Tag: grief

On National Widow’s Day I’m his widow, but I’m not a widow

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Apparently, it’s National Widow’s Day. May 3. There’s a day for everything now, to sandwich widows between National Eat a Doughnut Day and Dress Your Dog up as a Cartoon Character Day (that has to be a day somewhere, right?) makes it rather trite, don’t you think? Who even knows it’s National Widow’s Day unless a meme told you anyway—unless you’re a widow (or widower, is there a widower day too or is it all lumped into one day I wonder?), and any widow knows she doesn’t need a day to remember she’s a widow. She remembers every. Single. Day.  I don’t need one day for anyone else to remember I’m a widow too, I’d actually like to be remembered, rather, as more than just a widow.

It’s been three years since I was dragged into this widow-gig and it’s a title I never wanted, but a one I’ll never forget, because I’ll always be his widow, but my sole identity can’t be, and shouldn’t, be a widow.

Right after my husband passed, I would look in the mirror and think, “Is this my life? I’m a 28-year-old widow.” And then the next year it would be the same, but I was a 29-year-old widow. And the next I was a 30-year-old widow. But this year I’m a 31-year-old who also happens to be a widow. I don’t want to wear “widow” on my nametag as if it’s my only story. I don’t want it to deter you when it comes up at a party—and it always­ does no matter how hard I try to avoid the subject. I don’t want your pity. I don’t want to be the sad story you tell your friends after we meet. I get it. I’ve been avoided by friends who park 10 spaces away from me when we both pull into the Starbucks parking lot at the same time coincidentally just so she doesn’t have to talk to me. I’ve spent many weekends alone because friends said I “just seemed too depressed” to be asked to go out with them and so I’d just see everyone’s photos of fun barbecues, camping trips and girls’ nights on Facebook the next day because no one wanted to be around the sad widowed girl. I get it. I really, really do, because on those nights, I didn’t want to be around that sad widowed girl either, but I was stuck with her. I really get that when people meet a young widow, it’s shocking, but it’s also a painful reminder that really sad things happen. That young people die and their young spouses are left with the pieces—and oftentimes very young children. It’s not the topic you want to talk about at your coffee date with the girls. It’s not the topic you want to discuss while swinging our little ones on the swings at a playdate. It’s just not the reminder you want when you just got engaged, or the amazing news of your pregnancy. Quite frankly, most times, we don’t want to be reminded that death is even an option. I get it. And so, we just get our own one day to remember all of that (or any of the loss days-parent, sibling, child, etc.), honestly, we don’t need a day to remember to be friends to those who are hurting. But that’s not the point of all this…well it is, but not the only point.

My point is that I don’t want friends just on National Widow’s Day because they remember, “Oh I know a widow!” I want to be remembered as just me: a friend, a mother, a daughter, a sister, a creative.  I want to talk about more than just widowhood. I want to help you through your troubles. I want to laugh with you when you share something funny that happened in your life. I want our kids to play together not because you feel sorry for me or them, but because you just want to be around us. I want you to see that I can tell jokes and laugh—I’m a real sarcastic smart ass believe it or not—and I can dance, if someone would ask me to. Ask my kids about the funny voices I can do, or the fact that I make the best scrambled eggs (according to them), but for some reason I always burn the toast. I found out I love to garden and I don’t mind if dirt gets under my fingernails as long as the smell of the earth lingers just a little longer. I want you to know, you can say his name and I will smile and talk about him all day if you let me.

I am his widow, but I am more than that. When you think of me or any of your other widowed friends, please don’t think of death. Please think of life. Think of hope. Think of saying all the things to whomever you need to say them to, now, not tomorrow. Think of walking out your front door and taking a deep breath of fresh air just because you can! Think of changing what you can change, and what you can’t change, well, you can always look at it differently.

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I’m a widow, but where’s my black veil?

Why your grief is worse than mine

Zen and the art of mothering in mayhem

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Re-purposing Condolence cards

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I recently finished The Minimalists’ 30-day challenge to get rid of things every day for 30 days. Since the passing of my late husband, I’ve been slowly doing this already, ( READ on my other site: His Stuff. My Treasure.) but there was a lot I just sort of shoved into a corner hoping maybe it’d just fade away…but we all know that’s not the way it works. There were things I wanted to keep, but really didn’t want to just keep in a box to collect dust and I’m not thrilled with the idea of an alter or shrine that displays all of my husband’s things, that’s when I got the idea to start incorporating memories of my former life into my daily life in the form of art; in other words, re-purposing my grief. Making the memories beautiful and functional at the same time. So when I was going through things to get rid of for the challenge, I knew I just had to do something with the huge, 6-inch thick stack of condolence cards I received (warning: So sorry the resolution is terrible, but it’s good enough for you to get the gist of what’s going on. I know, I know I need a better camera for blog photos…I’ll get there…eventually, and I’ll re-take these. Sorry to your eyes! I’m a writer not a photographer, eek).

But what to do with all these? I honestly didn’t really need to keep them, but they reminded me of so much goodness and kindness I just couldn’t part with them. Then I thought of an art project I could make out of them and here’s what I came up with and step-by-step instructions for how to turn your memorable cards into art you can enjoy (I plan on doing this with my wedding cards, but this can work with really anything from baby showers, to birthday, to graduation cards, etc.)

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What you will need:

  • assorted greeting cards
  • blank mat board, with the opening to fit a standard greeting card size (you could go bigger or smaller though, I’ll add to this post how to do a bigger mat when I finish the wedding cards one. If your mat is smaller, just follow the steps and cut the card strips down a little, pretty self-explanatory)
  • hot-glue gun and glue sticks
  • personal paper-trimmer with ruler

 


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STEP 1:

Cut your greeting cards into strips. Since I had quite a few I needed, I cut them into about 1/2 inch strips, but depending on how many you want to use you could go bigger, I just wouldn’t go smaller than 1/4 inch or they’ll be too flimsy to weave.

*Tip #1: If you want to keep the messages in the cards before you cut them up you can save the part of the card with the messages, or take a photo or scan them to keep on file. I personally didn’t feel the need to keep the messages, as the final product is enough of a reminder for me.

