grieving struggles with, and I even struggle with this in the company of others who I know to be grieving the loss of their own loved ones. However, I also suspect this worry, this preoccupation is worse for those who are grieving the loss of a spouse. Normally, a husband or wife is there to lend an ear when you want to reminisce about the departed one for whom you grieve. Not so when the one who is gone is your husband. Normally, a husband or wife can see you break down and know that overall, you're doing okay. Or a husband or wife can see you have a blast and be silly, but know that doesn't mean you are heartless or over your loss, because your husband or wife would also be there when you have a breakdown and are rendered helpless by the pain. For me, no one has that complete a picture, so I worry that people base their perception of me and my mental state on the very small portion of my life they see.

I know, I know, I shouldn't worry about what people think. And I am getting better at this -- I've read enough grief books to know that no one else will ever know my journey and my burden, no one else can ever know my unique path through grief. That path was carved by the relationship Brian and I had, our ages, the manner in which he died, the support system that surrounds me, my personality and hobbies, my emotional and psychological tendencies, etc. I have had people question some of my decisions, and I've actually told those people that, with all due respect, I have to make the right choices for me, and that no one else can ever walk a mile in my shoes. I am still on good terms with those who have questioned me, as I know they were coming from a place of concern. Nevertheless, I know that people judge me and question me.

The impetus for this post is that I have started to second-guess myself about how I'm spending Christmas. Is it "cheating" or "running away" to spend the day with family down here in Texas instead of sucking it up and spending the day with Brian's parents and brother in Iowa? The latter would be harder for me, to be sure. Am I trying to short-cut my grief or run from my problems? Or am I just being sensible and refusing to be a glutton for punishment by being resolute in my decision to do what feels right to me? Grief does this -- it makes you question your motivation, makes you wonder what the right course of action is. It's just one more thing the loss of a loved one takes from you -- your confidence, your trust in yourself and your ability to make decisions.

This Christmas, I'm doing what feels right to me. I hope my instincts are right. I feel so strongly that I'm doing the right thing for me, but I wish I knew. I wish the grief didn't make me question myself.

So This is Christmas?

It's Christmas Eve, and I woke up to rain in Austin. This is different than any Christmas Eve I've had in over twenty years (perhaps I had a Christmas Eve like this when I was kid and I lived in Austin with my parents, though I think by this time we'd usually already at least be en route to Iowa). It's also my first Christmas without Brian since 1995. We started dating in January of 1996 and have celebrated Christmas together ever since. I remember that in 1996, I got Brian a Jewel CD. I don't remember what he got me, but some years do stick out -- a sapphire ring in 1997, a tanzanite ring in 1998, an autographed Bon Jovi CD a few years ago that he bought with his credit card points after we set a low price limit on our gifts because we had just bought something for the house, a mustard-colored leather purse last year (the last tangible gift he gave me). I've been carrying that purse this holiday season, a simple way of making me feel like he is with me and that I can carry his memory, his essence with me hanging on my shoulder.

It doesn't even feel like Christmas -- it is warm and raining, and I have no Christmas tree or decorations this year (aside from a pile of gifts my mom and Brian's mom sent down for me that is serving as a holiday centerpiece on my dining room table). I'm alone in an unfamiliar place, still getting used to the sounds of my new plumbing and heating/air conditioning systems, the placement of light switches, the way my bathroom lights gradually warm up to brightness. I am thrilled to be here and definitely excited for the good times that I know lie ahead, but it is not yet "home." I don't even have any living room furniture yet, and the TV in the living room is currently on the floor.

Still, I don't regret my decision to spend Christmas in Austin. I've traveled thousands of miles on multiple trips between Austin and Des Moines this month, and it seemed a little silly to make the trip back to Iowa again just because the date on the calendar for tomorrow is December 25. I've already celebrated Christmas with my entire family, and I have plans to do the same with Brian's extended family in January in Pocahontas, Iowa. So it's not as though anyone won't see me for Christmas, though it won't be on Christmas day. I do feel a bit guilty that I'm leaving my parents alone on Christmas (my sister will be at her boyfriend's house) and that I won't be spending the day with Brian's parents and his brother, and I worry that their celebration will seem small with just three present. But I needed to be in Austin this year.

