Friday, December 20, 2013

The Ugly

You've probably heard this before, but death is not pretty.  Much like birth it is messy, painful and laborious.  Something we all must go through, and yet in our society, so cloaked in shadow and fear that until you actually are present for the process of death you may not really comprehend it.

When I am lucky, I can remember the good times. Falling in love, raising our babies and sharing our small victories. The richness of two lives woven together, and all of the joy that brought... and still brings, even though there is a huge piece missing.

And then there are other times. Times that come out of nowhere, catch me fully awake as I go about my daily life or hit me as I fall asleep, my mind relaxed enough to let in a barrage of memories I cannot forget.

Blood everywhere.  Being told to buy red or black sheets and towels so that if my husband bled out at some point it would be less scary for our kids.

The gaps between breaths. The SOUND of someone you love struggling to do the one thing we all do effortlessly everyday.

Being handed a sheet of paper and told to make arrangements for the disposal of the body. As if that body wasn't still lying in my living room, struggling through another day.

A friend of mine, who had lost her first husband years earlier, tried to prepare me. "There will be a sound that comes out of you when it happens. You won't even know you are making it." She was right. I screamed that day in a way I never had before, even in the throes of pain so awful I thought I must be ripping apart. It was not a cry, I couldn't do that yet. I didn't make that sound again until 6 months after Jason died and the numbing fog I was in began to clear a little.  It is the sound of pure grief, and it is primal. It is horrifying. It is cleansing.

That is another grief I have had to contend with. I thought, hoped, that surely he would die peacefully.  That I could hold his hand and whisper my love to him and make it somehow easier to let go. Surely,  he deserved that. But it didn't happen that way. And those memories still claw their way to the forefront of my mind and leave me in a panic. They won't stop, but I hope someday they will become less powerful. I hope someday I can use them to help others in the same situation,  even if just a little.

Tuesday, December 10, 2013


As expected,  this time of year is proving to be... difficult. Even though I have come a long way, healed up a little bit, gotten a little bit stronger... there are moments (who am I kidding... hours, days really) when I am knocked flat on my ass. It becomes hard to breathe, the dark clouds gather above me and every ounce of energy dries up and I'm left exhausted.  Motionless. Despairing. Everything is suddenly TOO MUCH. I hate being alone and yet I can't stand to be around people... especially the ones who love me. I am paranoid... why is everyone staring? What have I done now? How much of my crazy is showing through this carefully constructed facade? Everyone must think I'm stupid, pathetic. Or maybe I'm doing too well... maybe I don't care anymore. The numbness that has become such a familiar companion comes rushing back and even a smile is too hard to fake. Look at me, I'm still going. I'm even happy sometimes. I'm a monster.

I know that isn't true. I'm not fine and I am, at the same time. And that is ok. I can be despondent and sad and angry at the very same time that I feel immense gratitude and joy and comfort. That is the nature of this beast.

Because there is such a delicate balance.  Sometimes I am perfectly level and I stand poised like an amazon warrior and revel in my own strength. Fuck you universe... you won't ever stop me. I can do anything, I am fearless. And other times someone gives me a hug and I crumple, torn and broken and  burning in the fire of my loss... and all I still have left to lose.  I am terrified. And confused.  And confident that I will be ok. That my children will be fine. That I can do this, I can still make my life count. I have so much to give.

I need patience, so much patience and understanding.  Because getting through the funeral and all the hubbub surrounding the first few months? I feel like that is the easy part. There comes a time, months later, when the shock has mostly worn off. When everyone around you, including yourself,  just wants you to get better. When those who love you have just a little less compassion.... and it is totally understandable. When you are expected to carry on. And that is the hard part. When you look normal and you feel mostly ok, but in reality the REALNESS of what has happened becomes concrete. This is it. This is not a movie or a dream. You will not be waking up from this. Nothing will ever be normal again. You know something that other people, people fortunate enough to not have experienced the utter destruction of a life, can't know: you are alone in this. We all are, really. No outside thing, person or place can fix you. Only you can grieve and struggle and hurt and grow. Only you can take a deep breathe and convince the monster in your head that you may be hurting and you may be sad but you are still in charge. You will be the one who decides how this will play out. You will be the one that saves yourself.

Tuesday, November 26, 2013


My son told me something the other day,  something that shocked me in its dual simplicity and complexity.  We were talking about Thanksgiving and the holidays in general and I was trying to convey the idea that even though the day will be sad and we will miss Jason,  it doesn't have to be a day of abject misery. I was trying to convince myself more than him. He turned to me and said "Mom, it's just a day. We've been living everyday without Dad."

He is right. Every day brings a reminder. Every day is difficult.  And every day, we find joy and happiness and we keep on going. To steep ourselves in sadness and wallow in what is missing is unhealthy.  It blocks out what we have learned from this, belittles the everyday struggles we've overcome. It would be easy to settle in bitterness and see our lives only through the lens of all that we have lost... and doing that, it feels like the worst possible way to honor Jason.

I am so thankful that I had him for as long as I did. I am thankful that my children had a father who loved them enough to teach them how to be practical, resilient and to see the bigger picture.  I am thankful for his love and all that he taught me. I am thankful that he respected me and believed in me... even when I didn't.  I am so thankful that I got to care for him and comfort him as he left us, that I got to be his hero when he needed one the most. I am thankful that most days I wake up greatful for each new day knowing that, despite it all, I am strong enough to keep going. I'm thankful that I know what real love is. I am so, so thankful, even in my grief and sadness.

Friday, November 1, 2013

Junk in the Trunk

Ok, taking a brief detour from the sad that is this blog to talk about something silly.

(Sidenote: Yesterday was our first Halloween... and it was tough. I was a little blindsided by how hard it hit me, but, I dealt with it and ended the day with a smile.  The kids had fun, we talked a lot about Jason and his insatiable pb cup habit & had some laughs. So, all is well.)

