About Moxie Girl Musings

Moxie Girl Musings is about starting over from square one after tragedy impacted my young family. It's filled with stories of triumph, struggle, snafus, hopes, and dreams. Sometimes there will be features from other writers that I like and every so often I'll include an original short story, but normally I simply write what's on my mind at the time. Welcome to my unfiltered true-life story as I figure out this thing called life. http://www.amberleaeaston.com

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Release

There comes a point in starting over when you simply need to let go of all that you once were.  Let go of the story of what was or who you were or what was lost or what could have been.  Let go of the weight of the grief and the guilt over wanting to be free of it.  Guilt and grief are weighty anchors that want to hold you in place even as the wind fills your sails and urges you forward.

Part of healing is wanting to shrug off the past while fighting to create a new present that's all your own. The problem is that the story is there no matter what.  It is the history that created present day.  But the story is just that: a story.  It gets embellished with emotion as time passes. What begins as non-fiction becomes distorted with the retelling and reliving until it has more power over the present than it deserves. 

The good news is that we have the ability to strip away the embellishments to get it down to 'just the facts.' Yes, my husband died five years ago.  Period.  Yes, the kids have had a challenging time with it.  Period.  Stripping that story of its power has been damn difficult, but I have done it.  

I haven't blogged much in the past few months for a few reasons.  One reason is that I have had other writing projects that simply absorbed my creativity.  The other reason is that the blog had come to represent all that I wanted to release.  The idea of writing a blog post contradicted what I wanted to do, which was to abandon the story of what my life had been like pre-widow and what it's been like during the past five years of rebuilding.  I felt like the story had wrapped itself around me like a net and the more I struggled to break free, the more tangled I became.

So I stopped struggling.

As a writer, it may seem self-sabotaging to reject the history I often mine for story-lines.  To find peace with that, I decided that the past can be used but not abused.  I don't need my story on a day-to-day basis.  Widow is who I am when asked my marital status, but that is all.  I am not draped in black and hiding myself from the world.  My story has no power to hold me back.  By releasing my attachment to it, I am free to be who I choose to be.  It is such a freeing feeling to let it all go, to create every day, to stop looking over my shoulder, to stop comparing what-if with what-is.

As for the future of this blog, I hope it has more 'adventures in dating' scenarios, 'book signing glories', 'ranting about the publishing world' and 'traveling with kids' stories than anything else.  I am sure the words widow, Sean, suicide or starting over will creep in from time to time, but my heart isn't filled with that story anymore.  No, my heart is filled with such joy for this moment, such hope for all that is and compassion for what has been that I can't imagine going backward. Sure, I might stumble, but I don't foresee losing my balance completely. 

I am free. I have released that old tale.  It feels beyond good.  I recommend letting the story of who you were go.  It doesn't matter.  Not really.  Today matters.  Only today.  And this moment will eventually be the past, so let this go, too.

Peace to you during this end of the year wrap up.  I hope that the new year is filled with spectacular opportunities for happiness for all of us.

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Mirror

I am over being politically correct--not that I have been for awhile now.  I would rather stand up for what I think is right without worrying about what Joe Blow thinks because, in all honesty, I think Joe Blow is an idiot.

I am not sure when I got it into my head that I needed to run my life via committee--probably my Mid-Western upbringing--but those days are gone.  Perhaps years of being a writer, putting myself out there for review and developing a thick skin have propelled me toward this awakening.  Or perhaps owning my age, respecting my journey and learning hard life-lessons ripped off the blinders to my own insecurities.  No matter the cause of my new sense of being, I embrace the freedom that I have been given.  Freedom of censorship.  Freedom of choice.  Freedom of being authentically--and sometimes weirdly--me. 

For some people this may be a given, but it hasn't been for me.  I can think of too many examples during my lifetime where I surrendered my ground to make things more comfortable for someone else, of how many things I gave up so that I would be acceptable to the elusive "they", how many times I compromised despite my instinct screaming out with objection and how much anger I've held onto because of it all. 

Through all of the compromises, I wandered from my true nature and my purpose.  I didn't even notice it happening because a part of me had become unconscious.  I stuffed my feelings down with food, with distractions, with anything I could think of that would keep me in the dark.  It got to the point where I couldn't look at myself in the mirror without getting upset.  Upset because the stranger looking back at me from my reflection seemed to be saying, "what are you waiting for?"