*Tip #2: I color coordinated the greeting cards so there would be some unity in the final product. Warm colors, cool colors, and dark colors etc.

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STEP 2:

Take your hot glue gun and glue each strip to the back of the mat. The colored side you want showing face-down as you will be weaving through the back of the mat. Glue all the strips down on the top leaving the bottom of the strip free. Glue all the way across the mat until it’s covered. The closer together you glue the strips, the tighter the weaving will be, the further a part the more space you will see in between if you like that look, do it! See photo for a better explanation:

Back of the Mat

Back of the Mat

 

Front of the mat

Front of the mat

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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It should look like this from the front when you’re done with this step.

 

STEP 3:

Take your other strips and start weaving front to back through the glued strips on the mat. See photo for better explanation:

What the weaving will look like from the back

What the weaving will look like from the back

What the weaving will look like from the front

What the weaving will look like from the front

Keep weaving until you’ve reached the bottom of the mat. The end gets a little tricky, but be patient and it’ll work out. *Tip: push up the previous strips you’ve already weaved to make a tighter weaved look and to make more room for your awaiting strips.

When you’re finished, take your hot glue and glue all the remaining strips down on the sides and on the bottom of the mat.

This is what it should look like after gluing all the free strips down. (From the front. It's OK if the back is messy with glue, no one will see that.

This is what it should look like after gluing all the free strips down. (From the front. It’s OK if the back is messy with glue, no one will see that.

 

STEP 4:

Add your own touches to the piece. Head to your local craft store and get creative. Find a decal that represents something you’d like to memorialize about your loved one (if they are condolence cards) or to tribute the occasion you got the cards. Since my handwriting is absolutely atrocious, I got some stamps with sayings I thought I might want to use and also went to the paper aisle to get somethings that might look nice. See photo versions for a better explanation:

IDEA #1

IDEA #1

I found these date tags super cheap in the paper aisle/scrapbook aisle at Hobby Lobby. My husband died in November, so I thought I might want this as a decal. I decided against it eventually because I didn’t want to remember that date–BUT you might, or you can use the date of a special occasion like a birth or wedding or graduation.

IDEA #2

IDEA #2

Not too sure about this overexposure, but you get the gist (I warned you I’m not a photographer!). Going with the date theme, I used the months that my family received these cards. The months that were the hardest and we needed the most support and encouragement. It’s nice to remember the love we received even though remembering those months is really really hard. Again, I eventually decided against this, but just as an option to give you ideas.

IDEA #3

IDEA #3

This is what I settled on. I chose a stamp with a Bible verse already on it and a blank gift tag in the paper aisle of Hobby Lobby. If you are good with fonts and lettering, go for it! I just used my glue gun and glued it down once I decided on it.

FINAL STEP: Choose a pretty frame and display it!

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Now this sits on a book shelf in my living room and whenever I see it I’m reminded of all the generous souls who lifted up my family during such a tragic time. And the cards aren’t just sitting in a box collecting somewhere. This is what I call “re-purposing grief.” Sure the memories will always be painful, but the point of it is to take items and memories and make them functional and incorporated into your life now to not remember the pain but the love. And love ALWAYS wins!

 

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Zen and the art of mothering in mayhem

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This is a society where moms are inundated with the pressure to create gourmet meals, and cute crafts and activities for our kids, but when you’re mothering in mayhem, looking like a put-together woman seems like a far and distant world. Tackling the overwhelming and incredibly taxing responsibility to try your best to maintain any sense of “normal” for your kids when everything is crumbling around you is no easy feat. But there are a few things I’ve learned in my experience of caring for my dying husband and three children under 3. So here you go, from one mother in mayhem to another:

