Monday, December 16, 2013

Birthday Blues

Today would have been Brian's 35th birthday.  He would not have liked it.  First off, he would have been less than excited about hitting that midway point between 30 and 40.  Second of all, it's a Monday.  He much preferred a Friday or Saturday birthday, or even a Thursday, so people could celebrate in style the whole night long.  We probably would have had a blowout party over the weekend, followed by a day of recovery (and pizza) watching football yesterday.  Still, he would have wanted more today.  He'd probably have taken the day off work, stayed home and played video games or fooled around watching internet videos or music DVDs.  Maybe we would have gone to Kenny's Pub in Waukee for steak night, if in fact Monday is still steak night there.  All in all, even a birthday he didn't like very much still would have been pretty darn good.

It's silly to think that someone would see 35 as being old, but he felt that way starting around age 28 or 29.  He just wasn't excited about getting older.  Maybe it was because he was a kid at heart; maybe it was because he was scared to get to the "kids or no kids" phase of our life; maybe he was afraid everything would change with our friends as we grew older and made such choices; maybe he just realized life is short and hated seeing it go by so quickly; or maybe it was because, deep down, his soul knew his time on this world was particularly limited.  Looking back at his attitude on aging, I have mixed feelings.  On the one hand, I think of the youthful ignorance behind not wanting to get older -- surely it beats not getting any older.  Being 35 sure sounds better than never having the chance to reach that age.  We should just relish every day and every year of our lives, and appreciate the bounty of friends, family, fellowship, food, drink, music, fun, faith, and so on.  Every day that we get to do that is a day to enjoy, not to dread.  The older you are, the more opportunity you've had to enjoy what this world offers.

On the other hand, I have to admit that Brian was right.  (God, he would love that I'm admitting this.)  At least in his own case, he actually was nearing the end of his life at 28, 29 years old.  We just didn't know it at the time.  It's strange.  If only we could have slowed down the clock, made him 29 or 30 for just a while longer…

Perhaps a healthy dose of appreciation for enjoying every day needs to be tempered with the awareness that we are all getting older and that every day that goes by represents one less day of your life that remains -- one less day to achieve what you want to accomplish, to take a trip to the place you've always wanted to visit, to tell someone dear how much you love them, to take a chance you've always wanted to take.  Whether or not you are objectively "young" or "old," life is short and our days on this earth are limited.  That is true for all of us, whether we die young or last 100 years.  It's still a finite number of days, and no one has any guarantees.

Make the most out of today.  That's what Brian would have wanted.

Saturday, December 14, 2013

Heavy Hearted Holidays

This year marks the first time I won't be in Iowa for the holidays at all.  I haven't always been there on Christmas Day since moving to Texas, but I have always spent some time there during the holiday season, had some kind of celebration.  Not this year, though, and that's kind of hard.  I made this choice with Sheldon a couple months ago, and with good reason - we went to Iowa in October for another wedding celebration and I returned again in November to attend a charity auction for Brian's animal shelter.  Plus, it is always stressful to try to go to two different states up north.  I have gotten quite sick over the holidays the past two years, probably in part due to the stress and travel.  Not to mention the fact that the cats hate being left alone so long, even though our sweet neighbor Carol checks on them daily (actually, more than once a day).

Still, I was thinking it would be strange this year.  I was missing the idea of seeing everyone, the excitement of the season.  I knew we were making the right choice, but it still tugged at my heart a bit.  Add that to the warm Texas weather, and I just haven't quite been very quick to get into the holiday spirit.  I only started to come around a week or so ago, after we got all our decorations up and went to an ugly sweater party with some friends.  I started to finally get excited about Christmas.

Now, some bad news has come along that is going to make Christmas really, really hard this year.  Sheldon's uncle Matt passed away of a heart attack this week.  He was only 50 years old.  Far too young.  We are still in shock, and very much grieving the loss of this man, who was very close to Sheldon.  Matt got Sheldon into the business he is in now, and we would see him on company trips.  We just spent time with him in Colorado a couple months ago.  He was always around when we were in Cincinnati.  He helped Sheldon plan and orchestrate our engagement, and did a reading at our wedding.  I can't imagine a trip to Cincinnati where I don't see his face, hear his voice, feel his arm around me in a hearty embrace, and smell his cologne.  It just won't be right.

This year, like last, we were to have Christmas dinner at Matt's house.  He was going to make prime rib.  It was amazing last year, one of the highlights of the trip.  He was a great cook and host.

Matt also had season tickets to the Cincinnati Bengals.  Every time we went there, we'd try to go to a game as well.  This year, we'd planned a big group outing to the last game of the season with over a dozen people going.  Matt would have been the heart and soul of this, the one who had the best tailgating spot, who told the best stories, who brought the best food.  He may have been but one of 15 or so people, but his presence (and now absence) was much bigger.  It will not be remotely the same without him.

Matt reminded me of Brian in a lot of ways.  He was big-hearted, big in stature to match, he was outgoing, liked to have fun, liked to drink, not at all shy or reserved, spoke his mind, loved people, loved food, loved football, could be silly at times, and kind of acted kind of like a big kid.  They both liked dirty jokes and Jaegermeister and were the life of the party.  They both had unique voices that I will remember clear as day for the rest of my life.  They both died suddenly on winter mornings, and their deaths were followed by major snowstorms.  These men were powerful forces in life, and their sudden takings from this earth seemed to literally suck the air out of the atmosphere and wreak the same havoc on the weather that their deaths were wreaking on our hearts.