And that's the question:  what are you waiting for?

I think of that question daily.  What am I waiting for?   For someone else to give me permission to move on, to say what's really on my mind, to live my life, to love, to be what I was born to be?  Hell, no.  Not anymore.

I don't care what Joe Blow thinks.  It is more important to me that, when I look in the mirror, I can look myself in the eye and know I am being true.

There is something telling about looking myself in the eye.  It goes beyond checking my hair or my make-up or seeing how those pants look from behind.  It goes to a deeper level of truth when I look eye-to-eye with my reflection.  Perhaps that is why I avoided doing it for years...I didn't want to acknowledge the truth.  

Have you looked yourself in the eye lately?  I hope you can.  And when you do, I hope you can smile with the certainty that you are living a passionate, authentic and loving life.  If not, if there is sadness or desperation in your eyes, then ask yourself:  what are you waiting for?

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Solo

Marilyn Monroe said it best when she said, "It's better to be unhappy alone than unhappy with someone."  I would not have understood that a few years ago, but I do now.

My vulnerability after Sean's death led me on a twisted journey of takers, users and abusers.  My need to be anything but alone opened the door for people who just wanted something from me.  Some wanted close to the latest gossip in town and I was all too willing to talk because I had a huge hole in my heart.  Others made promises they had no intention of keeping, which devastated me in my vulnerable state-of-mind.  Like birds of prey, they smelled my temporary weakness and snatched me up in their talons.  The relationships were toxic.  I see it now.  Clarity has come at a cost.  

Now that my life has stabilized and my confidence is back, I am letting them all go, releasing my attachment.  Despite my vulnerability and need at the time, not one of those relationships ever truly lifted me up or gave me joy.  They clung to me because they needed something and I made it easy to take because it was better than being alone.  Like parasites, we used each other for our selfish needs and agendas.  Getting back to a place of self-reliance has resulted in some scarring and a whole lot of learning.   

Starting over in life is more than rebuilding a career, moving beyond active grieving and regaining confidence.  Starting over means making mistakes that teach lessons about who I am and what I am capable of overcoming.  Starting over means accepting current circumstances instead of trying to make the old routine work.  Starting over means standing on my own without needing anyone to 'fill a void'. Starting over means knowing what I deserve and accepting nothing less...including respect. 

Unless you have needed to start life over from scratch all alone with kids depending on you to make the right choices, you're not going to understand.  Being suddenly widowed and an only parent is a scary thing.  I made a lot of mistakes, but I forgive myself.  The key is now saying, "enough" and moving on.  I don't expect you to understand, but I do expect you to keep this phrase in mind before you cast judgment:  There, but for the grace of God, go I.

I completely understand what Marilyn Monroe meant when she said, "It's better to be unhappy alone than unhappy with someone."  Unhappy with someone means being stuck on a one way road of dysfunction and desperation where the toxic energy binds you together in an endless loop of nowhere.  Unhappy alone means it's all up to me to change it.  I am in control.  I do not need to accept 'less than' anymore or tolerate disrespect.  

Am I unhappy?  Yes, in a way.  Sometimes.  I don't feel like I fit where I am and am looking to find that place where I do.  But it's up to me to do it.  On my own.  Like a big girl.  Solo.

Monday, October 18, 2010

Pause. Rewind. Play.

I organized my DVDs and videos this weekend.  As I sorted through the piles, I pulled out a few that were filmed by tour companies during our many vacations over the years.  You know the ones with the cheesy music, shots of strangers you shared the adventure with and sold by whatever tour company you were with on that particular day?  Well, I convinced--okay, I begged--the kids to sit and watch with me.  As we ooed and ahhed over how cute Briahna was when she was only five years old and swimming with stingrays in the Cayman Islands, a pattern revealed itself.  Even though we were still a family of four at the time, only glimpses of Sean were seen in each video.

A desperation came over me to see him live and in action again.  I paused and rewound video.  Then I would see him, just a brief glimpse of a smile or a leg or an arm or the back of his head, but always as a glimpse.  There were many shots of the kids and me, almost an embarrassing amount.  But rarely Sean.

