Wednesday, May 30, 2012

She Was a Great One

My great-grandma, Grandma Tompkins (my maternal grandmother's mother) died today.  She was the last of my living "greats."  I don't honestly know how old she was, but she had to be at least in her late 80s.  She lived a long and full life, though the last several years were difficult as she struggled with dementia and failing health.

I am grateful that she died surrounded by family and love, and with permission to go.  I know she is just going on to the next stage of life, a life somewhere else, somewhere better than this world.

Still, it is hard to take, losing the last of a generation.  When I was born, I had almost all my great-grandparents living, and even one great-great grandpa.  I grew up seeing my "greats" in their own homes, independent.  They each had something cool about their houses -- Grandma Tompkins always had miniature Snickers bars in the freezer, Grandma Cooper had her famous Rice Krispie treats, Grandma Welsher had a cool rock and gem collection that I loved to ooh and ahh over, and "Gramps" had MTV before anyone else in my family had cable, and when MTV was still cool.  Slowly but surely, they all started to move more slowly, and their health faded.  Next, it was assisted living.  Finally, the end of days has come for all these great people.  Next it will be my grandparents that go, if the natural order is followed (which, of course, life cruelly reminds us from time to time that it isn't always followed).  That thought is unbearable, and I hope it is a long time away. 

The hardest part about losing Grandma Tompkins isn't that I'm going to miss her -- I haven't seen her in a long time, and she really hasn't been herself in quite some time.  It isn't that she went too soon -- she was ready, and had the blessing of family to let go of this life.  It is the searing realization that life and time go by so quickly.  It doesn't seem that long ago that I bounded into Grandma's house, eager for that frozen candy bar.  It was at least 20 years ago.  How did those years go by so quickly?  When did I get this old?  If I feel that way now, how will I feel when I'm my parents' age, or my grandparents' age, and I see the next generation grow old and die, as they inevitably will?  I miss being a kid, back when everyone in my world was alive and healthy, and they had cool things for me to do and eat.  Doesn't everyone miss those days? 

I know I can't go back in time, but I think I'll make a point to eat a frozen Snickers bar this week.

Rest in peace, Grandma Tompkins.  We love you.

Memorial Day

I had a very nice Memorial Day weekend.  This year, I took the long weekend to relax, play, and work.  To be honest, it was all about me.  It's been a few years since I could say that.  Three years ago, Brian and I spent our last Memorial Day weekend together at a friend's wedding, while grieving the loss of some other friends a few days before and missing their funerals.  Two years ago, I sat on the patio of my studio apartment in Austin, bawling and blogging away my first Memorial Day as a widow and hating that Brian didn't even have a tombstone yet (choosing and ordering one was a monumental task for me - pardon the "black widow" pun - and it took me months before I could face it).  Last year, I cried and blogged some more, again in Austin, and pleaded with my Iowa friends and family to visit Greenwood Cemetery to pay their respects to the big guy.

This year, I spent the weekend on a little getaway, as so many do.  Sheldon and I drove a few hours north to a friend's ranch -- over 2,000 acres of desolate Texas land, with a large creek running through, and herds of cattle and sheep roaming the grounds.  We went fishing, made s'mores, watched movies on a homemade outdoor movie theater thrown together in a jiffy with some plywood, 2 x 4's, and a white sheet, and I jumped off a rope swing into the water.  One night, we went out away from the cabin and creek into the middle of the ranch to watch stars -- some shooting, some just twinkling brightly in constellations.  On the way back, we lost the lead vehicle and actually drove around lost in the dark for about a half an hour.  I didn't have my cell phone on for most of the weekend.  It was fantastic.

Sheldon and I came back to San Antonio Sunday afternoon.  We did laundry, unpacked, hung out with the cats, and watched the Spurs win.  On Monday, I did a little work, but made sure to be done by mid-afternoon so we could cook together.  We made shrimp kebabs with fresh pineapple, red onion, and bell peppers, served with asparagus and quinoa.  Sheldon whipped up cocktails with Fresca, River Pilot vodka (, lime juice and muddled blueberries.  Perfect for the San Antonio heat!