When Jason started to get sick,  I lost my appetite. That has never happened to me before,  I usually stress eat. Caring for him, I had to be reminded and sometimes forced to eat. And when he died it just got worse. Nothing tasted good,  nothing sounded good. This went on until about 6 weeks ago, when I noticed that I was HUNGRY again. Hallelujah!  I love food, always have and always will, and I really missed enjoying eating. But.... the side affect of all that non eating was a significant weight loss. I got kinda... skinny. None of my underwear,  pants or bras fit anymore. I continuously got told how good I looked...which kinda pissed me off. Everytime I heard that I wanted to scream! I look skeletal!  I don't feel good and I have headaches all the time! I would have traded every single pound for one more minute with my husband. But whatever,  it WAS fun shopping for new, smaller clothes. It was kinda neat to see my hipbones again.

But... (pun intended) I kinda missed my boobs. And my butt. And even, just a little,  having nice round hips and my belly. I've never been a waif. Ive often joked that I have the opposite of an eating disorder,  because I would look in the mirror and think "Damn... I look good", even at my chubbiest. And my husband never complained about my body... he dubbed pregnancy and pms "titty fairy" time because um, well, yeah. The girls always got big. I still got hit on. Barring normal periods of "I'm a disgusting sausage" I've worked hard at being comfortable in my skin, no matter the size. I really would rather be happy, funny and interesting than  stick thin. Just sayin'.

So, yeah. My appetite is back, with a vengeance.  My goal is moderation and consistent exercise. Adding muscle and feeling good. And goddammit,  enjoying my bacon cheeseburger on a pretzel bun when the mood strikes!  :)

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Tidal Waves

This weekend my brother, my beloved "Middle Mouse" (I'm Big Mouse as the oldest, you get the idea...) had a health scare. A scare that held terrifying echoes of Jason's illness. Thankfully,  he is & will be ok. I got to see him and hug him yesterday and the relief of realizing that he was going to be fine was astounding... I took a breath I realized I had been holding for two days. Muscles unknotted that I didn't know were clenched. And now I have a confession to make:
I did not react well. At all. I didn't rush to his side immediately. I barely could talk about it. I didn't text him right away. I could not be there for him.

I was paralysed. I was so scared at the thought of losing him - of watching his amazing wife and beautiful daughters try to weather that pain, of seeing my parents tossed back into such a nightmare- that I froze. I tried to soldier through. I tried to not think about it. And you can guess how that worked out.

I am failing at things. It is so hard to admit that, but it is the truth. I am so stretched tight that I have no give... I cannot live my life the way I want to right now. Objectivity and logic are drowned out in pure adrenaline fueled panic and confusion. What do we do when we are no longer the person we were? When our brain and body will not behave according to our wishes? When we realize we are very much naked in the storm?

For me, I think I may need to start internalizing the messages from the people I love and trust. The people who are telling me to take care of myself, to be kind and gentle with myself. To listen to myself. To forgive myself and to start to let go.

I cannot let this experience ruin me. I need to accept the change, in my life and I myself. I need to let go of the guilt.

I am adapting to his absence.  That is healthy... not a sign of disloyalty. It doesn't mean I didn't love him, that I didn't fight hard enough for him. I did... and he died anyway. Carrying on with my life is the only sane and healthy choice I can make.

I am enough for my children. They lost their father and it was and will continue to be a brutal experience.  First and foremost they need their mama. And I am getting there again. As shame filled as I am about my behavior in the past months, I know I was just surviving. I am not superwoman or June Cleaver. I made some mistakes and now I will make them right. I need my children and they need me. And there is no one who can do a better job of helping them heal and thrive and emerge into amazing people.  We are a family, as we are.

So I'm choosing to take a little time off work... I'm very lucky to have this option, it will make things extremely tight financially,  but I really need some time. I need to come back to the land of the living and get stronger. And I will. Because through all of this I've had a deeo seated feeling that I will be ok. It's going to be ok.

Tuesday, October 8, 2013

A New Season

Last week in my grief support group we spoke about fall and how it is/will be a trigger for many of us. The winding down of a year & the beginning of the holidays,  can be an understandably difficult time. I realized this morning, as my daughter and I walked to her school with our dog, that this will be our third season without Jason. He died in the winter, spring passed in a fog and summer is all but gone. And so here we go, heading into the months when he was sick.

In the last few months, I have bounced back and forth between "ok, this is getting (definitely not easier) more bearable" & "fuck this, I hate this, I can't do this, I don't want this life anymore" more times than a vigorous game of pinball.  I wish I could say that I've been working hard at being ok but more than anything I've just compartmentalized.... probably a little too well. I am still numb & foggy, a lot of the time. I drink more than I should. I am ashamed... away, absent from my children much more than I want to admit. I can't seem to quit smoking.

I have a tentative goal of being tobacco free by the one year mark of Jason's death. In fact, that is a tradition I want to practice, for him & myself. I want to honor his life & death by accomplishing a goal each year. I guess I still want him to be proud of me. I still wish he could love me. I still fight the feeling that I failed him.

Giving up is my greatest fear at this point.  That I will lose my composure and spiral into something I can't get out of. That I will break, again, and my weakness will be exposed for the world to see. It is easier to pretend that I am ok. And the more I pretend,  the more I avert my gaze from his pictures and lock my feelings about him and his death into a box in my head, the more it becomes easier to cope. I am afraid that that box may grow so heavy, the lock encrusted with rust, that I will not be able to open it when I need to. I really don't cry a whole lot anymore, I am distracted and distanced from my pain and I am fairly certain it isn't healthy. But, it is so hard to see through the fog, so hard to admit how exhausted I am all the time, so hard to continue to feel needy and unbalanced. Keeping that box firmly closed? Right now it is the only way I can manage.

But, there have been some goods things too... it helps to list out what I HAVE done, it makes me see that I am still trying. I have:

Gone back to work. I can't say I'm a model employee & I am extremely distracted,  but I am trying. And work, for me, is a very good thing. I need the zen I get from the kitchen.

The kids & I still attend our grief support groups. We also have tried a couple different alternative healing therapies that have been immensely helpful.

I found a therapist who I really like and trust and he will be seeing us all individually & together.

I have a good psychiatrist who helped me to find a good combination of medicines for me to help manage my depression. Some months i have been able to be a little less dependant on antianxiety meds. I can cope better with the panic attacks and sad spirals.