As we made our way from a decade ago to more recent times, the pattern of the three of us--Briahna, Ben and me--became clear.  It has always been this way, even when Sean lived.  I don't know how many times we would be snorkeling or diving when I would look up and realize he had disappeared.  That's how he was, always in his own head, always doing his own thing, always choosing to be alone, always uncomfortable in his own skin.  He chose to stay out of the picture.  He chose to watch.  He chose to end his life. 

Watching the images of past vacations did not make me sad.  The kids and I enjoyed them.  My desperation to see Sean in motion again faded away into a sense of acceptance for who he truly was.  Maybe I needed that reminder of how our life was with me always looking for him and him always disappearing.

After awhile I stopped pausing and rewinding, much to the relief of the kids.  There is only so much pausing and rewinding we can do in our lives.  Looking back, analyzing what was, studying the why or the how becomes redundant. It is.  It was.

Play.  

Friday, October 15, 2010

Eloquence of Silence

Five years ago, my world was in free fall.  Only a few months had passed since Sean's suicide and the business of death filled my every waking moment.  My life had been whittled down to a checklist.  Get up in the morning.  Pay off bills.  Take kids to grief counseling.  Go to my own grief counselor.  Create a will.  Tear it up.  Choose a guardian.  Change my mind.  Clean the house.  Feed us.  Lock self in bathroom so the kids won't see me cry.  Repeat.

In between checking off the to-do list, I flayed around and grasped at people as if they were life preservers.  Some relationships truly did save my sanity while others threatened to crack the brittle shell that held me together.  I craved talking to anyone who would listen because the silence scared the hell out of me. So I talked and talked and talked.  And I stayed a flurry of motion with traveling and house projects.

But I could not write.  I could not sit still.  I ran from the silence.

Five years later, my story is different.  Most of those people I clung to are now absent from my life.  I appreciate them for being here when I needed them the most and would gladly be there for them in the future; but I no longer need saving.  I have learned that there are people--ordinary people who don't wear uniforms--whose purpose is to be a life preserver when someone's life becomes a sinking ship.  Once the saving is done, they fade away to find another who needs them more.  I call them Earth Angels and have been fortunate enough to also call them friends.  In their absence, I am content.

You see, grief is weird and turbulent and doesn't make any sense.  It brings out the best and worst in people.   I have family members who never stepped up to be there for the kids and me during our time of crisis, not even a phone call to see how we were.  And, I must admit, I will remember that.  I have a very close family member who recently told me that she never wants me to speak of being a single mom or a widow again--ever.  I have seen friendships either strengthen or crumble.  But the most important thing that has come from this journey is that I have embraced my life as is.  The journey brought out the best in me. 


Where once I sought to fill the void left by Sean's death with false friends who truly don't care about me, I am now at peace with my widow status.  I no longer seek to fill the void because I now see that there never was a void.  When you love someone as deeply as I loved Sean, that love remains.

I faced the pain.  I swam down in the deep end of life.  I have nothing to prove to anyone.  I do not need validation from false friends or family members who only want to be in my life during the good times. Life is as ugly as it is beautiful.  Life is as complicated as it is simple.  Silence permeates it all. When we are able to sit in the silence,  we can hear our hearts again.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

I love L.A.

Sunset Boulevard is often referred to as the 'boulevard of broken dreams', but I disagree.  As I checked into a hip hotel on that same boulevard a few weeks ago, those words made me smile.  When I looked around Hollywood, I didn't see broken dreams.  I saw dreamers who hope for their big break.  I saw a city built around making dreams come true.  Creative energy zapped from the pavement.  Promises whispered through the palm trees. 


My friend and I opened a bottle of wine and settled in by the pool that was tucked in a courtyard lined with bamboo, palm trees, Mediterranean pines and flowers.  As one of my friends said, it had a 'Melrose Place' feel to it.  We perched our wine bucket on the edge of a Japanese-styled fountain and kicked back to enjoy simply being there. 

As we finished off our first bottle, a too-good-looking-to-be-true-Hollywood type showed up saying they were going to be filming a television reality show where we were, said we could stay, but that they were bringing in the 'girls'.  Whatever.  I had my wine, had my feet up by the fountain, and no Hollywood producer would scare me off.  So in came the cast--I don't believe I'm allowed to say who it was so will play it safe--and they started chatting with us about what we were up to, about the amount of wine bottles we had and our plans for the night.  These girls could have been our daughters, were Hollywood beautiful and couldn't have been nicer.  Yep, it's true.  They were nice.