It will be with heavy hearts that we head north this week.  Instead of having Christmas dinner at Matt's house and going to a football game with him, we'll be going to his funeral and comforting his fiancé the best we can, which will be helpful, but I know will never be enough to fill the hole in her heart and life.  Thinking about what she is going through now and what lies ahead for her absolutely breaks my heart.  I know this pain all too well, and wish to God she didn't have to go through it too.

Please keep Matt's family and friends in your prayers this holiday season.  And please, cherish the time you spend with your relatives and friends.  You never know which Christmas will be someone's last.  Live your life with love, have fun, host parties, go to football games or museums or whatever trips your trigger, engage in good conversation, tell funny stories and jokes, and hug one another tightly.  And have a Jaegerbomb for Uncle Matt while you cheer on the Bengals.


Thursday, November 14, 2013

Your (Grief) is Like a Roller Coaster, Baby Baby

My grief is largely under control now, something I carry with me, concealed and small.  I don't cry that much anymore and rather than being actively grieving all the time, I function as a more of a "normal person" whose past just happens to shape the way she thinks, feels, and acts.  Most of the time.

Sometimes, though, I get caught off guard.  Sometimes grief still sneaks up on me and overwhelms me.  My dark days may be less severe and far less frequent than they were two or three years ago, but they are not gone completely.  Despite my overall improvement and well-being, I am not immune from crying spells and bad days.  My grief is kind of like a wild animal that I've spent years training and domesticating.  While it usually rides around with me inside my pocket, sometimes it returns to its feral ways and, when I'm not looking or I forget how strong and savage it can be, it gets out of its neat little spot and attacks me when I least expect it.  It claws me up and sinks its teeth into my skin, but instead of drawing blood it brings a stream of tears.

Obviously, I had a bad day recently.  There was definitely a trigger, one I don't care to discuss, but I had a full day where I simply couldn't stop the tears.  I knew there wasn't much I could do except let them come.  I had to let the emotion out, to validate my feelings.  Each tear was the anguish, the pain, the hurt coming out.  It would do no good to try to fight to keep all that inside.  Why would I?  There was nothing to prove by not crying.

Sheldon was understanding, as always.  He couldn't rationally understand the pain, but he didn't have to.  Emotions don't always listen to reason anyway.  He just let me have space, and gave me lots of hugs.  He let me talk if I wanted, but didn't push.  I told him I just needed a day to process some things and to work through my feelings.  I told him I needed one day to cry.  And I did.  I alternated between sobbing on the couch and silent tears that just flowed without permission while I went about my daily routine.  These tears were coming whether I "allowed" them to or not, and each one carried out a little of my pain.  (That last statement is a scientific fact; tears that are produced from emotional crying actually contain more toxins than those produced from a physical stimulus such as chopping onions or having something in your eye:

What's nice is that now I know that I can handle the ups and downs of grief.  I've lived with it so long that I know I can manage a bad day here and there.  I know that crying and feeling bad are okay and are normal.  I know this isn't permanent.  I know that sometimes, the wild animal that is grief has to be a wild animal, but that it will tucker itself out and I can put a leash on it again eventually and put it back where it belongs.


Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Laces Out

Perhaps you saw the commercials that were running recently featuring Sam Gordon, the girl who is a football phenom, promoting the "Together We Make Football" contest.  The contest allowed people to submit an essay and five photos or a video telling their football story about why they love the sport.  The grand prize was a trip to next year's Superbowl.  Naturally, I was excited and set out writing my essay right away!

I spent hours writing, proofreading, and editing my essay.  I also spent considerable time rifling through years' worth of digital pictures (even busting out an old hard drive) to find the five best pictures that would illustrate my story.  Unfortunately, the amount of time I spent on these tasks would be just the beginning, and I ended up spending just as much, if not more, time just trying to submit my entry due to repeated technical glitches and ended up feeling about as crazy as Ray Finkle in Ace Ventura…hence the name of this blog post.

Here's exactly what happened.  The contest ended at midnight on Tuesday, November 5.  By the 4th, my essay and pictures were ready to go!  I started trying to submit them that morning.  The website had you first fill out your personal information.  Then, there was a box for uploading pictures and a box for submitting your essay.  Once those things were done, a blue button below read "Submit Your Photos" The first several times, the blue box to submit the photos wouldn't light up - it remained pale.  Eventually, I figured out that I needed to first copy and paste the essay, then upload the photos one by  one.  If I did that, the "Submit Your Photos" button would light up and could be clicked.  Still, I kept getting error messages.  The message said something to the effect of "Sorry, there was an error uploading one of your photos.  Please try again later."  This happened every. Damn. Time.

I read and re-read the contest rules.  My photos were well below the maximum size allowed.  The rules said the photos could not have been edited at all, and I had cropped them, so I thought maybe that was the problem.  I went back through my old files to dig up the un-cropped versions for submission.  No luck.

I thought maybe it was my computer.  I was at a friend's house, so I emailed my essay and photos to her and tried it from her computer.  Same result.  I asked Sheldon to try from his computer.  Same problem. Another friend offered to try from her computer.  She also had the same problem.

I tried using less than all 4 photos, tried using different photos.  I figured maybe there was a glitch with one of them, so I tried systematically removing each photo, one by one, and only submitting four of them.  I STILL got the same error message.

I thought maybe web traffic was just too high on the site, so I tried in the middle of the night.  Repeatedly.  I got the error message.  Repeatedly.

I thought maybe Internet Explorer was the issue….until I got the same error message using Firefox and Google Chrome.

I bet that in all, at least 75 attempts were made over the course of 36 hours by four different people using four different computers and at least three different operating systems.  We were ALL unable to submit my essay.  I was getting incredibly frustrated, but I always like to try to plan for the worst-case scenario.  I decided that since the error was photo-related, that I would just submit my essay without the photos and add a couple sentences explaining my technical issues and asking to submit photos another way, by email or something.  This meant I had to pare down my essay a bit more though, to squeeze that explanation in and still stay under the word limit for the essay.  I did that, and….STILL got the same error message!