Practically, I need to spend more than a few days in one place and need to do things like unpack, set up internet and cable, and pick out new living room furniture. Emotionally, I'm not sure I was ready for the traditional Christmas celebration in Iowa without Brian. I think if I was in Iowa this December 25, I'd feel his absence even more. Of course, I felt it and I hurt at my family celebrations that have already taken place -- hence the breakdown on the drive to Des Moines that followed. I think, though, that I'd feel it more intensely if I was to spend a quiet Christmas with just my parents, or just Brian's immediate family. I don't think I could handle that. When it is a larger gathering of extended family, there is the hustle and bustle of trying to talk to a multitude of adults, teenagers, and children about what has been going on since you last saw them; there are dozens of homemade goodies that have been brought and that must be tasted; there is a crowd of people in every room in the house; card or board games might be underway. I can get through that -- it's the prospect of a smaller gathering that is frighteningly daunting to me, and that I am glad to be avoiding this week. I will be thinking about Brian's family as they have such an experience this Christmas.

It is not as though I am going to sit here alone in my apartment with my cats, mind you. (Though if that was what I chose, or if I change my mind and do opt for that at this point, I hope people would respect that decision too.) I went to a happy hour with my friend Erin last night that turned into a last-minute shopping trip to Target for kids' Christmas gifts, then pizza and beer at my apartment. Erin & Chad ended up crashing in my guest bedroom, so it didn't take long for my place to feel like home in that way. It sounds silly, but I was happy to have them stay for that reason. Today, we are thinking of going out for lunch before they take off for Dallas to spend the night with family. I plan to go to a Christmas Eve party/open house at the house of some friends in south Austin tonight. Tomorrow, I'll head to Burnet, Texas (about an hour north of downtown Austin) to have Christmas dinner with Uncle Bruce, Aunt Kay, and their Boka clan. I'm happy to have family around, to be able to share in another large family gathering, something that feels like Christmas to me. I'm also looking forward to seeing Brian's cousin Jessi, who has been in London for a few months on work (her total assignment is 2 years overseas). I will also finally meet baby Thayer, the baby boy Brian's cousin Val and her husband Andy had this fall. I also look forward to seeing cousin Vanessa, her husband Eric, and their adorable daughters Taylor and Brooke.

In some ways, this Christmas is totally unlike any I've had in my life. In other ways, it will be very much the same. Different family members, different state and climate, but I'll still be surrounded by the love and warmth of family and friends. I think it will be as good as any Christmas without Brian can be. I think that by choosing to spend Christmas in a new place, with different faces, that it will help me get through the day that much easier. It's harder to miss someone in a place where they've never been, where I won't look at the spot he always sat at the table, or where I don't have to deal with the empty spot on the couch where he and all his presents should be. I feel the hole of his absence so strongly in my heart that I don't need to see it in front on me on the furniture too.

Monday, December 20, 2010

Don't Judge a Book by its Cover

As my last post shows, I'm still struggling. A lot. I might appear to have it all together, to be doing well, to be happy. Some days, I feel that way. Some days, I am wreck. A sobbing, screaming, wreck of a person who feels like her broken heart is hanging halfway out of her chest. There are moments, hours, and sometimes whole days where the tears just won't stop, when I wonder how on earth I'll ever carry this weight, this pain, throughout the rest of my irretrievably damaged life. There are times I question myself -- am I only able to have good days because I am not thinking about Brian enough? I think about him all the time, though, and it is usually with happiness and gratitude for having known his so long and so well, for being the lucky woman with whom he chose to share his life.