  • The small victories: You might not remember even the last minute, but trust your mothering instinct. I don’t remember a lot of the day-to-day when I was the caregiver, at age 28, for my 34-year-old husband who was dying of cancer. I’ve heard the comment: “I don’t know how you did it…” to which I usually respond, “I don’t either!” It’s strange how I can remember some of the finest details of the chaos that ensued around my family the last few weeks of my husband’s life, but the basics seemed to just happen on autopilot…I think.. I still can’t remember how everyone got fed, bathed and the twins off to daycare, manage tantrums and the surge of drugs and dosages that my husband needed to remember to take, but couldn’t; not to mention that small detail of keeping a newborn alive by nursing all hours of the night, pumping and storing milk, and changing diapers and clothes—over and over. This juggling of all the other people I was responsible for, while trying to recover from delivery (strong emphasis on trying…well, there was no trying actually, I just didn’t “recover” from delivery and post-partum, my body just patched itself together and survived it). There were people who tried to help, but didn’t know how, so the majority of responsibility still landed on my shoulders. I managed…I probably didn’t do a stand-up job, but I did it! There’s not enough time to treasure every moment with your kids when you’re just trying to survive, to fight through another day, to keep yourself, your spouse and your kids alive. Pat yourself on the back and celebrate the small victories—when my husband was alive and in home-hospice, those victories included: nobody getting tangled in his oxygen cords; keeping the liquid morphine out of my twin toddlers reach when my husband would forget and accidentally leave it on the nightstand; and the nights when none of the kids woke up while I was carrying my husband to the shower and back—those were victorious nights! After my husband died, my toddlers may have watched countless hours of television and eaten pizza or frozen lasagna for three days in a row, but they were fed, the baby was fed, happy, dry and still getting tummy-time, and at the end of the day, we’re all still alive and somewhat sane—that’s a victory not to be overlooked.
  • Realize you don’t need to be supermom and go it alone: In our society, independence is revered and treasured, but mayhem, crisis and trauma reveals a deeper human need—connectedness and community, both of which require asking for help and revealing vulnerability that you can’t, and shouldn’t try to go it alone. The “zen” part of your mayhem is simply asking for help and humbly receiving it. That knowing, in your mayhem, you have people in your corner and if you don’t, ask for it. When you are tackling your kryptonite, whatever that may be: lack of sleep, grief, illness, etc., that someone can help bear the load, there’s always someone who can help—they can’t take it away for you, but they can help. Many people who help in small ways add up. When we ask for help there is a peace and humility in knowing we’re not supposed to be alone in this life, and we’re especially not supposed to mother alone.
  • Self-care is not selfish: In caring for my husband and children, I honestly forgot about myself—even the basic needs. When the helpers in my home took more showers and wore clean clothing more than I did, that’s a sign that self-care went out the window. I mentally was not able to take care of myself at that time. You know how the mom-thing goes—everyone else is taken care of first. When I came home with a newborn and realized absolutely none of the nursing clothing I had fit, it took me three or four days of wearing oversized t-shirts and wrapping my chest in a towel when my breastmilk came in to finally ask a friend to go shopping for me. I couldn’t even fathom leaving the house to go shopping for myself, if I did, it would have been a scene from “Night of the Living Dead,” I’m sure of it. After my husband died, the self-care situation didn’t get better until recently, when I finally started giving myself permission to take care of myself and convince myself that it isn’t selfish to do. I did myself a huge disservice and made it much harder on myself trying to take on the “I’m strong, I can just carry on” attitude for the better part of three years. And the best part, to the joy of my frugal self, is that self-care doesn’t equal expensive. When I started to look at baths, showers, naps, walks, reading for a few hours in a coffee shop, or even finding a really good deal on a hotel room for a night as therapy, it was easier for me to wrap my head around investing in those things, even if it meant paying for a sitter to make it happen, to spend a little time on myself.
  • Permission to retreat: Taking time away from the mayhem may not be an option, but eventually, if you find a small sliver of time, take it and don’t feel bad. Even if it means locking yourself in the bathroom to pray or meditate (which might include not doing or saying anything at all and just being quiet). I didn’t want to leave my house for long periods of time when my husband was still alive, but I did use the bathroom as a sanctuary. I didn’t have any privacy as my make-shift bedroom was in the living room and people were ALWAYS around, so the bathroom with a lock was the best bet for alone time. I remember just sitting on the floor for even just 10 minutes to escape helped to gain enough strength to handle whatever was going on outside that door. I didn’t have a lot of mental energy to pray, but I know my spirit was crying out even when I was silent. Leaning into the silence and retreating to a sacred space only my spirit could access was finding tiny eyes in the storm. After my husband’s death, showers became my retreat. Now , I have gained enough strength (and the kids are in school for a few hours a day) walks or just sitting in nature to be with myself and God have become my retreat. It only takes a little peace to make a big difference, but you have to fight to search for it sometimes. It’s worth the effort, I promise.

Ultimately, it took me a long time and many trials to realize that I can’t throw a proverbial life preserver to anyone else, including my children, if I myself am drowning. Someone I respect once told me: There is peace in the waves of crisis. If we stop treading water and fighting for the shore, just hang on and let the waves bring us to shore instead. I’m praying for you, whomever you may be, going through the mayhem. You can do this. You can hang on. You can reach the shore.

 

 

Does prayer really work?

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“There are only two ways to live your life. One is as though nothing is a miracle. The other is though everything is a miracle”-Albert Einstein


I usually wait for movies to come out on DVD so I’m a little behind with what’s out, but I recently just watched the movie Miracles from Heaven. It was a powerful and uplifting movie based on a true story of miraculous healing. Miracle stories are amazing every time, but hearing them when you yourself did not get the miracle is, admittedly so, hard to swallow. Whenever I hear of miracle stories I genuinely feel in awe, but a little selfishly thinking on the side “Well…I prayed, my husband prayed, everyone prayed and he still died.” The next day, I found out someone else who leaned on prayer for a miracle did not receive it either and I’m heartbroken. It’s human to think when tragedy strikes, “Does prayer really work? And if it does, why didn’t it work for me (or fill in the name)?” The power of prayer is so easy to praise when “it works” in our favor when the scans are clear and you are stamped “cured,” when the marriage is restored, when someone’s life is spared in a horrendous car accident, but what happens when we pray and pray and pray and the divorce is still finalized, the husband or wife still cheats, the healing doesn’t come and death steals another loved one, one can’t help but to feel more than a little jipped, thinking, “I’m happy for them, truly, but why not me?” It’s a little too easy for us to say, “Prayer didn’t work for me.” I’ve heard that a lot and I’ve said it a lot. I’ve heard, “I tried the whole prayer-thing—it didn’t work.” “I’m praying and I’m still not being healed, I guess I’m not doing it right.” “All I did was pray, I did the right thing, and he still left me.” “I prayed and claimed healing, just like the Bible said to do, and I’m still planning a funeral…” It’d be too logical and easy to just conclude that prayer doesn’t “work.”


We’re not promised our desired result, but we are promised that prayer will always “work” in our favor, the favor of a loving Heavenly Father who wants us to invite him to walk through our circumstances.


So, there’s a clear dilemma, why does prayer “work” for some people, but from the outside it looks like it didn’t “work” for others? I am by no means a theologian or expert in prayer, but the wording, I believe, is the problem not prayer. The word “work.” There are lots of uses for the word “work:” I think when people refer to prayer “not working” we’re focusing on the definition that work means*:

  • to bring about (any result) by or as by work or effort:
  • to work a change.
  • to manipulate or treat by labor:
  • to put into effective operation.
  • to operate for productive purposes:

Key words in these definitions are: effort, change, manipulate, effective operation, to operate for productive purposes, results—you get the gist. Based on using “work” in the latter contexts maybe it would be logical to say I didn’t get the results I wanted therefore prayer didn’t work. But what if we pray in order for God’s will to “work” in our lives, according to the above definitions and instead view our part of prayer as “working” in the definitions that are to follow. That’s not to say we can’t request or go to God with our desires and needs, all with the remembrance that our worldy wants and needs may look differently than God’s sovereign knowledge of our needs and the bigger picture that includes His will, not ours.  So another definition of “work” is also “a literary or musical composition or other piece of fine art—‘a work of art’” or “A defensive structure” or “the exertion of force overcoming resistance or producing molecular change” or “everything needed, desired or expected.”