At this point, I had literally spent hours just trying to submit my entry and was very frustrated.  I had no idea what to do, so I posted my essay and photos on Facebook, asking my friends to share the status to the NFL's Facebook page.  The problem?  You can't "share" something on a business page, only that of a friend.  You have to post it directly, not using the "share" function.  So I did that.  I posted my story on the NFL page directly, and in the comments section of a post they had made promoting the contest.  On the same thread, I reported my technical issues and found I was not the only one having this problem.

Desperate, I even tweeted the NFL asking about the problem.  I got some tweets in response suggesting various things to try (including, ironically, cropping the photos and saving them a special way with Photoshop).  None of them worked.  Eventually, I got a direct message from someone with the NFL saying he would try to submit my entry for me before the deadline.  I thanked him profusely.  The next day he told me he wasn't actually able to submit it after all, but would still see what he could do and told me to "stay tuned."  I haven't heard anything since, so I decided I'd write this post.  I plan to post a link to this post on the NFL's Facebook page, tweet it to the NFL, and send a direct message with the link to my contact at the NFL.  I want someone in charge to see what this contest experience was like for me (and probably many other fans, though I doubt any were as manically rabid about continuing to try to post their entries scores of times using a network of friends and family).  Most importantly, though, I wanted my story to be told.  I wrote this essay hoping it would be read.  I truly believe my football story is powerful and moving, and football means the world to me.  I just want to tell my story one way or another.  If this is my only platform, so be it.


In the seventh grade, I made the football cheerleading squad.  Not knowing too much about the game, I started watching college football on weekends and tried to learn the basics of football from the other girls on the squad.  In high school, I continued cheering and started dating a football player. Brian and I would spend Sundays watching games with his family.  He taught me not just about downs and player positions, but also about Papa Bear Halas, Walter Payton, and the Superbowl Shuffle.  The boy bled blue and orange, and quickly converted me into a Bears fan.

My last Bears game with Brian
Once we got to college, Brian and I had our own weekend ritual during football season.  I would stay in his dorm room on Saturday nights, we’d have a frozen pizza for dinner, and on Sundays we would sleep in as late as we possibly could while allowing time to hit the cafeteria and be back in time for the noon kickoff. 

A few years later, Brian and I got married.  By that point, I was as big a Bears fan as he was.  My "something blue" on our wedding day was a Chicago Bears garter.

In our first home, we converted our basement into a Chicago Bears bar - the Boka Bear Den (Boka being our last name). We filled the walls with banners and memorabilia, down to the Bears keg tapper.  We loved having parties for Bears games and also cherished our annual trip with “Da Tailgating Crew” from Des Moines to Soldier Field for a game.  My favorite memory at Soldier Field was witnessing Devin Hester return two touchdowns one frigid Chicago night to help the Bears defeat the Broncos in overtime.  Whether at home or at the stadium, we loved watching football together.

Tattoo tribute
Tragically, after five years of marriage, Brian passed away suddenly of a pulmonary embolism.  As friends and family filled my house that cold Sunday in January, we turned on the television to the playoff games.  As his brother said, it wouldn't be right to be at our house and not be watching football.  I don't really remember much of that postseason, but I do remember the way our friends, family, and the members of his fantasy football league came together to support me.  I had a Superbowl party at our house less than a month after his passing because we always had one and that's what he would have wanted.  That fall, I hosted the annual draft for the fantasy league that he founded eight years prior.  I was honored to be given Brian’s place in the league, as a player and as the commissioner.  That year, we had the trophy named in his honor.

In time, I decided to start anew.  I moved 1,000 miles away to Austin, Texas.  I wasn't going to abandon my team, though, or my husband's memory.  I got a tattoo in remembrance of Brian -- a Chicago Bears "C" set against a shamrock background -- a tribute to the big, Irish guy who made me love football and whose mark on my life would never fade away.  I remained active in his fantasy league, too, and won the trophy that had eluded him for over a decade.  I went on our annual trip to Soldier Field with our friends, and we celebrated a bittersweet victory without him. 
First Bengals game with Sheldon

Eventually, I met another Midwest-to-Texas transplant.  Sheldon was from Cincinnati, but lived in San Antonio.  We began dating, and one of the first times I visited him was for the 2011 Superbowl…in part because he had a better TV than any of my friends.  One Sunday, watching football together on the couch, he told me how much he loved that I was a fan of the game.  He enjoyed watching me me and liked that I didn't feel ignored on Sundays (because I, too, was on my laptop, following fantasy scores and the Bears game blog).  For my part, I was just glad he wasn’t a Packers fan!

This summer, Sheldon and I got married. Now I’m in two fantasy leagues – one started by my late husband, and one founded and run by my current husband – and I dream of winning both trophies in the same year. 

First playoff game - in Houston!  (Tank top in January?! Okay!)
While I’m no longer able to make an annual trek to Soldier Field, Sheldon and I see our teams whenever they play in Texas -- we gleefully watched the Bears destroy the Cowboys in Dallas last season, and been crushed by Bengals playoff losses in Houston the past two years.  We also catch Bengals games when we visit his friends and family in Cincinnati. These game day experiences together have given birth to a dream of ours to see a game in every NFL stadium.  This fall, we were able to cross Mile High off our list. 

Ready to see my fantasy QB in Denver!
Rooting for a different team than my husband is something new, but it has its perks.  When the Bears and Bengals played earlier this year, the result was not just a Bears victory, but also that I got out of laundry for two weeks!  For the most part, though, we enjoy getting to have two teams to root for, giving us twice the chances to celebrate a win.