I admit, I'm worried about what people will think of me. I generally do a pretty good job not worrying about this, but sometimes that thought creeps in. I especially worry about what Brian's friends and family think. Well, let me assure you -- even though I might not cry when you do, or break down in front of you, that doesn't mean I'm over him. That doesn't mean I don't still feel immense pain, anger, confusion, frustration, and sorrow. That doesn't mean I don't still ache to hear his voice, to tuck my head into the curve he had under his sternum (which perfectly coincided with the height of my head), to smell the cologne he would spray in that spot for me, to walk up behind him and wrap my arms around his body and hug with all my might, to hear new music he would find and share with me, to see him laugh so hard that he stops making any sound and tears run down his face.

I still miss Brian very much. I still cry for how much I miss him. I still don't understand why things happened like they did. I still get completely overwhelmed by sorrow at times and wonder how I'll ever get through this. I'm still not "okay." I'll never be okay. I'll never be "over" this.

I might look like I'm doing well, and I am excited about the next stage of my life, but that doesn't mean there isn't still immense sorrow over the chapters that have ended this year. I still miss Brian dearly, and I always will. I will always look back fondly at the life we had created together -- our house, our friends, our careers in Iowa. I will miss all of that. Just because I'm looking forward to some of the things that lie ahead, that doesn't mean I am not sad about what I'm leaving behind.

Running in Circles

It's December 20, and I take off from Des Moines to head to Austin again today. This will be my fourth trip this month. I've been back and forth by private plane, commercial flights, and moving truck. Today, I take my own vehicle down. I have one more trip back to Iowa at the end of the month. This isn't the easiest way to move, but it is actually the least stressful. I have had a lot of time to pick out the perfect apartment for me, to figure out exactly what will and will not make the cut to be moved across the country and find a place in my future life.

I've had so much going on that I've just been on auto-pilot. I managed to get through Brian's birthday and several family Christmas celebrations without any major breakdowns. Yesterday, I did have a breakdown, a bad day. The day started well, with my immediate family having our Christmas brunch and gift exchange. Then I stopped at my aunt Amanda's house to see her, my uncle Randy, and my cousin Max one more time. I'm very close to these three -- Mandy and I grew up like sisters, and she's only a couple years older than me. After that, I stopped at the Letts Cemetery to pay my respects to our friends Sam and Jackie one last time before my move. Sam would have been 32 tomorrow, just like Brian would have been 32 last week.

Leaving the cemetery, my anger and frustration took over. I'm only 29 years old -- why am I spending so much time at cemeteries?! I remembered times Brian and I spent with Sam and Jackie and I felt left out that they were all together now, while I was not. I was left behind...left out. It sounds crazy, but in some ways I was jealous that at least those two went together. I have to live through this hell, to feel the excruciating pain, guilt and loneliness that inevitably comes when one spouse dies and leaves another to live on.

I think another thing that shook me and lead to my bad day was that I dreamed about Brian Saturday night. It was vague, but I know we spoke to each other. In the dream, he was alive, but it was as though he had been in a coma and just woken up. I don't remember specifics, and that pains me. I hope that if he was trying to tell me something, he will keep trying until I can hear his message.

For whatever reason, yesterday was a tough day. I've been having more good days than bad days recently, and thought I was doing well. I guess I am still doing well, even if there was one day in which that wasn't the case. It's funny how one bad day can loom so large that it overwhelms the good days and makes them all but disappear in my mind. On a bad day, it's as though a big dark cloud rolls in that is so dark, heavy, and large, it's hard to remember that the sun ever shined or to believe that it ever will again. After a bad day like that, I know it will take a while for me to have another truly good day. The storm front takes time to roll through and away, off the horizon. I guess it makes sense -- a tornado doesn't last long, but the aftereffects are devastating and it takes serious time and effort to clean up the debris and rainwater and to restore things to their previous condition, if that is even possible.

In a way, it's like Hurricane Katrina hit me in January and since then, it is a series of lesser storms that just keep hitting. The storms get smaller and less frequent, but they are still devastating.