Here are some more definitions of this expansive word*:

  • to act or operate effectively:
  • to attain a specified condition, as by repeated movement
  • to have an effect or influence, as on a person or on the mind or feelings of a person.
  • to move in agitation, as the features under strong emotion.

I was incredibly grateful that the movie, Miracles from Heaven, showed the real struggle with faith during crisis and I felt both comforted and sad when, in one of the scenes, some “church people” asked the mother if there was something she had done wrong which might by why her 10-year-old daughter was gravely ill. Comforted because I could feel the pain watching that scene and sad because I could relate to the pain watching that scene. When my husband was dying of cancer, I occasionally had run-ins with well-meaning advice that turned out to really damage my prayer life. Comments and advice like: “Have you prayed over him?” “Have you claimed it in prayer?” “You’re not positive enough…” “you’re fearful, you’re not praying with enough faith” all the way to “you’re not even supposed to utter the ‘C’ word (Cancer).” Of course, we had done all of the above and kept the “C” word quiet for most of our marriage and yet, it still progressed. After his death, illnesses swept my household. Myself and my kids over and over again suffered from chronic respiratory illnesses, one which landed my newborn in the intensive care unit with RSV. My mom, who was my refuge in the storm, was laid out for almost two months because of an emergency surgery and I don’t think I ever got a full-night’s sleep for almost two years after because of anxiety and stress on my part and my kids night-terrors and a newborn baby waking at night for a bottle. It seemed all I could do was pray. Sometimes the prayer was only sobbing and crying, not even able to get a single word out of my mouth, sometimes I was so angry I yelled my prayers, sometimes the prayers were not in what I said or how I said it, but more how I said nothing at all because I had no idea what to pray for anymore (Romans 8:26).

But I do have a confession to make, I didn’t start to grasp what prayer really meant until recently, and even more-so now thanks to this awesome movie and meeting some truly amazing and inspiring prayer warriors in this journey from the land of the bereaved to the land of the joyful. To be honest I was really really confused about prayer and, if I’m honest a little bit resentful, because of the conflicting beliefs that I had about it. I even find myself struggling to tell someone who tells me they are ill or hurt that I will pray for their healing, the struggle is real. I am overcoming my “issues” with praying working or not working and I can only conclude that #1 I don’t have to feel ashamed by my “issues” with prayer, only that it drives me to seek God more and #2 despite my feelings on the subject at times, that prayer has one truth and that it “works” every time (James 5:16). It can fit almost any definition of “work” but that’s up to God, not me. Prayer can at times become a “work” of art or masterpiece, it can “work” as a defensive structure against our enemies—even ourselves at times, it can be the moving vehicle that “works” with the force of overcoming resistance.” And the act of truly “praying it down” as my therapist called it can produce  “the works”—everything desired, needed or expected which are the promised results: closeness, dependence and praise for God despite outcome. We’re not promised our desired result, but we are promised that prayer will always “work” in our favor, the favor of a loving Heavenly Father who wants us to invite Him to walk through our circumstances. That, in itself, is a miracle.

 

 

*All definitions obtained from Dictionary.com and Yahoo search definition

Back to school: Writing “Deceased” instead of your name

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It’s the first week of school for my kindergartners and preschooler. It’s a buzzing season of new school clothes, new light-up shoes and lists of blue folders, sharpened pencils and washable markers. Butterflies in tummies and holding back tears—for both kids and momma. The first couple nights were filling out paperwork. Name. Address. Phone number. Mother’s contact. And then the next line always gets me. Father’s contact. Instead of writing your name, I have to write “deceased.” I could have chosen to just leave it blank, but I need people to know you existed. I wish I could have just written your name. I wish there were more lines to write about how your smile lit up the room and your laugh was contagious, how you were stubborn as hell and how, when people look at your boys, they are looking at you only years younger. But I can’t and even if I did, it wouldn’t change the fact that you’re not here. It won’t change the fact that no matter how much I talk about you, no one will really know you the way I knew you. I try to keep your memory alive, even if it’s just a mention on a contact page. At the doctor’s office, at school, at the dentist… writing something, anything, in that blank spot still means you were here and you are remembered. Writing ‘deceased’ means you lived and your life mattered to many­–to my life and the three little lives we made together. I wonder if I’ll stop pausing when I get to that blank line someday. If I’ll have to stop explaining to the teachers why my children talk about death so freely and why I encourage them to. Explaining that I hope their talk and play doesn’t bother the other children whose parents may have only taught them their goldfish “fell asleep” or was simply replaced by a look-alike. I wonder if it’ll ever stop stinging when seeing the dads picking up their kiddos from school, watching their children wrap their arms around their chests. I wonder if I’ll always keep wondering if my daughter will ever experience that…

All I know is that in this new and exciting chapter of our lives, when the kids go to school and meet new friends and learn new things, I’m, for the first time, alone in a quiet house. To be honest, I’ve been looking forward to this chapter for a long time. A little quiet time for momma to breathe, maybe sleep a little more, and to miss you without being on a 15-30-minute time limit with three little kids under six. But now that the chapter’s here, there’s an ache in my heart for you and my kiddos who are moving forward with their growing lives, and I’m here holding their hands along the way, dreaming you were here to hold our hands too…but when I wake up, it’s quiet and lonely and I’m writing ‘deceased’ instead of your name.

I don’t want to have fun with my kids

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It was the end of Spring Break week, my twin preschoolers and two-year-old was home with me all week and everyone had been under the weather so I had cabin fever. That Friday we were all on the mend and I was bound and determined to go do something “fun” with the kids. I chose the Museum of Natural History because we had free passes.

With three little kids, it takes about two hours to get ready to go anywhere, so I needed to keep giving myself a pep-talk throughout the process—“Come on, Nicole, you can do it. You HAVE to go do something fun because that’s what Spring Break is supposed to be—FUN!” Farther into the getting ready process, the pep talks slowly started to sound more like me trying to convince myself this would be FUN. Lunches and snacks packed—check. Extra pull-ups and extra changes of clothes—check. Everyone pick a toy to bring for the long ride—after running around, a few tears and a minor crisis—check. Everyone in the car buckled up—check. I get into the van and then get right back out because I forgot to feed myself that morning so I needed to grab something, anything, to eat. Run back into the house, grab a banana and a handful of almonds. On the way back out to the car, I realized I forgot the free passes. Run back into the house to grab free passes. Lock the door and get in the van. Keys in the ignition—check. Off we went to have some FUN.