I started cooking dinner more often. Not everyday, not even most days. But at least a couple times a week I cook a homemade meal for all of us. I don't know why that is such a hard thing for me, but it is.

I hired a house cleaner to come once a week and barring my swiffer wetjet and the trampoline it is the best money I have ever spent. I wish I could fford her twice a week, I think that would be perfect... and I'm going to try to find room in my budget to make that happen.

I have been exercising.  Not nearly often or consistently enough,  but a lot more than I used to. It feels good and it is something I need to make a priority.

I've taken the kids on several daytrips. We had fun at the beach  lot this summer & the kids dabbled in body boarding.

One of my best friends and I went to an epic comedy festival... I got to see some of my very favorites: hannibal buress, flight of the conchords. And DAVE MOTHERFUCKING CHAPPELLE.  So, so inspiring.  I WILL do that someday.

I wrote a paid article for an online publication.

I bellydanced and it was really fun.

I also started dating. Too soon? Maybe,  for others, but not for me. I loved and had the love of an amazing man, who wanted me to find love, companionship and comfort again. Who told our children that he hoped mommy would find somebody to love again, who could be a friend and love them just as much as he did. His selflessness and bravery leaves me in awe... in the face of his death, he just wanted us to be happy and cared for. And I want that too. I went on some dates, had some fun and some not so much fun. And I met someone,  who I like a lot. Our relationship so far is very natural and feels very right. He is kind, caring, fun and makes me very happy.  The spark is definitely there and I am  a little nervous but excited to see where it goes. :)

Im sure there are other things, but I've already made myself feel better, so that's enough for now.

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Happy Birthday

I started this at 4 am. It is now 5 am. Maybe I just don't have words for this.

But, I do. There is so much going on in my head it's difficult to pick out coherent thought right now. You should be turning 39 today. You should be annoyed that I made a big deal out of your birthday and bought you something even though you always told me not to. Your friends should be ribbing you with old man jokes. The kids should be giving you thier homemade cards that you will keep in your underwear  drawer until I go on a cleaning spree and move them to the box where we keep all of the birthday cards, pet rocks and handprinted handkerchiefs that we've collected over the years.

Instead, I'm tempted to ignore this day. God knows I've become a master at avoiding... except not really. No one is truly fooled. I feel everyone watching, it feels like the whole world is conspiring to remind me, in a thousand ways, of how not here you really are.

Our son goes to Junior High round-up today. He is terrified, and so am I. I'm doing everything in my power to reassure him that it will be ok, that starting something new is always scary and that every other 7th grader goes through the same thing. That he will be fine. And, he will be.

But every holiday, every special occasion you miss, every new chapter we start without you... it just brings it all back at once. Watching you die. Losing you, over and over. No matter how much ground we gain, how much we think we accept it... It's all still fresh. It's always there. Rationally, I know it always will be. That 15, 20 years from now I will still shed tears over all that you've missed. As pointless as it is to dive into the misery of asking "why?", I will probably still do it.

There are moments now, nearly 6 months later, that bring me to my knees all over again. I miss you,  we all do. Our little family feels broken, interrupted and damaged in a fundamental way that I am trying desperately to repair. I try to take a moment each day to remind myself of all that we do have... and it is a lot. But when I try to push away the pain, pretend it's just another day and grit my teeth to get through it, it only serves to poison everything. I am having a hard time with trust, I am angry... so incredibly and futilely angry. When I am so heartbroken that I can barely breathe, it colors everything. I am stupid, over-emotional, a burden. Broken. So very, very broken.

Early Monday we all woke up in the middle of the night to watch a meteor shower. It was beautiful. I lay there and thought about how much you loved that sort of thing. I thought about one night last year, driving home from a poker game,  when we both saw the same shooting star and you said it was a sign of good things to come... that life was just getting better and better. You loved me and I loved you and we had all the time in the world in front of us. Except, we didn't. Just like a falling star, you burned bright and were gone too fast.

Happy birthday my love.

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Change... The Bowie Kind.

I think change, be it huge or small, profound or insignificant, is probably one of the most difficult aspects of life. Something that we can yearn for in one moment and run in terror from in the next. Getting to a place in which being open to change, accepting that it is inevitable and not struggling against it is a huge part of our growth as a person. 
I have always been spontaneous,  a walk through the fire kind of person.  But, deep, significant change has more often than not thrown me for a loop. I like to have a plan. I may not always adhere to said plan, but I like the comfort of it.
Of course,  this year has been full of change. The plans I had, the plans WE had, those are no longer an option. I will no longer be able to be content in a notoriously underpaid proffession... I'm now responsible for the entirety of my families financial well being. I have to figure out how to handle that now. I am no longer parenting as a team... and while I thankfully have an amazing support system, at the end of the day I alone am responsible for my children and thier ability to face the world as an adult. Daunting, especially when you factor in that both my children are approaching the teen years. Every time something new comes up, something I may not be used to dealing with, I have a moment (or hour, or day) of "this isn't fair! I shouldn't have to do this!" and then I do it anyway. And I get stronger. More capable. 
I have changed. A lot. There are things that are just no longer important to me. There are things that are now incredibly important to me. I'm getting better at asking for help and taking it when it is offered. There are conversations I now force myself (and others) to have, because talking about the tough stuff has become essential to me, simply because I am used to it now. Carrying on in the face of judgement and disapproval,  it isn't so scary anymore. Living with the unknown has become routine. Accepting that I may be fine this morning and inconsolable this afternoon is difficult,  but I am handling my own fragility in the best way I can.
Letting go and remembering that this is my life now... it is happening. A little bit here and there, but it is sinking in. Living in a fantasy that things will someday be back to normal is counterintuitive... there is no normal. There is just now.
Admitting that I am sad, easily upset, unfocused and sensitive -vulnerable- is not fun or easy, but it just is.
Admitting that I am finding moments of happiness is even harder. As if, by admitting that I am not really crying everyday anymore,  that it is easier to look at pictures or talk about him, that I am enjoying myself more than I am not, that is somehow a betrayal.  That his death was any less traumatic,  that I must not have loved him enough.
I miss him every day. I most likely always will. But clinging to grief, wishing things were different than they are? I just can't keep doing that. Only Jason and I truly knew our relationship. And although we had and continue to have the love and support of everyone around us, he was the one dying. And I was the one watching, knowing I would have to keep living, without him. And that? That is what he wanted me to do. It is the only way I can truly honor him and keep him alive in our hearts... I have to keep going.