The night ended up being more wild than this 42 year-old anticipated and led to the dreaded not-quite-sober-not-quite-intoxicated walk down Sunset Boulevard to our hotel at 5:30 AM.  (No, we weren't with the TV girls--we were on our own.) 

I felt more alive than I have felt in years during those hours spent laughing and drinking and flirting and bullshitting all night long.  I loved meeting people who were actors in waiting.  I loved talking writing with other writers who had amazing stories to share with the world.  I loved the hope in everyone's voices, the determination, the 'knowing' that their turn at the spotlight was just around the corner, and the optimism that had them laughing at current bumps in the road. Where else in the world can you find that feeling of dreams coming true all around you?  


The next day at sunset we witnessed a band of drummers creating havoc on Venice Beach and drawing a huge crowd.  Police cars came from all directions down the beach, their lights flashing red on the sand as the sun set over the Pacific and the glow of the Santa Monica pier served as background.  As the sirens flashed, the drummers kept beating and the crowd they attracted jumped to the rhythm, waved their arms in the air and chanted "play on, play on, play on".  Eventually they left the beach to walk down the street parade style, most barefoot, some wearing bikinis, some wearing belly-dancing attire, and others in shorts but all chanting "play on, play on, play on" as the drummers kept right on drumming down the road.  


As I left Los Angeles, I bought drinks for a couple who had just gotten married and were headed on their honeymoon.  They were shocked that a stranger would pick up their tab and came over to chat with me.  All I said to them was, "I like seeing happy people in love.  Be good to each other." The way they smiled touched me deep down in my heart because it summed up what I felt over the weekend.  


My girls' trip to Los Angeles reminded me of a  few of life's necessities.  It reminded me that happiness is right there waiting to be had.  It reminded me that the creative spirit is alive and well and flourishing.  It reminded me that I can still 'hang', although my recovery time isn't what it used to be. It reminded me that beauty is everywhere.  It reminded me that kindness is always cool. It reminded me that timeless friendships are priceless.  It reminded me that even too-good-looking-to-be-true Hollywood types are nice.  It reminded me that, yes, some dreams are broken; but Sunset Boulevard has witnessed more than its fair share of dreams come true.  Los Angeles reminded me that 'playing on' is the only option. 

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Love me or leave me

People who haven't lost confidence don't know what it feels like to find it again.  Let me tell you this...finding it again is better than winning the lottery.  I know--not because I have ever won the lottery--but because I have found my confidence again after years of drifting in a void of self-doubt.    

When Sean killed himself, my entire world fell apart.  Beneath the grief, doubt about my role in Sean's demise grew like a cancer until it ate away my self-confidence.  I questioned everything from my self-worth, my talent, my intelligence and my judgment.  People with their own agendas worked their way into my life and encouraged my second-guessing.  As a result, I made ridiculous judgments with gray-area friend (refer to earlier in the year blog posts if you don't know who that is), self-sabotaged myself at every turn, and started believing that I didn't deserve happiness after Sean's horrible sadness.

Let me say that again:  I started believing that I didn't deserve happiness after Sean's horrible sadness.  That thought permeated everything I did.  Well, to hell with all of that.  I have found my confidence again after a long journey through grief's winding and dark road.  

I wish I could say that there was a pivotal moment that triggered my comeback, but that's not the case.  This has been a process of learning from mistakes, screwing up relationships in the name of bad timing, letting the toxic people fall away, standing up for myself, studying spirituality, reading everything I could find on starting over, and loving myself exactly as I am now.

I no longer defend any decision, action or belief I have.  I feel no need for debate.  Love me or leave me, that's what I say now and mean it.  I realize now that I was never weak, merely wounded by a severe loss.  I survived hearing my husband's last breath. I survived rocking my kids as they screamed in the night.  I survived all the rumors and betrayal that surround survivors of suicide.  I survived all the questioning of every decision I made.  There is nothing weak about any of that.  I see that now.