The fact that no storms -- no bad days -- hit while I was moving, on a birthday or during a family holiday is almost a miracle. I don't know whether I should attribute that to divine help from God, from Brian, from prayers and positive thoughts that I know others have been sending my way, or because I've just been too preoccupied and busy to think about anything but moving, traveling, packing, and logistics. I've been in survival mode, focusing on how to get through the next task at hand.

Today, I start to pick up after the storm that yesterday brought. Today, I head back to Austin again. Today, I focus once again on the next task, the next trip, at hand. Today will be a better day. Once again, I have to get back to living one day at a time. Today, I start picking up the pieces.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Hard Days Ahead

Tomorrow (Wednesday) is my friend Joy's birthday and Thursday (the 16th) would have been Brian's 32nd birthday. Those two have been celebrating their birthdays together for years now. Joy and I are planning a day trip to Muscatine tomorrow to go to Greenwood Cemetary and to go out for lunch. I'm hoping the weather holds for wine club to meet in Des Moines tomorrow night.

On Friday the 17th, I'm flying the cats down to Austin and spending the night there. On Saturday the 18th, I have a family Christmas.

I know the next couple of days are going to hold some ups and downs, and I'm trying to brace myself. Please keep me and Brian's family and friends in your thoughts and prayers.

State of Transition

My house is sold, but the closing date is not until January. In the meantime, I've been setting up shop in Austin.

Last week, I started packing stuff that is making the cut for the 930-something-mile journey south to my new home. I rented a moving truck, and -- with the help of some great friends -- loaded it up Thursday and Friday. My family arrived to help out on Friday afternoon, then my dad and I took off for Austin on Friday night. He had an extremely busy and hard day, having woken up early to drive to Minnesota first to load up my sister's things (she is transferring to a private college in Iowa). He had two states, hundreds of miles, and half a move under his belt before he got to my house that night!

Dad drove the big truck all the way to Austin and back for me. I could have done it, but it was nice that he stepped in and did it, and it was great to have his help and his company most of all. The trip was uneventful, but slow, as the truck would not go above 70 mph and went through diesel fuel like Lindsay Lohan goes through coke (well, used to go through coke -- I don't want to get sued!). We drove to Oklahoma City Friday night, where we got a cheap motel room and slept from about 3-7 a.m. Saturday morning, we continued the trek. We stopped for lunch at Rudy's BBQ, which is now a moving-to-Austin tradition (Rudy's is what we ate when my friends Erin, and then her husband Chad, moved down this summer).

We arrived at my apartment around 2:30 p.m. on Saturday. With help from a few friends, and some family, the unloading process went very quickly. Dad and I went out for dinner and beers at Doc's, a great little place just next door to my complex. We sat outside on Saturday night! There were space heaters, but was outside. It's so great to be able to eat outside at 8:00 p.m. in mid-December. We also decided we'd rent a car to tool around Austin for a couple days, and we'd get the car in the morning.

On Sunday, we discovered that there was no hot water. There was a mix-up at the complex regarding my apartment number, so my heat/gas/hot water weren't hooked up. Luckily, there was electricity! (I got that all sorted out later, and it was fine.) So we went over to Erin & Chad's apartment to shower and for brunch (the brunch had already been planned). Chad's cousin, who has lived in Austin for 3 years, was also at brunch. She is from Hampton, which is where my dad was born and a town in which many cousins and other family members still live and which is the hometown of a couple friends of mine from Des Moines. Sure enough, we knew many of the same people. The five of us enjoyed great conversation, food, and football. It's the kind of meal that gives you a "family" feeling, which I guess makes since because everyone there had a family member present.

After brunch, Dad drove me around and showed me the three places I lived with him and my mom when my family lived in Austin in 1985-1987. We also found the elementary school where I attended kindergarten, and the old and present locations of the company my dad used to work for. We went to The Oasis, a popular destination restaurant with many levels of decks overlooking Lake Travis (the larger of Austin's two most popular lakes). We had last visited The Oasis when we vacationed in Austin in 1999. We sat outside for a while in the sun. When the wind wasn't blowing, it was very nice outside. After a while, it was 3:15 and time for the Bears game. We went into the bar area to watch the game. Once it became clear that it was a drubbing (around halftime) by the Patriots, we left the Oasis and did a little more driving around to take in the sites and old stomping grounds. We went to The Mean-Eyed Cat, a Johnny Cash theme bar (that happens to be next door to Erin & Chad's apartment building) for a couple drinks and had some good conversation with the bartender and an off-duty co-worker who was in as a customer that night. We then went to The County Line BBQ for dinner, and then called it a night pretty early.