The past four years of my life have been filled with ups and downs, awful times and joyous moments.  One of the things that got me through it all was football. Football provided a distraction when one was needed, an opportunity for my friends to surround me with love, fond memories of my time with Brian, and fertile ground for new love to take root. Football made me the person I am today and the person Sheldon fell in love with.  I wouldn’t be who I am or where I am without football, and I love football for that.

Monday, November 11, 2013

And Miles to go Before I Sleep

My car hit 100,000 miles recently.  And by "my car," I mean the Mitsubishi SUV that used to belong to Brian.  The car we took to Austin on our last trip there together, about 10 months before he died.  The first, and only, brand new car he ever bought.  It wasn't even paid off when he died, and had about half as many miles then as it does now.  I've put my fair share on with many trips between Iowa and Texas, plus miles accrued showing houses and driving between Austin and San Antone.

The car's been good to me.  I've had a few fender-benders in it, but she's in good shape overall.  It's a little messier inside than Brian would have kept it, but that's okay; he wouldn't have really liked me driving it at all anyway.  I did clean it out pretty thoroughly, complete with vacuuming, and then got it washed just before I hit the 100K mark.  That was in part because of my awareness of how he would have kept the vehicle himself, and in part because it had gotten way too messy for my own standards.

Sheldon got a new truck recently.  Before that, he'd been talking about getting me a better car.  He keeps saying that when we have kids, he wants to have them in the best, safest vehicle possible.  He wants to spoil me and have me live and drive as comfortably as possible.  I keep telling him I don't need or necessarily even want a new vehicle.  So now he got himself one, and maybe we'll revisit the idea of me getting a new car down the road (haha) a ways, when his truck is paid off (I hate the idea of having more than one car payment).  I still don't know if I will ever be ready to get rid of the Mitsubishi though -- I have a definite emotional connection, besides just loving its utility.  It can fit a lot of stuff, drives well, has been solid mechanically.  I like how high up I sit while driving it.  I also love the Bears helmet bobble head guy hanging from the rear view mirror, left behind by Brian and now festooned with pins from my yoga studio and skeeball league in Austin.

I know someday it won't make sense for me to keep this car….but I'm just glad that day is not today.  

Monday, October 28, 2013

The Big D's

No, this isn't a post about my breasts, although 2 out of 2 husbands would chest is blog-worthy.  If you're looking for boobie jokes, though, I recommend my friend Kristen's blog:  (You might notice her top blog post is, in fact, about having sizeable chest melons.)

Of course, my blog is less about dirty, witty humor and more about grief, struggle, and deep emotional issues.  You know, the kind of thing that really makes you feel warm and fuzzy inside.  So the big D's referred to in this post's title are....drumroll, please....Death and Divorce.  Fun, right?  I'm sure you can't wait to dive right in!

When I was a new widow, I was desperate to find tools to help me cope with my loss and profound grief.  I devoured books about grief, I struggled through some intensely painful sessions with a grief counselor (which helped as much as or more than they hurt), I joined an online community for widows and widowers for virtual support, and I went to a handful of grief support group meetings.  At these meetings, I struggled to find people like me.  Of course, in some ways, the experience of losing a spouse is universal - the loneliness, the loss of a life plan, the questions over things like whether to wear a wedding ring and what to say when people ask about your spouse.  Yet, being so young, I was not the typical case.  I wanted to find others who would relate to me more closely, so shortly after moving to Austin, I posted a couple times on different websites looking to form a group of young people dealing with grief.  Only a couple people replied, not enough to form a group, so that idea fizzled out relatively quickly.  One of the responses, though, was from a young woman whose long-time partner had left her, and she was grieving the end of the relationship.  She wanted to join a support group to help her cope with this.  I don't honestly remember if I replied to her email or not, given the general lakc of interest I found, but I knew I wasn't interested in being in a support group with her.  I couldn't bring myself to compare our experiences, or to think that we were going through the same thing.  I mean, she was going through a break-up, and I was a widow.  She was dealing with life, and I was dealing with death.  I certainly felt bad for her, but also was almost offended that she reached out to me.  At that point, though, I was really looking for someone who had walked a mile in my shoes, and she hadn't.

A few months later, I became good friends with a woman named Heather, who started to read my blog as a way to cope with her sense of loss after going through a divorce.  Coincidentally, she moved to Austin to heal, just like I had.  She was very careful about choosing her words when she talked about how my blog had helped her, and made a point to say she knew that our experiences didn't really compare.  Still, in that first conversation with her, I realized that we were going through some of the same feelings and emotional aftermath as a result of our experiences, different as those might have been.

Since then, I've had several friends and family members who've gone through divorces.  At first, you'd think that death and divorce are very different experiences.  And they are -- especially if the divorce is mutually agreed upon, or if you're talking about the party who wanted the divorce.  But for those whose spouses made the unilateral decision that they wanted out of the marriage (or long-term relationship), our experiences are more similar than you'd think.  Sadly, I've had several friends in this boat in the last few years -- their worlds, their lives, their futures upended and taken away, sometimes suddenly and sometimes painstakingly over months or years.  None of us chose to have our spouses leave us.  None of us wanted to divert our life paths.  None of us wanted to be alone.  We all had to grieve the loss of our partner and mourn the fact that the future, the life, the plans we had will not happen.