My kiddos aren’t the most tolerable when it comes to long distance transportation—for them fifteen minutes is long distance—so there’s always a little sense of urgency and panic driving an hour away because almost anything and everything could happen in that timeframe. Bathroom emergencies, squabbles, tears, and sickness…you’re always on the brink of being prepared for something to happen. Safe to say, we got to the museum parking lot in one piece, unscathed by any serious issues. With relief and pride I patted myself on the back for having made it and thought, “Hey that wasn’t so bad…” My heart sunk as I saw the parking lot, jam-packed with cars waiting in rows for a space to open up. We spent thirty minutes driving around and around until I victoriously found a spot. Phew. We made it. Kids out. Snack bags over the shoulder. Heavy two-year-old in one arm, the other is filled with coats for “just in case” weather that is always a possibility in Denver. My apparent need for fitness was blaring as I’m getting out of breath and breaking a minor sweat while I make my way up to the entrance with kids in tow. We did it! I glanced down to make sure the tickets were still in my purse and noticed something I hadn’t before—they had expired. Morale was low at this point, but not totally crashed, so onward into the entrance. Then I saw it. (If a defeated, frustrated, crying, yawning emoticon existed, insert it here.) The lines were wrapped around to form a maze of barriers. There were people everywhere and my pep talks were no more. Now my thoughts were only, “This is NOT fun…” But I was still determined to get through the lines and go through the museum, because my stubborn nature dared me to leave, and my conscience dared me to play with the idea that I am just not a fun mom. We stood in line for thirty-ish minutes because I kept having to leave the line to chase after the two-year-old. I was trying to keep up everyone’s spirits, but in my peripheral vision, I noticed how everyone else’s kids seemed to be angels standing in line, while mine were uncontainable monkeys swinging from one rope to the other in excitement. Then the “I have to go potty” plea rang in my ears. We left the line to head for the bathrooms. My twin boys don’t want to go into the “girly bathroom” anymore, so they insisted on going into the “Man one.” Needing to take my two-year-old daughter potty, not to mention myself, had to wait so I could make sure BOTH boys came out of the restroom. (My Mom-radar is on high-alert!) Men went in and men came out, but not my boys…I could hear them singing, and giggling and turning the hand-dryer on and off and on again. Every five seconds I’d crack the door open and request their presence; ultimately knowing I’d just have to wait. When we were finally reunited, the task of going into the women’s restroom had just begun. I ended up convincing them to go into the women’s restroom with me anyway because there was no way I was leaving two five-year-olds to wait outside (I’ve binge watched way too many drama/crime shows to make me paranoid enough to not do that!) We made our way into the women’s restroom, alas! There’s another line. We finally got through the business that needed to be done and headed back out to stand in line, because, dammit, we were going to have FUN!

Since our visit was no longer free, I had to swallow hard as I tallied up how much it was going to cost all four of us to get in. I couldn’t really afford to have all this fun we were about to have, but I reasoned that a) it would be cheaper to get a museum pass, and b) the membership line was way shorter, so we chose that line. As we stood in line, the kids got more anxious and excited, and I felt my blood pressure was rising. “Just get through the line, and it’ll all be OK.” Then one of my boys grabbed the other and head-butt him. With tears from one, laughter from the other, and my two-year-old squirming out of my arms to go explore, I had finally reached my breaking point. “Ok, that’s it—we’re leaving!” I stepped out of line and started for the exit with protests trailing behind me. The boys were crying the whole way back, but I just kept saying to them, “That wasn’t fun. We’ll try again…” (Thanks Love&Logic!) Truth was I felt like crying too. I felt like the biggest failure. Truth was that for so long “fun” wasn’t even on my radar—being the caregiver of my husband with terminal cancer, and twins and a newborn all at once—now the dust of grief finally began to settle, and I couldn’t do this one thing. Would I ever be able to have fun? Would I be the uptight, serious mom forever?

Everyone had quieted down on the return drive and we ended up stopping at the local mall with the free play place. I let the kids run around as we played tickle monster and hide-and-seek. We stopped for a small treat of M&M cookies and sat at the table trying to count how many birds got stuck in the mall , which would swoop around overhead once in a while.

That night as I was putting my boys to sleep, I apologized for the museum-thing not panning out and we talked about manners in public and maybe next time we could try again. I tucked one of my boys in and I told him, “I’m sorry we didn’t really have fun today,” and he replied, “I had a lot of fun!”

“Really?” I asked, surprised. “What part was fun to you?”

“My favorite part was doing the puzzle with you,” he said, drifting off to sleep. I was stumped. I didn’t remember doing a puzzle until he said something. Before all the chaos of getting ready and out the door, we sat on the floor in our jammies doing a puzzle together. It took 15 minutes to put together that puzzle and it took me all day in my mission to “have FUN” with my kids. He remembered the 15 quiet minutes we spent together. That’s when I realized I didn’t want to have the kind of “fun” with my kids that I pressure myself into—expensive outings, spending money I really don’t have to spend in the first place. The kind of “fun” that I fake smile the whole time because I’m so tired from making sure we’re all together and alive in busy public places. The kind of “fun” I force upon myself because I feel like I have to compensate for their dad not being here and they’re stuck with me—sometimes sad, sometimes irritable, sometimes too-serious mommy.

My son taught me something so profound about my kids and myself. The fun times remembered and cherished are the times spent just being together. Being in each other’s presence. It could be at a park, it could be putting away laundry while pretending socks are silly puppets; it could be holding hands walking to school. This realization took the pressure off me to stop attempting to do activities I just can’t do with my kids in this season—as a grieving, widowed mom, whose outings with my kids I have to do solo, not to mention they’re 5, 5 and 2…little kids come with so much grace and so little expectation. All they want is time with you, time together. All the other high blood pressure moments we parents put on ourselves are lost to them in grace.