I didn't set aside time specifically to write, or to think about Brian, but I didn't have to.  He is in our everyday lives, and this weekend was no exception.  Driving back from the ranch, we listened to The Avett Brothers.  I cried and talked about Brian, and Bonnaroo, and the gift he gave his friends and me by sharing their music with us (or forcing us to listen to it, as the case may be).  I talked to family on Monday and found out, not surprisingly, that my family and his all visited the cemetery on Memorial Day (and actually ran into one another there).  I thought about how the weekend I spent with Sheldon was a bit like a long weekend I would spend with Brian, even a bit like the weekend he died - though, being an Iowa January weekend, that was more about pizza and Rock Band than grilling and swimming.  It was all about kicking back and enjoying life with the one you love, and it felt good to do that again.

As I started to write this post, I remembered a great video taken at our house in Iowa on Memorial Day weekend four years ago.  We had a party at our house (though I was laid up with either the flu or food poisoning), and it went well into the night and wee hours of the morning, as our parties often did.  This video was taken late in the evening, and though I didn't like all the noise at the time (being sick in bed and all), I love it now, and smile every time I see it:

It was nice to live Memorial Day this year the way Brian would if he could, and to remember him the same way I always do, and always will -- as that happy, smiling guy singing with his friends and playing the best damn air guitar you've ever seen.  I love that man.

Thursday, May 24, 2012


I am closer to God than I've ever been before.  Not more "religious," necessarily - I was more active in church when I was younger - but I think I have a deeper belief and understanding than I ever did then.  I pray more than I have in a long time.  For a long time, that wasn't something I did to get through the rough times.  I wondered why I should pray to a God/a being/an entity that would destroy my life in (the stop of) a heartbeat.  Apparently what I wanted didn't matter to this God anyway, right?

Well, I guess things coming together, and signs that I see, make me believe.  Knowing that there is life after death means there must be a God, there must be more, there must be a reason.  Having seen that in my own life, with my own eyes, I am closer to God than ever.

I know people who are grieving who would say the opposite -- sometimes death will shake the strongest faith, and sometimes it will be an unlikely source of strength for people who weren't previously very spiritually connected to a higher power.  Death and grief change everything.

That change is an ongoing process.  It's not like I "found God" right after Brian died.  It has taken time, and I'm still exploring and growing in this area.  Also, I'm sure that for some whose faith is all but destroyed, something -- some semblance of a belief in a loving God and eternal life -- will begin again.

In some ways, faith is like trust -- it takes time to build, it can be fragile, some people give it more freely than others, and it can be broken.  Still, it can be rebuilt.  Just like us.

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

These Days

Some days life is tough.  Losing Brian has made me question everything - the meaning of life (his, mine, and humanity in general), my purpose, religion, afterlife, etc.

Still, I am grateful for every day that I'm alive.  I'm grateful to have the chance to explore these questions.  I'm grateful to have the love and support of family, friends, and co-workers.  I'm grateful to have the gift of writing to use to help me unravel these questions.  I'm grateful that flowers still bloom.  I'm grateful for a heart that has been able to love -- and be loved -- again.  I'm grateful I had Brian and that he shared his life and home with me.

Every day, I'm grateful.

New Normal

Last night, I was having some "widow time" -- reading, writing, crying, just generally letting my emotions be felt and released.  Sheldon kept checking on me, and I could tell it bothered him to see me so upset.  By now, he knows not to say, "Stop crying," because he knows that sometimes crying is exactly what I need.  He's become so adept at dealing with my emotions and the complications of my grief and my history.

After saying all the right supportive things, he gave me a big hug.  While in his arms, I said to him, "I wish you could have a normal girlfriend.  You deserve that." 

"I do have a normal girlfriend," he said. 

Could this man be more perfect?

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

No Clever Title

I have been missing Brian a lot lately.  I've been dreaming about him (I did it again last night), thinking about the advice or insight he would have for given situations, wondering what he would think about all my choices since he died (some I know to be poor choices, some I know to be right, and some for which the jury is out).  I just want to talk to him again.  I miss how he could read anyone, how he would cut to the truth of the matter, even when it was an ugly truth. He was smart, insightful, intuitive, and wise.  I miss his opinions, even though I sometimes hated them and disagreed strongly. 