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

To The Mountains

Jason and I loved camping.
It was something that was a part of both of our childhoods and when we were dating we spent lots of time camping out on the beach and in the jungle. When we moved back home to California we made it a point to take at least a couple of camping trips a year... Ozzie was seven months old the first time he went camping.
A few years ago we were camping at one of our favorite spots up in the mountains when Jason reconnected with some old friends. He began playing poker with them and when they invited us to come along on their annual family camping trip, we decided to go. He had been playing with them for awhile (and had known most of them for a long time) but I had yet to meet them and was pretty anxious. I can be awkward. I've never had the easiest time making friends... I'm a lot better about it now, but I've spent most of my life without a huge circle of friends. I find it difficult to make small talk and always seem to say exactly the wrong thing. But, he kept reassuring me that it would be great, that they were all very laid back and he thought we would all get along well.
He was right.
The group of friends I made on that trip have become as important to me as my own family. For the first time I felt accepted and it really gave me the confidence I needed to develop other friendships,  all on my own. They've been with us, through all of this. Jason & I talked about the trip this summer, one we both knew he would not be making. He made me promise to go and to keep going.
And so I am. I would be lying if I said I was looking forward to it. In a way, yes. That was his favorite place on earth, those mountains were his personal paradise. His spirit is there, but it is everywhere for me and I'm worried that it may be overwhelming to be there without him. But the kids are especially excited... and as I write this my twelve year old is vaccuuming out my car and planning out how we are going to pack everything in. He watched and helped his dad enough times that he obviously feels that it is a job that now falls to him. (I will be double checking, of course, but I'm confident he'll do a good job.) He's mentioned that I should probably have my oil changed before the trip. It makes me incredibly proud and unbearably sad.
So, off we go. Another first. But, we will be surrounded by loved ones and I've always been a big believer in the power of fresh air, bright stars and s' mores (... not to mention my friend David's excellent bloody mary's) to ease lifes troubles.

Thursday, June 27, 2013

Darkness & Thank Gawd for Modern Medicine

Let's get uncomfortable,  shall we?

I woke up Sunday morning, after a particularly hellish few weeks, and realized I felt... different. A little more focused. A little stronger.

The constant cacophony in my head, screaming, shouting, whispering to me that I can't do this... I won't survive it, that I will never be happy again,  that it would be better for everyone if I was just not here anymore, that the only way out of this misery is just to end it all... It's getting quieter. 

I have depression and becoming suicidal is simply a (thankfuly) very small part of it.  I've very likely had it my entire life and I have no doubt I will struggle with it forever. But I've managed it and worked at it and tried to accept it as simply a part of myself... a part that I have control over. A part that, with the right combination of medication, self care and sheer force of will, I can channel into something positive. I've done it before and I will do it again.

The last time I had pervasive suicidal thoughts I was 18... drifting and alone. Recovering from an abusive, toxic relationship.  Aimless and lost. I came close on one single occasion. I just wanted out. The only thing that held me back was the pain I woud selfishly be putting my family through. That it is not an answer, but a cop out. That I had things to do and people to see and a world to change, on whatever scale that may be.

When my therapists or psychiatrists ask if I am having suicidal thoughts, I lie. I say no. I know what will happen if I say yes and I know that I can and will get past it. The stakes are higher now... I have two human beings undrr my care who I love fiercely,  who are ultimately more important than the pain I am struggling  with and who have had thier worlds shattered. I will not add to their pain.

So, while I have absolutely no intention of leaving this world before I am damn well ready,  it is important to me to admit that those thoughts and feelings are there. To  release the shame I have at feeling this way, to admit it and strip them of their power. Slowly, it is happening. Slowly, I can feel a little joy. I have to trust that I am strong,  that I am doing my best... even if I fall short, repeatedly.

My world is scary right now. I question why anyone would want to be in it with me... but you are. Many of you will never know how much you are saving me, in a million small and huge ways. Many of you want to do more,  but this can't be rushed. I will get there... and I am eternally blessed to have wonderful people in my life who are walking with me, in whatever way they can.

Sunday, June 23, 2013


I've always been a homebody. As a teenager I would tell my friends that I was grounded so I wouldn't have to a.) Talk on the phone (still not a huge fan... thank you whoever invented text messaging- I would have no friends if it wasn't for you) and b.) go anywhere.

I always have a million projects going. I always have something that needs doing. 6 months ago my idea of a perfect weekend would involve going absolutely nowhere and never having to change out of my pj's.

It is hard for me to be home now. I've rearranged and halfheartedly reorganized but these walls have too many memories. The house is too full and too empty at the same time.

My projects hold no interest. I can barely make myself keep the house clean. All that busy stuff that could be taking my mind off of everything... it just doesn't work right now. I'm not reading much... and that is just wierd.  I am usually reading at least two books at a time. I can only watch certain tv shows and movies, nothing that requires concentration... I just don't have it.

I force myself to open  the mail,  to pay the bills and file things away for records. To make phone calls I dont want to make. To try and cook dinner at least a couple times a week. To remember to shower.

But mostly, I run. I have to get away. A lot of the time, by myself. I feel guilty for pushing the kids away, but I don't have the energy or patience. I see what they need and I try to give them as much as I can, but I don't have a lot. No answers,  no promises.  I can hold them close and tell them it will be ok and wonder if they believe me, because I'm not sure that I do. I find myself exploding over the smallest things. I write angry letters I will never send. I either care waaaaaayyyy too much or not enough. I cannot pretend to be anything but profoundly and perpetually a mess.

I'm trying to divide my time equally so that I'm not leaning on anyone too much... but I do anyway. I have places I can go, shoulders to cry on and arms to hold me when I'm unable to keep going. I'm very, very grateful for that. 

It won't always be like this. I won't always be like this. But I will never be the same again.