That being said, it is NOT a good idea to say to a new widow or widower, "I know how you feel.  When I got divorced..."  This would not have sat well with me when I was in the depth of my grief, and is not very sensitive to that person who is in so much pain.  You'll just look like an asshole, because it's not the same.  Tread very carefully when saying you know how someone feels because you went through an entirely different situation (this applies to everything not just taking to widows and widowers).  I used to be quite offended when people who were divorced would compare our experiences.  I thought, "That's so different!  In a divorce, someone made the choice for that to happen.  Neither of us chose for Brian to die.  God made that happen to us, not either of us.  We were happy."   Still, in time I started to see some similarities, and this was in part because I was witness to several unwanted divorces.  In each case, it helped that my friends recognized that although we went through some of the same things, our experiences were different.  They were all very good at saying, "This is nothing like what you went through, but..."  And then I would say something along the lines of, "I know it is different, but I also know some of the feelings that result are the same."

In sharing our experiences as friends, we can acknowledge the similarities and differences in our experiences and the feelings we have.  I have come to realize that while both are very traumatic and painful, death and divorce present different challenges.

If you get divorced, you lack the finality of death.  In my case, Brian's body stopped working when he died.  Science dictated that he was physically gone.  No one and nothing could change that.  From that moment on, the grief began, and then the healing.  In a divorce, things aren't so cut and dried.  A lot of people end up second-guessing themselves, and sometimes a couple will give things another try, even in the midst of or after the divorce proceedings.  There is no metaphysical barrier preventing you from working on the relationship, even if it seems dead.  This can delay the realization that a relationship, a life as one knew it, is over.  It can keep a person focused on rekindling the relationship and prevent them from mourning its demise.  With a living ex-partner, there is also much more room for anger.  Of course, it is normal for a grieving widow or widower to have anger -- not just at God, but also at their departed spouse for leaving them (not all emotions are rational, after all) -- but the fact is that for divorcees, this anger is more rooted in reality and can easily be fed by nasty divorce proceedings and ongoing issues between the parties, particularly if they have children together.  Simply put, death is more of a clean break than divorce.  The bandage gets ripped off, and then you start to heal.  With divorce, the bandage is slo-o-wly removed, maybe put back on after you peek at the wound, maybe replaced, before it is eventually taken off.  Only then can the recovery begin.

Finality of loss is a double-edged sword, however.  One of the hardest things to accept in coping with death is knowing that you will never EVER hear that person's voice or laugh again, that they are truly gone from your life on this earth.  That is a hard realization, and one that you never have to embrace if you're mourning the loss of a relationship and not the loss of your spouse's life.  It is hard to wrap your mind around the idea that this person you loved and spent your life with does not exist anymore and is gone from this world.  

Related to that is the fact that death will almost invariably cause you to examine your spiritual beliefs.  When someone you love is gone, you wonder where they are, if they are with you, whether they are in a better place, etc.  You might question everything you've ever been taught, you might be sick with anxiety over the soul of the departed, you might find faith anew in signs from beyond.  Whatever your experience, death takes you down this journey whether you intended to think about such things or not.  You can remain blissfully ignorant or choose to not worry about such things if you're divorced, because you don't have that feeling of responsibility for or a vested interest in the soul of someone who has left the physical world.

Another difference is in the way death and divorce are treated by the rest of the world.  Divorce carries a stigma and shame, while being a widow or widower causes people to bestow a strange mixture of pity and admiration on you.  I was praised so much for being so "brave" and "strong," yet I don't see how I've done anything praise-worthy.  Bravery is choosing to face daunting odds -- running into a burning house to save the children inside, rescuing a dog whose fallen through the ice into freezing cold water, etc.  I just lived the life I was given; I'm no hero.  I simply did what I had to do.  What else could I do?  On the other hand, the rules about how to move on are clearer for divorced folks.  It's assumed that you'll date again and go on with life.  You probably won't cry on your new partner's shoulder when an ex-husband's birthday rolls around, but you very well might do that on your late spouse's birthday.  By the same token, only one of those is socially acceptable, so at least a widow can continue to grieve and heal while forging a new relationship.  It might be that dating divorcees feel more pressure to keep their residual pain and emotional hang-ups hidden from new partners.

I could go on and on about these losses, how they are similar and how they are different.  I will say that there are many similarities in how someone who chooses neither reacts when life hands them one of these anyway.  I have had conversations with other widows and with divorcees about our feelings of loss, about how to cope with being suddenly alone, about having to grieve the futures we thought we were going to have, about how to re-enter the dating world as adults who never thought we'd be there again, etc.  I think my experience has given me an insight on what my friends were going through, no matter the reason they were there.  Although our experiences were different, some of our feelings were the same.  We are all trying to walk the path of recovery, healing, and finding happiness again.  In doing so, we have strengthened our resolve, our friendships, our emotional intelligence and our ability to support each other in hard times.  What hasn't killed us has made us stronger.  

It's easy to get caught up in our differences, but sometimes it turns out that our similarities are stronger than they appear.  Rather than worry about who has had it worse or whose pain was greater (How does one quantify that anyway?  And why would you want to?), I have come to see that the path I've walked has made me a more empathic, compassionate person and I can relate to people a lot more than I could before.  Having walked with pain and grief, I know what it is like and I know that, regardless of the source of one's woes, you can come out stronger and better for it.

How have you dismissed someone's pain and hurt because you think you had it worse?  Is it possible your experiences are more similar than you care to admit?  If you focus on how people are feeling rather than the outward cause of their pain, you'll come to find that heartache and loss are the same for everyone.  Sharing feelings doesn't have to be a competitive game of who has it the worst; instead, it should be about drawing on your own experiences to help you be compassionate and understand toward others who are hurting.  

Monday, October 14, 2013

Contrary to Popular Opinion

I've been struggling with some thoughts or experiences I've been having lately, and I think this is part of the reason I haven't been blogging as much (that, and planning a wedding takes a lot of time!).  The reality is that I'm no longer struggling with how to manage my grief, but how to life my life and move forward.  It's a different phase of widowhood, and in some ways, it's hard to acknowledge these experiences and feelings.