On Monday, we got up somewhat early. Dad ran out to get coffee and breakfast, then put together the beds and dressers and moved some other furniture and boxes around to their respective places. I spent a good deal of time on the phone to fix the apartment number mix-up/heating situation, then unpacked my clothes and put those away. I really enjoy my walk-in closet already! It is small, but it is a still a walk-in (which I don't have at home now), and it makes it so much easier to see and appreciate your wardrobe. My clothes look great in there, sorted first by style and then by color (okay, I am a little obsessive about clothing organization). I have a lot of clothes, and I'm finally getting to the point that I love my wardrobe, so this was very exciting for me. My bedroom in the new place is big, so there's plenty of room for my bedroom furniture, which looks great in there! Also, Dad and I put a leaf in my dining room table and set up 6 chairs around it. I was thrilled last week when Ellie and I did some measurements and figured out that I could take the dining room set to Austin, and excited to put it into place in my dining room area. (Erin -- a wine club and game night regular around that table in my dining room in Des Moines -- teared up when she saw it while she and Chad were helping with the move-in.)

In case you can't tell, I LOVE my new place! In addition to having two bedrooms/bathrooms/walk-in closets, it has a nice sized- deck area that faces large trees and has a skyline view. The windows are so large the cats will be able to hop onto the window sill to enjoy the views the branches outside provide. I have a wood-burning fireplace. I identified two possible locations for the keg-a-rator I didn't think I'd have a place for, and I was able to bring my new washer and dryer and put them into a little laundry area that also has room to be a litter box. My bath tubs are huge. I felt like every few minutes, I'd figure out another thing I liked about the place. My wine fridge fits perfectly in one spot on the kitchen counter, and so on...

Anyway, after getting some more things unpacked, we took off in the rented moving truck to head back for Iowa. We left Austin around 1:30 p.m. on Monday and drove straight through to Des Moines. Due to an accident in heavy traffic in Ft. Worth, and our speed being limited to as low as 55 mph at times on account of strong headwinds, it was a longer trip. I napped a few times, and I started to feel like a trucker because we'd stop every few hours at a truck stop for gas/bathroom/food and drink breaks. We arrived at my house in Waukee at 5:00 a.m. today (Tuesday). 15 1/2 hours. Still, the trip seemed to go pretty quickly, I suppose due to good conversation. Dad told a lot of stories about when he and Mom made the trip with me in the backseat asleep in the mid-eighties, stories of car troubles and bad weather. We talked about my decision to move to Austin and how our moves were similar in some ways and different in others. I don't get one-on-one time with my dad very much, and it was really neat for me to get that. I enjoyed the trip an awful lot, and it felt as much like a weekend getaway trip as a move.

For the next few weeks, I'll be bouncing around from Austin to Des Moines a lot, and to other parts of the state of Iowa too. I'm hoping for good weather and uneventful travels. So far, so good...

Monday, December 6, 2010

Welcome to Fabulous Austin, Texas

Well, I sold my house and leased a place in Austin!

I just got back from four days in Texas. At the same time I was signing a lease for a great apartment, the people who would eventually buy my house were coming through for another look. I got the offer that night. The next morning, I awoke with The Avett Brothers' song "I and Love and You" in my head, plain as day, almost as if a radio was on in the next room. The starting lyrics speak to someone who is moving, though I'm going south to Austin instead of north to Brooklyn:
Load the car and write the note
Grab your bag and grab your coat
Tell the ones that need to know
We are headed north

One foot in and one foot back
But it don't pay, to live like that
So i cut the ties and i jumped the tracks
For never to return

Ah Brooklyn Brooklyn take me in
Are you aware the shape I'm in
My hands they shake my head it spins
Ah Brooklyn Brooklyn take me in
I thought that was interesting. I had a great sense of peace that morning, and I feel even better now that I've gotten back to Iowa and signed the paperwork for the sale of my house.

