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.