I've worried about how or whether to share everything.  I think about what other people will say or think - especially Brian's friends and relatives.  Still, I started writing as a way to not only process my emotions and experiences, but also to share my journey with others who are in my shoes, to let them know that what they are feeling is normal.  I feel like I'd be disingenuous if I didn't share some of these things that have been rolling around my head, things I've been afraid to write about for fear of being seen as a bad person or a less-than-admirable widow.  I've wrestled with these fears and with the thought that I want to be sensitive to others who grieve Brian's death, but I've decided that it's time to share more about my journey now, in the interest of full disclosure.  I know there are other widows and widowers who read this blog and who, like myself, are years out from their loss and who are navigating life and love in a different way than they were when the loss was fresh.  I have to keep reporting from the field for them as well as for myself, so here goes....

Sometimes I will go an entire day, or more, without thinking about Brian.  He is forever embedded in my soul and in that way, he is with me every moment of every day.  That being said, I don't necessarily miss him or talk to him every single day.  People tend to say things like, "Not a day goes by that I don't miss him and think about him."  That's not the case for me, and I'm sure there are a lot of people in my shoes who would agree.  Don't get me wrong -- I think about him a lot, and talk about him freely and frequently.  But it's more in the manner of telling stories about an old friend and recalling memories than it is me mourning his death or longing to see him again.  There is no joy or purpose in doing that, but telling stories keeps his memory alive and makes him a part of my life on an ongoing basis.  In my mind, that is a better way to treat his memory and a healthier thing for me to do.  It's also what he would have wanted.  When he died, I had to mourn the loss of what would not come to be, and one part of that was crying over the fact that we wouldn't grow old with his friends (Hart in particular), telling the same stories of our silly youthful antics that we had already told and re-told a hundred times.  I thought we'd all be old fogies together, telling those same tales.  I realize now that the stories will live on, but now it will be Hart and I telling them to Sheldon.

Another thing that I never thought would happen is that my memories of Brian are fading somewhat.  There have been a few times when I think about a memory of my past and I can't remember if it happened with Brian or with Sheldon, or whether Brian was still alive when a certain thing happened or if it was after he died.  For a long time, everything was starkly divided into two segments of my life:  before Brian died, and after.  Now, the line isn't as sharp.  The other day, Sheldon asked me if Brian had liked a particular food as we cooked dinner together.  I honestly wasn't sure.  I no longer have every preference, every memory, every quirk of his embedded into the surface of my brain and at the top of my mind.

It's weird to admit these things or acknowledge them, but they are part of the inevitable process of time moving forward, my brain getting more crowded, and the significance of the little details fading as the rest of my life unfolds.  I don't remember if he liked bell peppers because it really isn't that important.  I know I'll remember and cherish the most important things, but I'm finally able to see what is and isn't important.  I think when someone dies, you put them on a pedastal for a while and everything connected to them takes on more importance, more than it even did when they were alive -- that's why I struggled to throw away his pomade and toothbrush, when they were things that would have made their way to the trash can without a second thought when he was alive and they were all used up.  Now that the dust has settled a bit, things have fallen back into their natural order a bit more.

Whether I think of Brian consciously or not, whether I remember the small details or not, he is always in my heart and has irreversibly guided the course of my life, from the city I chose to live in to my selection of a new life partner.  I don't have to pretend to conform to certain expectations or ideals of what widowhood is to honor him, and I'm not going to anymore.  Brian valued truth, and it's time for me to share some of the less romantic realities of what my life is now.  This is part of my rebuilding.

Wednesday, October 9, 2013

Young, Widowed & Remarried

It's official - Sheldon and I are married!  Okay, it's actually been official for over three months now, but I had to take some time to reflect on everything and decide what to share.

We had a pretty short engagement -- about six months.  We wanted to get married as soon as we could because we saw no reason to wait -- we are in our thirties, we've been living together for a couple years, and we knew we were ready.

One thing that made me so sure about Sheldon - although anyone who would meet him would understand why I love him - was the fact that I had been in love and married before.  I knew what work went into running a household and into tending a marriage, and I knew we could do that well together.  

It felt a little weird to be planning a second wedding (though it was his first) -- I felt a little bashful or ashamed of the attention that is showered on brides-to-be.  I didn't want an engagement party or bridal shower, although I did acquiesce when some friends wanted to throw us an engagement party (and I am glad I did).  We did have bachelor and bachelorette parties, but nothing too crazy.  Sheldon and some of his buds went to the beach for a weekend of fishing and golfing.  I had a girls' weekend in at the house, making wedding decorations Friday night and wine-tasting on Saturday with my friends in Texas and our mothers.  Sheldon drove the van we rented for the occasion.  I had a lot of fun planning the wedding, particularly with the encouragement of my good friend Gabby, who was an enthusiastic personal attendant/co-planner, with a hot glue gun burn on her arm to show for it (oddly enough, it matches one I got the same night as we made centerpieces around my kitchen table together).  Still, I have to admit that I felt a little weird inviting people to my second wedding in a decade's time -- I was afraid to infringe on the lives of my family and friends by asking them to commit to another weekend of wedding activities on my behalf.  I was ambivalent about having a gift registry, but in the end realized people would bring gifts anyway and we picked out a few things we could use or that needed to be replaced.  We also picked a couple charities for people to donate to in lieu of gifts, one of them being the animal shelter where Brian had volunteered.