I probably won't write much in the near future -- I'm planning to do the big move this weekend (though I'll still be around the house in Iowa from time-to-time until January 21)!

My new apartment is great! It's on South Congress, which is the heart and funky soul of Austin, in my opinion. I'm just a couple miles south of the capitol building, maybe 1/2 mile from the Congress Avenue Bridge (home to Austin's battiest residents, who are actually bats) and Lady Bird Lake (the body of water and accompanying trail system with which I was obsessed this summer), and less than 10 minutes from my yoga studio, Whole Foods, Waterloo Records, and my friends Erin & Chad. I'm right across the street from a great coffee place (the place I saw one of the actors from Friday Night Lights in May), next door to a great outdoor bar/restaurant, and within easy walking distance of great shopping (some of my favorite tee shirt shops and clothing boutiques, not to mention antique stores and places to buy cowboy boots!), Southside Tattoo (where I got my ink), a sushi place, an ice cream shop, a lot full of food trailers, a pizza place, and a great Mexican restaurant (Guero's). Clearly, I'm stoked about the location. I'm also excited to report that I'll have a 2 bedroom, 2 bathroom place and my apartment complex has a beautiful pool and hot tub area (so plan your visits, everyone!). Magnolia Cafe, which has the best avocado cheese omelet I've ever had, is maybe a mile down the road. Oh, and did I mention that South Congress is the street I would take everyone when they came to visit this summer? I took my friend from Dallas, my friends from Kansas City, and my family to South Congress. Now I live there.

Yeah, I live in a "vacation place" now. :) Well, I will soon. I guess I need to start packing for that to happen though!

The Music Man

I mentioned in my post about Thanksgiving that the song "Up on Cripple Creek" by The Band started playing just as I sat down to the turkey dinner with my family. Well, that was only half the story. The Saturday after Thanksgiving, I hosted a potluck dinner party with some friends, wanting to be sure I had one last dinner party at my dining room table before I move, and one last evening with a particular group of friends who really became like a family to me this year and whose company I have treasured more than they will ever know. At the dinner party were Kristine & Bobby, Jenny & Justin, and Anita & Matt (well, and me). I share many memories and experiences with this group, including: running marathons together, a trip to Mexico, happy hour gatherings, nights hanging out and watching TV, party buses, and a dodgeball league.

One of the best nights of my life was the weekend before Brian died. We had an entirely open weekend -- a rarity for us and especially appreciated because it was our first free weekend after a month-plus of holiday and birthday celebrations. We purposefully did not make plans, and Friday afternoon one of the group -- perhaps Kristine? -- suggested a happy hour downtown. Brian and I discussed it and decided we'd go for a bit, but not stay too long (we actually looked forward to a quiet Friday night and a low-key weekend!). We met the group at Hessen Haus, a German bar in Des Moines best known for serving beer from "Das Boot," a large glass boot that we have a replica of in our bar at home (where it is known as "Da Victory Boot" and is sometimes shared after a Bears victory). I digress...we had some drinks at Hessen Haus, and closed our tabs around 7:30 p.m. Right after we closed our tabs, we noticed some really cute tee shirts on sale for $5 or $10 each. Brian had enough cash on him for each of the girls to get one, so we did. (I was so happy to recently find that shirt, still rolled up with rubber bands, in the purse I carried that night and relive that memory.) From there, the eight of us headed to Kristine & Bobby's apartment, where the guys played Rock Band for hours. It was a random, last-minute night that ended with the girls talking in the kitchen and the boys playing video games, almost like a play date. There was nothing crazy or fancy about the night, just good friends enjoying each other's company. While no wild stories came out of that night, it stands out for the pure joy it brought. I remember thinking that night, "What a fun, blessed, full life we have."