One day museums will be fun. One day I will be able to take them to a movie theater with ease. One day we can take a road trip. One day we can go to Disney World and have some serious Fun. But not now. Not in this season. Now, I’m OK with puzzles in our jammies, digging worms in the backyard and spending a couple bucks to eat ice cream in the park, because those are the moment my kids cherish. That’s the kind of fun I’m after now, and I know my kids will show me I can be a fun mom.

 

When our feet hit the ground

Courtesy of Adam Houseman Photography

They say that you can’t help falling in love with someone, like we really don’t have a choice, which may be true. But the real love story happens after the falling, when our feet hit the ground and we are presented with the choice to stay or run after realizing the love story contains our messes, our brokenness, our faults and mistakes, our desires and passions, our pain and deepest regrets, our darkest secrets and greatest triumphs. If you asked me if I would change my choice after hitting the ground with my husband Phil, I would always tell you, “No.” I would always choose to stay. Always. This is our love story:

The diner smelled of bacon and coffee and stale cigarette smoke still clinging to the walls from former days. Phil and I were directed to a booth by the hostess. Phil sat across from me. We ordered coffees. I was nervous and was folding and refolding the paper napkin. It was hard to look at him, so I just focused on the napkin-folding. He told me what I already knew he was there to say.

We had been dating for a little over nine months. I had badgered him for months to get a follow-up check-up after his surgery—the removal of one of his lungs which was riddled with cancerous tumors a year or so prior to our meeting each other. That day, the diner day, he finally went for a check-up.

“The cancer came back…” he said. His face showed no emotion, but his voice was heavy with disappointment and apprehension. He told me later he wasn’t so nervous about the cancer part, but that maybe I’d leave him like the other women he’d dated in the past. Although I already knew it from the way he sounded on the phone as he asked me to meet him at the diner, but finally hearing it from him, my heart sunk deep into my chest. My heart broke, experiencing the first of many fractures and breaks to follow. I was ill-prepared for this information and tears welled in my eyes and poured down my cheeks.

“There’s nothing the doctors recommend,” he explained methodically, as if he had rehearsed it on the way to the diner. “But the growths (he refused to ever use the word ‘tumors’) are so small and slow growing, it’s good. It’s OK. I’ll probably just have it the rest of my life, it’ll probably just be there. I don’t have any symptoms at all, so I don’t want to do chemo again. I can’t go through that again…”

He didn’t have to say it for us both to know that with only one lung, this disease was Stage IV. I was quiet, afraid to look at him, because if I did I was scared I’d plunge into a weeping puddle. But I gathered my thoughts and I looked straight into his eyes and said, “Well then, I guess we better get married.” Honestly I didn’t even think about what I was saying. I was half joking, trying to keep spirits light. It just came out. It wasn’t really in my plans, to get married so quickly, after all I was graduating college in a month and I had just started a job as a reporter at a newspaper—my dream job. It wasn’t in the plan to get married…to a man with cancer at that. It wasn’t my plan, it wasn’t Phil’s plan, but it was God’s.

Phil took me to Glenwood Springs a day after Christmas and proposed. When we got back from that weekend away, I immediately started planning an outdoor, August wedding. I really surprised Phil when I switched to bride-mode, talking about colors, flowers, and bookings (believe me, that’s unusual for my personality!) From the beginning of our relationship, there was always some kind of an unspoken urgency, and so when he asked me to meet him at the mall a couple weeks later, he proposed again. “I really, really want to marry you…but sooner than August. I can’t wait that long.” So, my mom and I planned a beautiful wedding in five weeks. We were married February 28, 2009. He died November 20, 2013.

My choosing to marry Phil was recently questioned in a conversation. The question went a little something like this: “You chose to marry someone, knowing he had a terminal illness, and not only that, but took a risk in having children, not one ­but three with him, now, I’m not sure if they were accidents or not… You have to take responsibility for some of the struggles you are now facing. You took on that risk…”At the time I was asked, I was caught off guard and didn’t really say anything. I have actually heard so many strange and oftentimes insensitive things over these past two years, nothing really shocks me anymore. I used to hold onto the hurtful things people have said to me, but now I’m glad they are said because they force me to search for my own truth in the error of their comments and questions. This is the truth that I have settled on, when two people hit the ground after falling in love…

Our four year marriage was jammed pack with events of a lifetime, three babies in two years, trying to run a successful business and a terminal cancer diagnosis stalking us along the way. Our marriage was raw, fast-paced and painfully beautiful. Maybe our love story was never meant to be a fairy tale with a ‘Happily ever after.’ Maybe our love story resides in the truth that when you love someone so completely that it resonates with your entire identity, it’s sickening and excruciating to realize how much it would hurt if they were not in your life anymore and even if you had just a little time with them, it was better than no time at all. Maybe our love story resonates more with those of the star-crossed lovers in literature. ‘Star-crossed,’ an astronomical reference specifically in the works of William Shakespeare. The characters’ relationships are doomed from the start, because, in literature, their paths were predetermined by the stars. These lovers work throughout their whole relationship, to do everything in his or her power to control the outcome…to be together. In the end all those attempts to stay together fail because their paths have already been predetermined, already set. The star-crossed are those who fall quickly and powerfully in love, not knowing much about the other, but knowing that something bigger than themselves is in the works. Those who fight for one another despite all earthly odds stacked against them. And when things aren’t looking so good for them, they push further into one another until they collide in brokenness and chaos and heartbreak.

Maybe therein lies the romance—we, any one of us here on this earth, choose to love and unite with another human being who is as broken as we are. We choose to weave our lives together with one another, always knowing in the back of our minds that we can lose that person and the strings holding us together can be frayed and untied. That’s the love story. Choosing to stay regardless.

Contrary to Shakespeare’s lovers, Phil and I were not victims to a vengeful and merciless universe; there were no constellations of burning balls of fire out to get us simply out of an act of randomness and alignment. No, the battle wasn’t in the universe to keep Phil and me together, the battle lies in a broken, fallen world and ultimately, the war in his chest was a tiny cell, multiplying into a silent giant. Despite whatever giants were looming, Phil and I had something far greater than those star-crossed lovers, who only had each other; we had God. And so we lived our daily lives, our marriage together, choosing to lean into God rather than the power that cancer can have over one’s life.