We ended up having a fantastic wedding - and I have to say, I think part of that was also because I'd planned one before.  It's funny - brides expect or feel pressured to create a "perfect day" on their first attempt at pulling off such an event!  At least this time around, I knew what was important and what wasn't.  I had consciously vowed to be more calm and to not worry so much about the details.  I knew from having gone through it before that it doesn't matter if there are personalized napkins, or if the white of the cake doesn't match the shade of the dress, etc.  It's about love, celebration, and the union of two lives into one family. 

That doesn't mean I didn't pay attention to the details though...we put in a new mantle and repainted the fireplace in anticipation for the reception, and Sheldon was very detail-oriented in getting the yard to look perfect.  We hung white string and globe lights in the backyard, I acquired tablecloths and runners on Craigslist, I oversaw the making of centerpieces (painted bottle vases), yard lanterns and hanging lanterns, and the list goes on.  Instead of a guest book, my mom made a fingerprint tree -- she drew a tree and guests put green "leaves" on with an inkpad and their fingers or thumbs and signed next to those.  We did the flowers and food ourselves, with me making up the gin lemonade the morning of the event.  We had a port-a-potty brought in for outside, and the two bathrooms inside had flowers and baskets of toiletries and the like.  We cleared out two rooms of our house to turn them into the buffet room and the coffee lounge.  There was a dance floor and a photo booth.  We had a bartender who served beer, wine, gin lemonade, old fashioneds, manhattans, and a fine selection of whiskeys and mixers, with cigars to go along.  Oh, boy, were there details....

I struggled, too, with how to behave as a widow planning a wedding.  Should I pay some tribute to Brian, such as a mention of him in the ceremony or flowers at the altar in his memory?  I was afraid of insulting his memory if I ignored him, but afraid of drawing attention away from Sheldon and my union if I did.  I worried about what people would think either way -- if I did honor him, or if I didn't.  In the end, I decided that rather than a formal tribute or token mention of him in a few written or spoken words, I'd let his influence shape the day organically.  Some of the musical selections were songs or artists he had liked, or that he had introduced to me.  There was a photo from our wedding in the DVD slideshow of our lives that Sheldon and I played at the reception.  Several members of his family were there, and many more friends who came into my life through him.   My one big way of honoring him was more private - I found an antique locket for my "something old" and inserted photos of Brian and me on our wedding day in 2004; the locket was tied to my bouquet.  In the end, I didn't feel the need to draw attention to him, but I also didn't feel the need to exclude him.  I do feel that he was there with us.
Aside from the fine line I walked trying to plan a wedding celebration appropriately as a widow, there were the inside thoughts and feelings about what a marriage is, what it really meant to be traveling this road.  Again, but with a new partner.  I thought about what the vows mean, what a marriage is.  I know Sheldon will be there in good times and in bad, because he has been a rock through some of the worst times of my life.  I thought about how much more I understood the gravity of the promises we were making now as opposed to the first time, when I was so much younger and didn't really know what we were getting into.  I thought about the fact that I can't just call Brian "my husband" anymore, because that title belongs to Sheldon now.  I cried about that and struggled to figure out new terminology.  (I alternate between "my late husband," "my first husband," and "Brian" depending on the context.)  I wondered how Brian felt about all this, and sought some guidance to explore and handle these thoughts.  I wondered how Brian's young nieces were interpreting all these events, and how I might be perceived by others.  

Worse, I thought about the fact that the unthinkable could happen again, and I had a nightmare about it just the other night.  But I realized that not getting married wouldn't change that risk -- just by loving him and sharing my life with him, I risk the pain of losing him, but I have chosen to be with him anyway because I couldn't go through life afraid to life to avoid pain.  I chose to go out on a limb and love again.  I thought of the Garth Brooks song "The Dance," which was played on the DVD tribute to Brian at his funeral.  The chorus is:

Now I'm glad I didn't know
The way it all would end,
The way it all would go.
Our lives are better left to chance.
I could have missed the pain,
But I'd have had to miss the dance.

I knew that I had to keep dancing.  So we rented a dance floor.


Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Lawfully Wedded Widow

It's been interesting to be in my shoes and planning a wedding.  Lots of things come up that wouldn't be an issue to a "normal" bride.  Some random thoughts on that below.

Am I going to change my name?  Yes.  I'll be taking Sheldon's last name, and will be making Brian's last name my new middle name.  I plan to keep using "Boka" professionally, though, as all my professional references, degrees, certifications, publications, appearances, etc. are under that name.  I don't want to have anyone who is called as a reference to say, "Who?!" because they don't know me with my new name.

In terms of weddings, they bring out opinions from everyone.  About everything.  Who should or shouldn't be on the guest list.  Who should walk me down the aisle.  How many chairs should be on each side of the aisle.  What everyone should wear.  Whether we should have a cake or not. 

In all these opinions, what I really need to focus on is making the best decisions for Sheldon and me.  Still, these decisions are not easy.  On top of the normal 1,001 decisions to make, there is this:  What is the best way to honor Brian's memory and role in my life, while not taking away from what the day is, which is a celebration of the love between me and Sheldon? 

And of course, wedding guests love to critique.  It's at the corners of my mind, what people will say about ways I do (or don't) pay tribute to Brian.  I don't think I'm going to share the details of how I plan to do so before the wedding, or in any written form in the program or anything.  Those who are close enough to me will know from having talked to me how I will be honoring him that day.  Those who were close to Brian may recognize his footprint on the day in some of the details; and those who weren't close to him don't need to be specifically told which details can be traced back to him because they will all fit together beautifully whether you know the back story or not.