I can't stop thinking about how I can talk to him.  I've been thinking about going to a medium.  I've been reading about after-death communications.  To be honest, I'm hurt that he hasn't come to me.  I mean, I know he has shown himself in different ways -- in dreams, by song, the guitar pick I found in the most unlikely place, etc -- but I am wondering why he hasn't just appeared to me to talk to me, straight up.  Doesn't he know how much I want that, how much I need that? 

I guess I am a little lonely in San Antonio.  I don't have many friends here, and I am missing my friend Brian an awful lot lately.

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Stopped in My Tracks

Last week I was at work for a meeting.  We were just finishing up when someone knocked on the door and came in, breathless.  "Sorry to interrupt," she said, "but Joe -- did you know that Mark (not his actual name) is being worked on by paramedics outside?" 

Mark is a bigwig at my company, as is Joe, who recruited me and does some ongoing training and development with me.  They have worked together for years, and everyone at the office knows them both (something to be said for that, as there are about 500 agents and staffers at my office).

Joe rushed outside to see what was going on.  I took a couple steps and stopped.  I couldn't go out to see someone being "worked on" by EMTs.  The last time that happened - and the only time I've seen that - was at my house in Iowa that cold Sunday morning when Brian died.  I stood motionless and shaking for a very long time in Joe's office.  I didn't know what to do.  Finally, Joe came back into the building.  He looked shaken.  I asked whether Mark was going to be okay, knowing there was as much panic as concern in my voice.  Joe reassured me that Mark was going to be fine. 

We had just a few more things to discuss and once we were done, I asked Joe whether he thought the ambulance was still there.  He said, "Yes, it's right outside."  I almost had a panic attack.  I started crying and said I could leave yet; I didn't want to walk out and see an ambulance and witness EMTs giving medical attention to someone.  I started shaking like a leaf.  Joe knew my situation, but not specifically that this would be a trigger.  I had to sit in his office and cry for a few minutes, then gather myself up, before I could leave.  I made sure there was plenty of time that I wouldn't see any of the scene.

Despite Joe's reassurance that Mark was conscious and talking, and that he just seemed to have a bad reaction to some medication, I still was very anxious about the outcome.  Until we received an email updating us and telling us that Mark was okay, I worried.  That first night, I even had a horrific dream about all this.  Luckily, I've had a chance to see Mark with my own eyes too.

It's scary knowing that there are things that take me back to that awful day, and I was disappointed to realize how traumatized I became at the presence of an ambulance and a medical emergency.  Next time I will have to maintain my composure a little better.  Of course, I pray there won't be a "next time" for this time of scary situation.

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Morning Has Broken

One thing I failed to mention in my last post is that I was able to wake up happy about spending that time with Brian, and I was able to tell Sheldon all about it with a smile on my face.  Also wonderful was the fact that he smiled too, happy for me to have such a nice experience with my Brian in Dreamland.

I Have Dreams

I had a long, strange dream last night.  I can't remember all the details, but I know this much -- there were people I knew from many stages of my life, from high school to Austin, and I was part of a group of young people gathering up a crew to head to a party.  We were going to house parties, and maybe a bar or two.  We had a few cars full of people.  It was a fun dream, I'm sure in part because Brian was there.

Brian tending bar at the "Boka Bear Den," our basement hangout
In my dream, I was in a car heading to a house where I knew Brian would be.  I think I said, "Let's go to Brian's house."  It seems the house we went to was a combination of several houses I've known through the years -- the house he grew up in, one I used to baby-sit at during the summers, our house in Iowa.  It was in the country, kind of, and it had a basement.  We went to go pick him up to add him to the party crew.  I think we maybe had to wake him up; I know I was thinking he might be asleep.  Still, when I arrived, he was there and ready to roll, with a smile on his face.  I miss that smile.  Brian was always the life of the party.

At our wedding, with college friends "the Julies"
In my dream, he was by my side from the minute he joined in the group.  After some time of this, and when I had a moment alone with him -- oddly enough, we were walking either up or down a flight of stairs when this happened -- I stopped him.  I grabbed his arm, stopped him, and looked right into his eyes.  He looked just like he did in these pictures -- full of life and excited to be having fun with everyone.  I said something to the effect of, "I'm so happy to see you again.  You know, you're gone and I don't get to see you very much.  I'm glad you could be here.  I miss you."