So, was the choice to marry Phil terrifying at times? Hell yes. Our marriage was nowhere near perfect. We were newlyweds and new parents. We had tense times, we argued and disagreed, we hurt each other with words, we made choices that set us a part at times, but there’s one thing we didn’t do; we didn’t give up on each other, we stayed, we fought for each other against all odds. Choosing to stay regardless of the brokenness also created a million little reflections incredibly beautiful, peaceful, loving, passionate and profound moments that shine brighter than our darkest days. Has the choice to have children with him with a high chance he may not be in their lives (by the way, we were told that he wouldn’t be able to father children because of all the chemo he had been through, so by no means were our three children “accidents”), left me with the burden of guilt at times? Absolutely, but they are the most beautiful part of this story. Have I lectured myself through all the struggles have been through since he died, saying to myself, “Nicole, you chose this. You signed up for this…”? It is a script I am all too familiar with. But do I consider marrying Phil as a huge giant risk with too many red flags I shouldn’t have ignored, a risk that would far outweigh the benefits? Absolutely not. I’ll never consider my choice as a risk. I don’t consider my choice as some valiant act of bravery either, instead we were just two broken people who fell in love and lived a lifetime together, and even though it only consisted of four years, it was our one and only lifetime. This is my truth. This is my love story.

We keep this love in this photograph. We made these memories for ourselves. Where our eyes are never closing. Our hearts were never broken. Times forever frozen still…And if you hurt me. That’s OK, baby, only words bleed. Inside these pages you just hold me. And I won’t ever let you go…When I’m away. I will remember how you kissed me under the lamppost back on 6th street. Hearing you whisper through the phone, “Wait for me to come home..”

-Ed Sheeran, “Photograph”

Courtesy of AHP Photos

*Courtesy of Adam Houseman Photography

 

Eagerly awaiting a New Year

Copyright: Min Chiu

It really bothers me when people complain about their age, like getting older is a sad thing, like the future is never going to hold what the days of their youth used to hold. Several months ago this year, I turned 30—I was eagerly awaiting 30 and not dreading it. I wince if I hear someone gripe about turning another year older as if age is this terrible thing we just have to “deal” with because I know there are people who would have given everything to celebrate another birthday, another year.

When my 34-year-old husband was dying of cancer, I remember being so bitter and angry when I’d see elderly couples holding hands or sitting across from each other at dinner or one pushing the other in a wheelchair as I pushed my husband in his wheelchair thinking, “That was supposed to be us “Someday,” not now.” The bitterness clung on when he died and it seemed like everyone around me got to celebrate another birthday, another new year, but my husband didn’t. The bittersweet reminder of the gift of age followed me into my grief journey into the many grief support groups I encountered where it always seemed like I was the youngest person, holding onto dear life to the four years I got with my husband, while others talked about the 50 years they got with their spouse. It didn’t seem fair, but now my heart celebrates that I even got those four years to begin with, just as my heart eagerly awaits each new year now, without him, not because I want to be without him, but because for some reason, I still have the privilege to get out of bed every day, the privilege to take another breath, the privilege to be walking on this earth. Aware of this privilege that I did nothing to earn, I do not mourn my three children’s birthdays in sadness for how quickly they grow, I do not mourn mine for how quickly I age because I was painfully allowed a glimpse into the gift of age and time.

I challenge you for 2016 to eagerly await your birthday and to celebrate it. Be in awe of and learn from the seconds, hours, days, months and years you had before this very moment. Rather than mourn the years piling up on one another, celebrate the moments that lead to this new year as a precious gift; even the really bad, really messy years, even the years we made mistakes, the painful years, the years that are full of regrets. Regrets are only wasted if we don’t change.

Mom and Dad’s DIY therapy hack #1: Break some stuff-Part 1

Copyright: Candus Camera

 

“Wise anger is like the fire from the flint; there is a great ado to bring it out;

and when it does come, it is out again immediately.”~ Matthew Henry

The first year after the loss of my husband, I was constantly swimming with anger; anger towards cancer for stealing my husband and my children’s father, anger towards things that were said or done or weren’t said or weren’t done. I woke up with anger, I went through the day with anger and I went to bed with anger. If grief and healing were a moving machine, steeping in anger and bitterness wedges itself between the gears and stops the machine. Anger kept me at a standstill. It was a distraction from the deeper roots of my loss. Anger shut me off from myself, my family and my God, but I didn’t know how to get out of it. Yes, anger is very common in grief, it’s OK to feel it in your loss, but my anger was infecting every other part of my being on top of struggling to comprehend the trauma and tragedy I had just endured. I couldn’t cry, I couldn’t do anything other than relive all the things I was angry about. I kept telling myself I was justified in my anger. So many things went wrong and if I let go of the anger, would that would mean I would be saying everything was “OK?” Logically the answer is ‘No,’ that’s not what it would mean, but anger has a funny way of distorting memories and making you cling to them for dear life. Holding onto anger catapulted me into the deep end of the pool, swimming in depression, bitterness, despair and negativity. I had to get it out some way, somehow, because I was drowning—so I chose anger as my life preserver.

I was seeing a counselor who was trying to help me process and work through my anger. One thing that helped me was EMDR, but that and the counseling cost money on top of the expense to find childcare for the therapy sessions made it difficult for me to attend consistently so my counselor suggested a cheaper therapy for me to try at home; breaking dishes.