So what's my wedding going to be like?  It's less formal than many.  A ceremony in the park and a reception at our house, in the backyard.  There will be a dance floor and bar, and buffet-style bar-be-que.  I'm buying my flowers from a grocery store and making bouquets and boutonnieres with help from family and friends.  We are making most of our own food, with help from a neighbor.  We'll have a friend of a friend as the bartender, another friend as DJ, and a friend is officiating the ceremony.  We are writing our own vows, which will certainly be shaped by what I've gone through before (because that has shaped my ability to love, and it set the stage for our love).  We are making our own decorations, a process that has been in the works for a few months and is really coming together well now.  My dress is white, and I bought it from a traditional bridal store, but it is not full length and fou-fou-y.  The guys are wearing khakis and white shirts.  No monogrammed napkins, no ice sculpture, no lighted waterfall on the cake (until recently, we were thinking no cake at all).

Most of all?  Love.  Lots of love.

I can't wait for the wedding day to arrive!


Tuesday, May 7, 2013


Lately I've felt pulled in a million directions.  Am I doing all I need to be, all I can be doing, all I should be as a real estate agent, a lawyer, a fiancée, a friend, a sister, a daughter, a daughter-in-law, a soon-to-be daughter-in-law, etc.?  How about as ME?  As Wendy?  Am I taking care of myself? 

I've been having trouble sleeping and have had anxiety lately.  Not panic attacks, but heartburn, loss of appetite, tearful spells, and insomnia.  It seems that my to-do list grows and grows, even as I feebly cross things off.  And every time I turn around, I get another text, email or phone call -- and more often than not, it's someone needing something else.  Last night I went to bed at half past midnight (had to stay up to see the exciting double-overtime Spurs playoff win!) and after laying in bed awake until 3-something, finally got up and started doing things in the middle of the night/morning.  I started making a to-do list, emailing, and organizing for today.  Then I went to the couch to watch TV until I dozed off about 4 or 5...only to wake up a few hours later. 

One thing's for sure....I've neglected writing.  I've neglected self-reflection and me time.

But enough about me -- I feel like I'm letting people down all the time.  I know there are people waiting on me for things -- favors they've asked of me and that I agreed to do, cards I've been meaning to write, gifts I've been meaning to order and mail for various occasions, a guest room that remains unsuitable for the family visiting in a couple days, a stool sample I need to collect and get to the vet (nothing wrong - just routine testing), etc.  How do I get all these things done, and fulfill my social obligations to all my family and friends, while working and planning a wedding?  I feel like there are a lot of balls in the air, and it seems more keep getting thrown in my direction.

I'm trying to find some balance again....but please, bear with me while I tread water for a while.  Soon enough, I'll find my way back to a place where I can stand comfortably with my head above the water.

Monday, March 25, 2013

So Much to Say, So Much to Say...

But, most importantly, this:

Sheldon and I are engaged!

I am one happy woman.

There's been a lot of stuff happen that I haven't written about yet or that I am working on writing about -- the proposal, the holidays, a death in the family, the IRS, dental work, running.  So I kind of stopped writing for a while because I wasn't keeping up with things as they were happening -- but I thought I'd just do a quick blurb to the blogworld to say this:

I am a widow, and I am happy.  I love my life. 

I still cry about Brian's death, I still talk to Brian at times, and I will always talk about Brian.  Sometimes certain situations are made harder because of my grief or because of things that go along with being a widow.  But I've also learned and grown so much in the past three years, and I believe I am a better person now than I was when Brian was alive, when I was sort of blissfully ignorant to the realities of life and death.  I have a greater capacity for love and compassion than I once did, and a greater appreciation for happiness and life.  I am in a better place now than I ever have been.

Let me be clear -- it is not as if getting engaged has "fixed" me or taken away my grief.  Does it make me happy to be engaged to Sheldon?  Yes, more than I can say.  Does it put me in a better place than I was?  Yes, because I love him and my life is better with him than it was without it.  He is a wonderful person and I am lucky to have him as my partner.  Does it mean my grieving is over?  No.  That will be a part of me forever.  Does this mean I will no longer think about Brian, talk about him, talk about my loss, think of myself as a widow?  Of course not.  It's just that now, I will be a widow and a wife.  And I am happy.

We are getting married in a few months.  I'm sure I'll be blogging a lot about the upcoming wedding, my feelings and emotions that this brings up, the practical questions for a soon to be wedded widow, etc. on top of a ton of other things I've not yet covered.  For now, a blog icebreaker was in store to announce our happy news.

I am in love and I am happy!!  This year marks a new beginning for me, a new chapter in my life, and I look forward to writing the rest of my story.

Thursday, January 17, 2013

3 Years and Counting...

Today's marks three years since Brian's passing.  The day was so awful, so painful, so surreal.  It will forever be burned into my being.

Still, more than that day, I will always remember him.  Here is what I posted on Facebook today:

"It's hard to believe three years have passed since we've heard you laugh, seen you smiling and playing air guitar, or felt your arms around us. I miss your voice, your zest for life, your common sense and quick wit, your musical stylings, ...the way my head fit in that space in your chest, and laughing until we cried. I thank you for loving me, for sharing your life with me, and for making me a better person. Brian Steven Boka, 12/16/78 - 1/17/10....but with us always.
Those of you who knew Brian should do something fun and indulgent to remember him today. Those of you who didn't....well, he'd want you to do the same! Honor him by enjoying whiskey, wine, music, your favorite foods, playing Rock Band, spending time with friends, board games, cuddling with pets, watching silly YouTube videos, playing some vinyl, or having great sex."
I am having trouble posting pictures for some reason, but I also put up several pics on FB that were some of my favorites, that captured his spirit and joy.
More on this day, and lots of other stuff, to come soon....
In the meantime, enjoy life!  Brian did that as much and as well as anyone you'd ever hope to meet.  I plan to honor him by continuing to do just that, along with a bottle of one of his favorite wines.