Now, I was hosting this group for our own little Thanksgiving celebration on that Saturday night. Just as we sat down to dinner, that song came on again. "Up on Cripple Creek, she sends me..." sang that familiar voice. The funny thing is, I have DirecTV and the associated music stations on my satellite; my parents have Dish. So it's not even as though my dad and I listen to the same, selection-limited station or something. I was listening to "The 60s" and my dad listens to something called "The Bridge," whatever genre that describes. I wouldn't even say I got a chill. I paused for a sec to verify that was the song playing, and went, "Hm, that feels right." I wasn't even that surprised. I know that sounds crazy, but to me it was just reaffirming my suspicion that it was him sending me a message, announcing his presence with us -- with me -- over the holidays.

Another example of Brian announcing his presence with music happened on Black Friday. That evening, I went over to Smitty's house (a friend of Brian's from high school, who was a pallbearer and who shared Brian's musical taste and passion) to have some Templeton Rye (Brian's favorite whiskey) and watch a DVD of The Avett Brothers with Smitty and Hart. Soon after I arrived, we sat down for an informal whiskey taste-testing and Smitty turned on some background music. He set the music playlist to randomize his entire selection -- which is massive and covers many styles -- and the first song to come on was, "Kickdrum Heart" by The Avett Brothers. What's funny is that Smitty did not like that song much, but Brian would always try to tell him why it was, in fact, a good song. (I know that sounds weird, but that's how they were with music. It went both ways -- Smitty loves a song called "Banana Puddin'" that Brian never really could get into.) Smitty said, "This is your husband's way of messing with me." To me, it was him announcing that he was with us, and that he would control the music selection, thank you very much.

Finally, one more story about music. Instead of music serving as a message from Brian, though, this time music was a means for me to honor Brian by living one of the lessons I've learned since his death. This is a story about life coming full circle.

I've written about Minneapolis-based singer/songwriter Mason Jennings before (, and I randomly thought while driving a couple weeks ago, "I feel like listening to some Mason Jennings." What I didn't mention is the way Mason Jennings became a part of our life. Brian and I had been back in Muscatine and he ran into a liquor store to pick up some beer -- sort of random, as we'd typically just stop at the grocery store or gas station. Somehow, he knew the guy working behind the counter and Brian said, "What song is this? I like it." The guy told us about Mason Jennings and gave Brian the burned CD, a collection of Mason Jennings songs (as opposed to burning one album in its entirety). Brian fell in love with that CD, and we started buying Mason's CDs and going to his shows whenever he was in the area.

I went to a party at a house on the north side of Des Moines a couple weeks ago, playing that disc on the way. At the party, I got into a discussion with a girl named Amy about music. I mentioned Mason Jennings, who I believe is one of the best songwriters out there. Suddenly, it hit me. I had to give her the disc. I realized that it was only from a random encounter and someone sharing that disc with us that we came to listen to that music on long road trips together and that we had a blast at Mason Jennings' concerts with our friends. Now, I don't know whether Amy will feel the same way, or it will have the same impact on her life. I'd be crazy to think it would. But you never know. In any event, I wanted to share something I loved with someone else, and hoped it would speak to her in some way, or that it might speak to a friend of hers who is a passenger in her car, or....who knows? All I know is I felt like I had to pay it forward. It only seemed right to share something that good.

One thing I've been trying to do more is to spread joy and share love in any way I can. That means sending a card encouraging someone who is down -- as opposed to just thinking about it and then never getting around to doing it. That means telling someone what they mean to me and how thankful I am for them -- as opposed to assuming they already know or thinking "I love you" expresses that enough. That means buying that perfect gift for someone for no reason -- as opposed to just commenting, "So-and-so would love that!" That means saying, "Here -- check out this CD; I think you'll like it" -- as opposed to saying, "You should look for him on YouTube."

In this case, it wasn't Brian speaking to me through least not directly. But in a way, he was acting through me with music.