So, one night when the kids were in bed, I went out into the garage and bagged up all my old dishes; dishes that reminded me of all the meals I had with my husband and all the conversation and memories those dishes held. Preparing meals on, washing and putting them away every day, over and over again was another staple to my making a home with him; cooking, eating, cleaning…the simple tasks that gave me a purpose, a reminder that we were a team, a family. So pulling out these dishes from packed boxes I found I was even angry at the dishes, how dare they remind me of what I had for a split second in my life, like a dangling carrot that was then ripped away. It wasn’t fair. I didn’t want to be left with dishes, I just wanted my husband back and I couldn’t, so I put all the dishes in a trash bag and then that trash bag in another trash bag and then in yet another; per the directions of my counselor. I placed the bag in the middle of the garage floor and I just stared at it for a long time, seeing if I could muster up tears or some other feeling, but nothing came. So I grabbed the sledgehammer in the corner of the garage and took a swing at the bag. It was a lame excuse for a swing, as nothing even broke and it was as if the bag was taunting me, “You can do better than that…” So I took another swing and heard a crash. Once the momentum began I swung at that bag over and over until the tears came and the anger bubbled to the surface. I don’t know how much time passed, but when I finally stopped, the once bulky bag lay tattered and flattened, all those dishes smashed to tiny pieces. I was exhausted, but felt a little bit lighter than before. There’s just something about actually seeing the result of my anger that helps to free it, seeing the pieces and the destruction rather than letting it all swirl around in my head and letting it destroy me. There’s something symbolic about being able to then pick up the pieces and toss them in the garbage. I wish I could say that one night of breaking dishes got rid of all the anger for me, but it was the first little crack in the giant dam I had built up inside me. Eventually that crack got bigger and bigger, allowing more and more emotions to flow and be felt much more easily.

 

Common sense tips for breaking stuff:

  • Do this in a place where you feel safe and your children are being taken care of by someone else (I didn’t want my children to walk in on me wielding a sledgehammer!)
  • Be intentional about it, and, I would suggest, be sober.
  • Wear eye protection if you don’t bag it up, although bagging it up means less stress (and shrapnel) about cleanup afterwards

 

*Disclosure: I am not a licensed therapist or counselor. I am merely sharing things that helped me and my family. Please refer to your or your child’s therapist to help identify grief patterns in his/her/your unique experience.

Thanks+grieving

Nicole Hastings

“I see people, as they approach me, trying to make up their minds whether they’ll ‘say something about it’ or not. I hate if they do, and if they don’t.”

C.S. Lewis, A Grief Observed

 

As we embark on the holiday season with Thanksgiving, and then Christmas, we are expected to and expect others to participate in and feel words like “joy,” “cheer,” “peace” and, “giving thanks.” When I was younger, I couldn’t wait for this season to start so I could experience and immerse myself in all the words I mentioned above. There was something magical and heart-changing about the lights, decorations, and the spirit of giving. Now, after experiencing the deep-cutting and profound loss of my husband, I have tip-toed up to the holiday season holding my breath. For a griever, the holidays can be a ticking-time bomb of memories and triggers. For me, it marks a chain of events that makes it hard for me to catch my breath all winter long: the end of October is my daughter’s birthday, mid-November is my husband’s death-date, then Thanksgiving, then Christmas, New Year’s, Valentine’s Day (the day he and I met,) the end of February is our wedding anniversary, and then the beginning of March is our twin boys’ birthday. Winter for me is an emotional “kaboom” so this year I’ve been bracing myself, being incredibly intentional with extra self-care and thinking ahead how I will mourn on these days while also living life as it goes on and creating new memories with my little ones. With that said, I’m focusing this post on the concept of “giving thanks” from a griever’s standpoint.

If your loss is fresh and new, you may feel like you want to disassociate from any of the Holiday Spirit words splashed all about the country. You may feel like you just want to skip the holidays that focus so heavily on family and being together. You may feel guilty for wanting to skip the holidays or others may be making you (intentionally or unintentionally) feel guilty about wanting to bypass the holidays. Whether your loss is new or a while ago, there may be a lot of “shoulds” going around your head, or being suggested from well-meaning family, friends, neighbors, co-workers and even strangers. “You should be thankful you still have a job, so many family and friends to support you, your kids, your house, your health, that you don’t live in a third-world country, that you have food in the fridge etc.… (fill in the blank)” Or if you’re a person of faith, well-meaning individuals may want to comfort you with, “Well, be thankful he/she’s in Heaven.” “Be thankful you’ll see him/her again.” “Be thankful he/she’s in a better place.” Therein lies the paradox of being a griever—being surrounded by so many things you’re thankful for. And you are. You are thankful for all those things, but you are also missing someone and it’s OK in the midst of all the thankfulness to say, “I’m hurting, this sucks, I’m lonely, and it’s not fair…I know I will see them again, but for now, right now in this moment, I want them to be here with me. I don’t want them to be gone.”

As a caretaker of a grieving person (that means anyone who is in the room with a person who has experienced loss: family member, friend, co-worker, neighbor) please throw the “shoulds” out the window. If someone around you is depressed or a Holiday party “downer” and in angst because their loss is bubbling up with this holiday season, don’t try to give them a pep talk of “Well at least you…” phrases. Believe me, they are painfully aware of all they have to be thankful for. They are painfully aware not to take things for granted, that time is short, and the things and people in their lives are not going to last forever—they are thankful for the presence of each of those things. Even more so, with all the other things that we grievers are so grateful for, we are grateful that we can grieve our loved one at all; meaning that if we never had the privilege to know them, we’d never have the privilege to miss them.

But for a moment, even in the midst of the cheer and laughter and joy, if you are the caretaker of a grieving person, grant the griever permission to feel the pain, the sadness and the terrible ache of missing their loved one. Also know that there’s no forcing gratitude, humility, joy and peace on someone else; those are deeply personal things someone who’s going through the deep, dark valley will have to come to while on their own pursuit of and grappling with God.

So this holiday season, if you know someone who may be grieving (whether they verbalize it or not), put all the “chin-up” cheerleading phrases on hold, and don’t be scared to give the griever permission to feel his/her emotions by acknowledging the griever’s bittersweet holiday experience. Some might say, “Well I’m not good with sad things or people who cry.” Well, I say to you in the most gentle way possible, “Get over yourself, it’s not about you.” And it’s not. When comforting a grieving person, giving them the gift of permission and a safe place to miss and feel the loss, is a priceless gift that will aid in his/her healing. It will be something the griever will be thankful for; they may never say it, but you can be assured they feel it.