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

4 Months

Father's Day was hard. So was the week leading up to it and so was yesterday.

Truthfully,  every day is hard.

Yesterday marked 4 full months. Too long.... and not long enough. I crave distance from this misery. Jason is the first thing I think about in the morning and the last thing I think about at night. I miss his voice, I miss his smell. I miss his seal bark of a laugh. I miss the way he always licked his plate clean and thanked me for dinner... even when I refused to put meat in my lasagna. I miss buying him snacks, just because.  I miss random texts when he saw a particularly interesting mullet and I miss him snoring so loud I would have to wear earplugs and cover my head in a pillow.

I miss him.

And he is gone.

I've come to a place where I know that... really know it. It's a new level of pain... because I want to be ok again.  I want to be strong and content and at peace. And at some moments, I am. Sometimes, I am happy. It doesn't take much to upset the delicate balance that I have, but it is there. I have to remember,  when the balance shifts and I spiral once more into despair, that I will be ok. I will always carry this pain, this longing. I will always wish things were different. But I will keep going, even when I don't think I can. Even when I don't want to.

I have to remember that happiness is 98 percent perspective.  I have to remember that if I believe I will be ok, that if I am patient with myself and hopeful for the future and accepting of my own faults and mindful of my strengths... I WILL be ok. My children will be ok. They will see their mother heartbroken and struggling... and they will see her pick herself up and turn coal into diamonds. They will have a mother who loves herself and believes in herself.

And this will teach them to love themselves... in the face of adversity, in spite of pain, in the chaos of grief. They will know that life can dish out what it will... and they can still be happy. I want them to have compassion,  for themselves and for others. To acknowledge that everyone they meet is fighting a battle of some sort. I want them to have passion. To be tender with themselves and with others. To be whole, all on thier own. To realize that contentment comes from within... it cannot be attained through money, power, prestige or (and maybe especially) the love of another. I want them to be fully aware of thier own worth.

But today, I mostly want them to clean up after themselves. ;)

Wednesday, June 12, 2013


I wish I was made of ice. Completely self sufficient, no doubt, no games, just confident & secure in myself. Powerful.

Because that is who I am... Who I've always been. I learned the hard way not to let anyone else become the source of my happiness. To man up and take care of my own shit. To take what I want and not expect anything.

And to love someone,  to open up and soften. To let my walls down. To let it hurt and to go on living. To reimagine the fairytale that does not exist. To let go of perfection and to be ok with the work in progress that comes with being human.  

And then my world shattered. Would it have been easier to never take the risk? Taken the safe, sane path and avoid the intensity of all this pain... Yes, for sure. Would I take the easy way if I had to do it again? Hell no. I wouldn't give up what I have for anything. But the fallout? It is fucking brutal. It has taken every moment of peace from me, sheared away my confidence, my certainty, my clarity and laid my soul bare. Knocked the wind out of my sails and made me question my sanity.

I barely know who I am anymore. I can't eat, can't sleep, seek out anything that will numb the pain. I exist in a cave of sadness, fumbling to find my way out of the dark. Occasionally glimpsing some light and getting knocked back on my ass with every step forward. I need something,  but I don't know what. I want relief and know at the same time there is no cure. There will be a part of me that will remain damaged no matter what I do. I want desperately to heal, but these wounds might be too deep. How can I ever go back to what I was? All of my hard earned confidence, all of my pride is destroyed. How can I ever be carefree and hopefull ever again?  I've had to do things that will haunt me for the rest of my life. I keep secrets that will never see the light of day. And I know about the power of secrets. I know how they fester, how they can tear a person apart from thethe inside out. But I have no choice.  

Do I build my walls back up? Do I become hard, let my broken bones knit together awkwardly? Let scar tissue form over my heart, tough and impenetrable? Do I get a choice at all?  

Life is short. And cruel and unfair and filled with pain. And mind bogglingly boring and routine. And amazingly beautiful, filled with promise and hope and laughter. And Love, in all its many forms.  

Maybe the trick is to never plan, never think about the future at all. To drift and let the wind take us where it will. But I don't really believe that and it's not something I can surrender to gracefully. I need to know what's what. I cannot, especially now, handle ambiguity. I have to know where I stand... even if the only thing to know is that I am on shaky ground. I need constant reassurance that I am ok, that I am cared for and loved. Because this? This is the loneliest I have ever been. This is the most alien I have ever felt. I'm a giant raw nerve, exposed and naked. Incredibly vulnerable.

I HATE being vulnerable. I HATE that my center is now outside of myself and I don't know how to get it back. I HATE how needy, anxious and pathetic I feel on a daily basis.   I HATE that I am no longer me. Trapped in a sphere of pain. No end in sight.

No positive insights today folks. No being brave and faking strength. It's too much. I can't pretend.

Friday, June 7, 2013

These Are Things That I'm Gonna Do

(If you caught the Rasputina reference,  I love you. Let's be best friends.)
I've been thinking about making a Life List lately.
Because sometimes I need reminding that even though life is often painful, dull and confusing as hell- every experience,  whether positive or negative,  gives us the opportunity to grow. To understand more, to open up more, to give and recieve more love. To shed some light, lend some warmth. To learn. To be more than we were yesterday. To try and fail and try again. To succeed & embrace fear and doubt. To move through pain, gracefully or otherwise, and allow it to polish us like glass from the sea, making what was once ordinary extraordinary.
You'll have to pardon me... I've been reading a lot of Pema Chodron.
So consider this a work in progress. Some of these are more of a journey, less of a result. I'm sure I will add and subtract and refine these many times. (By the way, if you want to make a Life List of your own and need some inspiration check out my lovely friend Carrie Anne's over at Little Big. She's just an adorable little powerhouse of sexy smart nerd girl. Ladycrush!)
Learn sugar work.
Make travel a priority: Europe, China, Peru & Guatemala. Thailand. Australia & New Zealand. Africa. Alaska, Montana, Texas, New York. Canada. Brazil.  Honestly,  anywhere & everywhere.
Take a backpacking trip, hike in hike out camping.
Quit smoking.
Get a solid handle on my finances. Develop a plan for making the things that are important to me do-able.
Take my kids on a historical tour of the United States.
Take voice lessons and sing in public.
Learn woodworking & build my own furniture.
Make art a focus in my life. Study. Start painting again.
Publish a book.
Find a physical practice I enjoy and stick with it. This year: Yoga, Bellydance & Capoeira.
Graduate from college. In what? I don't know. But I want a degree.
Cultivate friendships. Pay attention and make time for my relationships with the people I love.
Become a hospice volunteer
Teach my kids to cook, do their own laundry & clean up after themselves ( most days I have a 25-40 percent success rate with this)
Have regular dinner parties. I've always wanted to do that.
Re-take Spanish classes & become fluent.
Make a t-shirt quilt for each of the kids with Jason's & their old t shirts
Take some of those old timey old west pictures... I know, but I've always wanted to do that
See Jack White, AWOLNATION, Pink,  Florence & The Machine and KT Tunstall in concert.
Grow my hair out too long... and then most likely cut it all off again :)