At Brian's 30th birthday party - with Bobby, me, and Joy
He told me something along the lines of being glad to see me too.  I can't remember his words, but I know I relished in just hearing his voice.  God, how I miss that voice.  It was so distinct, yet it was the voice I was most accustomed to hearing and most loved the sound of on the other end of the phone, or in the morning, and every other minute of the days I got to share my life with him.

After that brief acknowledgement of our reality -- of being happy to hang out again, despite being currently existing in different planes -- we continued with the house party, or whatever was going on in my dream.

With his best friends, Hart and Wilson
It's nice to know he's always going to be beside me, and it's wonderful to be able to see his smiling face and experience the way he lights up a room, even if it's only in the occasional dream.

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

The Root of the Problem

I'm in the middle of a whole process to improve my dental health.  See, since I was little, I've been cavity-prone.  Ridiculously so.  I took fluoride pills and brushed as much as any other kid, but usually had cavities (yes, plural) at every check-up.

When I was in law school, I didn't have dental insurance and slacked on going on for check-ups for that reason.  Big mistake.  Right after I started practicing law and had some insurance, I got a toothache.  I called a dentist, saying I needed a cleaning and check-up, and saying that I definitely had a cavity or two that was hurting.  If only that had been the end of it.  In addition to several cavities that were treated with fillings, I had one tooth so bad it couldn't be filled and had to be extracted, and three that needed root canals and crowns.  It was a time- and money-sucking experience, and it just plain sucked.

Recently, I found out that the root canals I had done "didn't quite remove the infection," and that I still had decay and infection in those teeth, down at the bottom, under the gum line, where the teeth meet the jaw.  Left untreated, this infection would eat away my jawbone and eventually probably cause me some major medical problems, not to mention pain.  My options?  Re-root canal and re-crown them all, or pull them all and get implants.  The latter was the best choice in terms of making sure the problem was eradicated, and no one could promise the former would go well because of the damage to the structure of my teeth after so many cavities and procedures.

So now I'm in the middle of a long process of fixing this issue (again).  My teeth have been pulled, and (after almost three weeks), I have a "flipper" insert with three fake teeth.  It is almost like a retainer combined with a bridge or partial.  It does the job for now, allowing me to eat a little more normally than I could before, with a huge gap there.  I was supposed to have screws implanted in my jaw at the same time the teeth were pulled; it turns out my roots are too big, so the holes in my jaw were too big to hold the screws steady.  Instead, another delay:  I'll get the screws implanted in another procedure in a few weeks.  Then, about six to eight weeks after that, my new ceramic teeth (veneers) will be cemented on to those screws.  Oh, and in the meantime, I'm getting about another dozen or so cavities filled or old, loose fillings replaced.  I literally have been going to a dentist, endodontist, or periodontist about once every week or two for the last few months, with no end in sight.

I'm also using special toothpaste and mouthwash twice a day -- stuff I got from my dentist that is supposed to change the pH of my mouth, so that I won't get cavities as easily.  Everyone has told me that no one who brushes twice a day and flosses daily (which I do -- the flossing habit became a daily "must" after my root canals five or six years ago!) should have so many cavities.  So we're trying to change my body's makeup.  In addition, I have a timer that will make sure I brush for at least two full minutes every time.

So here I am again, trying to manage my dental health.  It's really frustrating to have to spend a great deal of time and money fixing a problem that was "fixed" a few years ago, also by way of a great deal of time and money being spent.  I guess health is one of those things like weight or grief that is is lifelong struggle.  There will always be challenges, and it's never really "off the table" that it might pop up again.

One thing that is different for me about this -- and about everything in my life -- is that I measure things by whether Brian was alive when they happened.  It's been over two years since he died, and I'm now re-facing issues I faced when he was alive.  For some reason, that makes this all a lot more frustrating.  I thought we had faced this together and tackled it before, and here it is again....or still.  I guess widowhood doesn't exactly give you a pass on getting more bad luck.  I'm just lucky that I"m in a position to be able to fix the problem, and to have Sheldon's support while I do so.  He's been great about driving me to and from procedures that require massive drugging, helping me change my gauze, giving me my antibiotics and pain pills according to the schedule (again, very helpful when I'm loopy on sedatives), filling the fridge with soft foods, and just generally doting on me. 

Seriously, though -- when will this problem really be solved?  Will I ever just have a mouth full of healthy teeth?  Will that only happen when they are all fake?