Too be continued...

To be continued...

Tuesday, June 4, 2013

Letting Some Sun In

I've never been very good at following rules. I've made a habit of never being part of the norm... and for a very, very long time that was more  of a defense mechanism than anything else. I have always been too loud or too quiet and much too intense for many people. I cared deeply about how others saw me and for a long time that led me to  create a carefully constructed wall... a persona,  really. It doesn't help that I have a deep rooted need to please people and for the most part really want everyone to like me. I still, to this day, will do almost anything for the laugh. When someone -anyone- criticized or mocked me, a sickening lurch would begin in my belly and it would be all I could think about. I let the opinions of others (percieved or otherwise) influence how I felt about myself... How I SHOULD be this way or that - less needy, cooler, thinner, smarter, more attractive,  less passionate, more happy go lucky. From my will-not-be-tamed curly mop down to my bilbo baggins-esque toes, I longed to be someone better than me. I wear my heart on my sleeve, but as I grew up I carefully concealed it, embracing the ideal of a cold heart, protected from rejection & humiliation.

One huge, beautiful and painfully wrought gift from my relationship with Jason was the slow realization that I could be myself and he would still love me. I could be imperfect, or have an opposing viewpoint or do something really stupid and yes, he would be irritated or disappointed,  but he could still love me. It took several years into our marriage to get comfortable with the idea that we could argue  and it was ok for me to disagree.  I'm never going to be anyone's idea of perfection.... because that does not exist. As a 19 year old wife and then a 21 year old mother, I was paralysed with the fear that I  was just not good enough and I will be honest... I still struggle with feeling ok about myself. That I may, in fact, add value to someones life and that they might actually want me around. In the first few years of our marriage, a common argument from Jason was that I was not honest enough. I would be angry or unhappy about something and instead of addressing it I would push it down, letting it fester and expecting my husband and friends to somehow read my mind, instead of expressing myself, I would shut down until I exploded with rage... letting old hurts and dissapointments ruin friendships and endangering my marriage. 

It is something I have worked steadily on... finding out who I am and what I truly am made of... the bad as well as the good. As I entered my late twenties and early thirties I've become much more open... to making friends (who might one day hurt me or, as I have recently learned,  be the rocks I need to lean on through the storm), to trying things outside of my comfort zone, to embracing my own particular quirks. I will never have a perfect body and I have been described as "exotic looking" far more often than beautiful. But when I look in the mirror now (yes, even naked) I have pride in my reflection. I have strong arms and hands. I will never be a great dancer, but, damnit, I love to dance and really? Who cares? I struggled as a mother and now I am struggling even more as a single mother... but I'm doing it. I feel a powerful need to compartmentalize,  to put away my grief for awhile and to experience the freedom of being on my own. I want to spend my days with my kids and then have the nights to myself without feeling guilty that I am abandoning them or that I should be sitting at home alone, crying. I suppose there will be people who still expect a widow, no matter what age, to don black and remain isolated and alone to grieve "correctly"... but, that isn't me. And it is the last thing my husband wanted for me. I am the ONLY one who will be able to keep some semblance of balance and positivity in my life and  so I'm doing just that. Letting go, just a little bit. Letting a little sunshine in.

Friday, May 24, 2013

The Furies

You know those famous "Stages of Grief" that, if you are lucky, you only ever learn about in a psych 101 class? All neatly lined up in a row, like levels in an old Nintendo game? Complete each emotion and Congratulations!  You win 1000 gold coins and two extra lives. Maybe even the ability to shoot fireballs out of your hands.

Denial, Anger, Bargaining,  Depression and Acceptance. 

In real life? It doesn't work like that. For one thing, there are a few that got left out. Fear. That's a big one. What will happen to my loved one? Did they suffer? Will I survive this? Will this be the thing that turns one of my children into a prize winning medical researcher and the other into a crack addict? Will I be alone forever? Will I end up making awful decisions that will haunt me for the rest of my life?

Remorse, followed by its creepy uncle, Guilt. Why didn't we make the time to be together more? Why did we spend so much time sitting in front of the tv instead of going out and living? Why did I get angry over stupid shit? Why didn't I appreciate them more? Why didn't I know something was wrong? Why wasn't it me? And the What if's... those are endless.

I remember Bargaining,  at first. In the beginning,  reciting in my head (and sometimes out loud) all the ways that I would change, the sacrifices I would make if something, anything would just keep him alive. That ended pretty quickly for me. I felt stupid beseeching a universe that obviously had no regard for my family. And then there was nothing left to bargain for.

There was nothing to deny. When you are faced with watching the love of your life be hit by a freight train in slow motion, well... there isn't really anywhere else to look. The reality of it punched me in the gut and ground my face in the dirt, I didn't have the energy to pretend it wasn't happening.

Depression?  Oh yes. Though as someone who has been clinically depressed (as in, I'm just one of those lucky people who just cannot produce enough happy juice in my brain) for most of my life, I have to argue for another word. Yes, the feeling definitely has aspects of depression- despair, the inability to enjoy anything, sleep and appetite disruption, wanting seclusion from the world in general- the depression following a loss is much, much... more. Because the feelings make sense. Your world is torn apart, why should you enjoy anything? Why shouldn't you sleep away days? Why eat when you have absolutely no desire, for anything? Nothing will make you better. Nothing will make your world bright again. The bleakness settles into your cells and it feels like it will never go away. And you've seen it, firsthand... someone who never quite got back to living. Who plodded through life with no joy and eventually withered away, lonely and broken. I hope someday I will be able to do more than go through the motions. I have some hope, because even now I am able to laugh. I'm still alive, at least a little. If I weren't I don't think this could possibly hurt as much as it does.

Anger. Yes, I am angry. I am furious. So much so that it leaves me cold and petty and graceless. Want to know a horrible truth? Everything makes me angry right now. I avoid grocery shopping because you, over there with your perfectly nuclear family? You piss me off. Everything and everyone is a reminder of what I no longer have. I'm angry that the new Star Trek movie is out, because I can't stomach going as a third wheel. And I don't want to go alone, and that makes me even madder. I've never been afraid of doing things by myself... in fact I've often prided myself on the fact that I am comfortable in solitude. Except now that solitude is poison. Suffocating.  I hate that I can't even induldge in my celebrity gossip guilty pleasure because It. Is. Fucking. Infuriating. Fuck you, Angelina Jolie, for having enough money to just cut out the parts of you that might someday give you cancer. I hope you get malaria and vaginal warts. Fuck you, bill collecters. I don't care right now. I don't even care that not caring right now will bite me in the ass sooner or later. I don't care that you are just a person trying to get by with a horrible,  demeaning job. Fuck off. I hate the fact that my own body cannot even give me a break and that emotional pain isn't enough, how about some physical suffering to go along with it?

Yes, it is safe to say I am a seething black hole of fury and resentment the moment. I snap at the people I love most and am rude and impatient with the public in general.  And I am too sad and angry to even feel that bad about it.

Acceptance is a long way out. I catch a glimpse of it, every now and then. Fleeting. But enough to give me a little hope, that someday I will be human again.

Saturday, May 18, 2013

The Gifts

There are moments in life that you can pinpoint as life changing. Sometimes, they are small: a sudden realization that shakes your faith or an encounter that makes you question the path you have chosen. When we are young we tend to think birthdays, graduations or promotions will be the events that will change us but often those moments come and go, leaving us fundamentally unchanged.
Your wedding day will change you... but not as much as the bottom-falling-out-of-the-earth moment that you realize you are hopelessly and completely in love with the person you have chosen - that they have become air to you and you cannot possibly live without them. Finding out you will be a parent will change you. And looking into your newborns eyes, your heart will fill with wonder and hope and terror and a new, alien love... yes, your world changes. But not as much as the day you break down and let that same sweet child watch tv for hours on end or shove a lollipop in their screaming mouth so that you can please-for-the-love-of-god-get-one-moment-of-peace... when you are humbled and doing the very things you swore you would never - EVER - do? Yes, then you are changed.
Some changes open our eyes to the universe, we find a greater compassion for humanity or reach new levels of despair.

The day they found Jason's cancer, we changed, yes. In the face of that shock and terror my world shrank and my focus sharpened. My love, lying in a hospital bed in agony, became the only thing I could see. I had a few satellites in my field of vision... our children (it is hard to admit that, but it is what it is.), our family and the people we loved. Everything else faded to black. Every ounce of frenetic energy I possessed was focused solely on making Jason Ok. And then came the moment he was diagnosed and my world contracted and expanded again. We gripped hands as the doctor's words floated in the air- dark, menacing things. I hid my head and held my breath. The moment the doctor left I climbed into the bed with my husband, careful of all these new wounds, and held him so tightly my muscles began to shake. If I didn't let go, we coud stay just like that and he couldn't be taken from me. If I was strong enough, I could make him Ok.
When he came home, I took care of him possessively. I gave him his meds, changed his clothes and blankets and endless cups of ice. I cleaned his colostomy wound and knelt beside him as he began vomiting up pieces of his stomach, wiping his face with a cool washcloth and watching, always watching. If I left him for more than a moment, I panicked. While he slept, I curled beside him and researched treatments, emailing copies of his pathology report everywhere and anywhere that might offer some hope. I spoke with doctors and patient advocates and took a blow to the stomach each time they told me the same thing. Too late. Way too late.
And then, a day after being discharged, he began to vomit blood. He was grey, disoriented and confused. I called the doctor and my friend, our nurse Nessa, who told me to take him to the ER. He fought me, told me to leave him alone. He begged me to let him stay home, let him go in peace. My heart broke again as I became increasingly frantic and shrill- pleading and then threatening. Finally,  he got into the car and my dad drove us to the hospital. I hld his hands and apologized over and over, I was so fucking scared. I watched him lie back and resign himself to what was happening. I thought I was watching him give up.
He continued to lose blood, the room was a horror. Nessa arrived and gave me some quiet strength, helped me protect him from the worst of it. After they tried to force a g tube into his nose as he screamed he had enough. He or I or someone made them stop. He got more medicine and drifted for a moment and I dragged my friend into the hall. "You know what I need to know. Is this what I think it is?" I forced the words out, my brain screaming for my mouth to stop. She awnsered me with the frankness and honesty that was everything I needed and more. I knew. He knew. But we hadn't acknowledged it yet.

I went back into the room and sat, memorizing his face. He woke up and looked at me and in that very moment my whole world changed yet again. This man who I knew inside and out, who I loved from nearly the moment we met, who could always speak volumes to me with a look... his eyes told me everything.  I remember whispering "You know what I asked her." He came back to himself and pulled me close. "I know." He asked me to get him a paper and pen and then Jason layed back in the hospital bed and made me a graph, a timelime of his symptoms and decline. He was always so damn logical and he wielded practicality like a weapon sometimes. I asked him what he wanted, and all he wanted was to go home. He wanted to take our children to Disneyland and give them one last memory. He wanted time to hug them and hold them and sleep next to me in our bed. He wanted to see his friends and family, even if at that point he barely had the energy to speak much. He wanted to go peacefully,  with dignity and on his own terms.

Maybe I should have fought him. Maybe if I had kept searching, kept pushing for a miracle, maybe we would have had a little more time.

But, I didn't.  Instead, my world changed again. Some deep part of me accepted it, just a little bit. Enough that I made the decision,  then and there, to do whatever I had to do to take care of him, to ease him out of this world as gently and tenderly as all the love he had given me through our years together. He went into hospice care that night. The hospital moved us to a private room in the ICU and he was given comfort care. My parents brought the kids to the hospital since we were not certain he would make it through the night. We had talked to them already about cancer and treatments and all the possible outcomes, but we hadn't yet had time to talk to them about finality, about saying goodbye. That conversation was a whole new kind of heartbreak.

Jason grew up without a father and it had left an indelible mark on his soul... our kids and their futures were the driving force behind everything he did. He loved them fiercely. The night we got engaged he very bluntly told me that- no pressure,  but he really wanted to have babies before he turned thirty... and he wanted two kids, first a boy and then a little girl. He was convinced that, his contribution being the deciding factor in thier genders, he had the power to make that happen. A few weeks after we found out we were expecting Ozzie, he cradled my still flat tummy and proudly announced that it was a boy... and then crowed like a rooster when, months later, his prediciton was confirmed. (He did the same when I was pregnant with Ivy, convinced he felt a "feminine energy" emanating from my now not so flat stomach.) If anything broke him, it was knowing he would not be there to see them grow up.

Ultimately,  his death was not the peaceful and painless one that he deserved. I will save that for another time, when I can visit that horrific time without spiraling into despair. But, that is not what I wanted to write about tonight anyway. What I want to talk about are the gifts we were given in the too short time before his death. Because, in the midst of all the pain and suffering,  there were blessings. And they are all I have to hold onto now.

 We had a strong marriage to begin with... I never worried about falling out of love or boredom or the possibility of divorce. We were going to grow old together, travlel around like gypsies and annoy one another with stories we had told hundreds of times before. We loved each other, day in and day out, through thick and thin. But, as with any couple, the daily grind has a way of softening the passion of the heady early days of love... its so easy, when you are both working and raising kids and making the paychecks last, to lose sight of what is really important. To argue over petty issues and to take for granted that the person you love will always be there. There is always time for tomorrow, until there isn't.

But we had the gift of a little time... time to fall in love, all over again. Time to say all those things that float in your brain & your heart, stockpiled away like nuts for winter... the scary things that lay your soul bare. Neither of us ever very comfortable with vocalizing deep emotion (more on my end actually), we had the chance to tell one another how much we loved and appreciated one another. He had time to hold the kids and tell them how mu h he loved them, how proud he was of who they were and who they would become. He packed a lifetimes worth of important daddy talks into the the they spent together. He did his very best to reassure them that they would hurt, but that they would be ok. That he hoped his death would be something that would make them stronger, more compassionate people. He gave all of us the gift of perspective and he changed our world again by articulating just what the things that truly matter in life are... love, family, self respect and acceptance.  He did his best to prepare me to take over the things that he had always taken care of and constantly assured me of how strong I am, that this would not break me... and that I needed to find a way to be happy again someday - that he desperately hoped I would find someone to love again. I didn't want to hear that, but I had to let him tell me. I kept the feeling that I will never love anyone else the way I love him to myself, but he knew.

We were also blessed to have an outpouring of love and support from everyone in our lives... and even some who weren't. Our family and friends stepped up and made it entirely possible for us to just be together.... feeding us, cleaning for us and distracting the kids with fun when we needed them too. There are so many of you that I will never be able to repay the kindness and care you gave us... but know that should tradgedy, in whatever form, strike, I will be the first in line to do whatever I can to help you through.

Saturday marked three full months since Jason left us. I am struggling, we all are. But I will always have these stars in the darkness and I know with time thier light will shine brighter, softening the darkness.

I love you Jason. There aren't words big enough to tell you how much, but I know you know.

Thursday, May 9, 2013

An Introduction, of sorts.

My name is Valerie. I live in California, in the same small town that I was born in. I'm 33, which, if you buy into the Hollywood/Cosmo version of life means that I should have just settled down with the man of my dreams, thousands of dollars in student loan debt, with a solid block of single gal career woman status behind me and the prospect of starting a family in front of me.

That is not my life. I've way more in common with a family friendly mid 90's sitcom than Sex in The City. (Though admittedly,  my role would more likely be the eccentric aunt than the frazzled mom behind the wheel of a minivan.) I am the mother of two kids: O is twelve and walking that balancing beam in between full fledged adolescent & little boy and I is nine, still content to play with littlest pet shops and steadfastly obsessed with all things kitten or puppy. Not pink though, she's way over that.

Up until 81 days ago, I was married to the love of my life, Jason. He was, though I have often scorned the concept as lofty and irrational,  my soulmate. The yin to my yang, the bread to my butter. He was my first love, my best friend and my rock... the one person who knew everything about me, saw my ugly parts and terrible character flaws and silly bad habits and loved me wholly despite it all. We were married just shy of 13 years, an anniversary we had planned to celebrate by skydiving in a characteristically twisted poke at the whole unlucky # 13 superstition. The weekend we had planned to go and jump out of a plane together was instead spent in a hospital,  reeling from a diagnosis of stage 4 pancreatic,  stomach and esophageal cancer. It was the beginning of a surreal, nightmarish three weeks that ended with my strong, capable and quietly magnetic husbands untimely death.

And so, I am now a widow and a single mother... two things I had never, even in my most wildly neurotic , anxiety ridden moments of white middle class existential musing, imagined would apply to me. My children are fatherless and our future is uncertain. I am fractured, heartbroken and in the thrall of a sadness so deep and dark and all encompassing that I am not entirely certain I will survive it. My grief is a burning sun that I cannot look at directly... to do so would scorch me until I am nothing more than a pile of ashes.

And so I take my grief in doses. I peek at it from half lidded eyes and let it wash over me while I gasp and struggle and lay on the shore exhausted and terrified and bruised. And I pick myself up and gulp down my sadness and push it out of my way while I hug my children and walk my dog and try to pretend that I am ok with this new normal. Because I have to be.

I'm still here.