Perhaps my confidence was never lost; instead it was drowned out by the screaming of despair.  Even as I beat myself up, it whispered quietly as I made decision after decision in opposition to those around me.  It whispered quietly when I forced myself to get up every morning and start again.  It whispered quietly to never give up even when I wanted to.  It whispered quietly when I took a chance at loving gray-area friend.  The difference is that now it no longer whispers; it shouts, it dances, it leaps and it struts.

Love me for who I am or leave me because I'm not who you want me to be, either way I know I'll be just fine.

Monday, September 20, 2010

Only a dream

There are nights when I have the most incredible dreams and rebel against waking up.  Dreams where I am so happy that I wake up laughing.  Dreams where all is right with the world because it is complete with the one person I thought I would never see again.  Dreams where Sean is alive, we are talking and walking hand-in-hand. Just a dream. 
I thought those dreams would fade away with time, but they haven't.  I hope they don't.  When I dream of Sean, when I dream of us walking and talking and laughing, I remember the love. The love hits me like a tsunami and reminds me about what used to happen every time I laid eyes on that man.

I hate to admit it, but I forget what that feels like.  Sometimes when I'm awake and busy with my solo life as widow, I forget what it was like to be in love and be loved.  When I dream...I remember.

A friend who lost his wife told me that he has similar dreams.  Most people I know who have lost someone have dreams of them visiting at some point and all say how vivid it feels, how they fight to stay immersed in the dream for just a little longer.  
There are moments after I wake from a Sean dream where I feel as if my skin has been touched, moments when I feel as if he just left the room.  But I know that's not true.  I know he's been a gone a very long time. 

There are different theories about these types of dreams.  Some say that it's their ghost checking in to see if all is well; others say that it is our subconscious needing to reconnect with that person.  I don't really care about the what, why or how.  All I know is that when I dream of Sean, when I feel all that love rush back, I fight waking up because I know I will lose it all again. 

These dreams are not holding me back.  They do not keep me stuck in the past.  I am moving on, seizing the day, taking the leap and living as best as I can. But I hope I forever dream of Sean like I do now.  He is like an old friend,  a dear friend, who has great conversations with me in the night.  We laugh like we used to laugh.  We flirt like we used to flirt.  And he is happy.  In the dreams he is happy, but during that last year of his life he was so sad.  I like dreaming of him as happy.
As humans, our knowledge is limited.  We can only theorize about the after-life, about dreams, about paranormal events, about grief, about life itself.  We do not know all the answers.  I'm not sure we are supposed to know during our lifetimes.  All I know for sure is that when I have these dreams, it feels good. There can't be any harm in that.

Opening my eyes and letting go is bittersweet, but it was only a dream.  I can't stay asleep forever; I have a life to live.

Monday, September 13, 2010

The chase

For the past six weeks, I have been dealing with some health issues that made me scrutinize my lifestyle with brutal honesty.  When I mentioned to my doctor that I get disgusted with myself for my self-sabotaging ways, she told me a story about a diabetic she met during her residency.  This man had endured multiple amputations that ultimately resulted in the loss of both legs.  Following the final amputation that took his legs off at the pelvis, he remained optimistic.  He told her that only death is final, until then any condition can be changed.

How true.  Only death is absolute; until that point we all have choices about how we live and how we adapt.  It's easy to get stuck in a routine of habit, thinking and being.  I don't think routine is bad, but I do believe it's healthy to shake it up every now and then.  Re-evaluate.  Adjust.  Open your mind. Be spontaneous.  Reject absolutes.   

For me, the most difficult aspect of change is shaking off old perceptions.  Former ideas of who I am, what I believe, what I do, what I eat or what I want no longer fit.  Letting those ideas slip through my fingers is scary.  It's like stripping naked in front of a new lover for the first time...exciting yet tinged with uncertainty.

As long as I am still breathing, my heart is beating and my mind is thinking, then I am free to choose what path I take.  Whether I become a habitual granola eater or tequila shooter (or both), that is my choice.  The important thing is that I am free to choose again and again until death catches up with me.  

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Whittling away

The death of a loved one or any personal tragedy cracks the foundation of all that was once believed as truth or as an absolute.  Over the past few years I have questioned my long-held beliefs and thoughts.  The Pollyanna view of the world as a safe, secure place no longer exists from my perception.  And I am thankful that it doesn't. Living in delusion only works for a little while before it all comes tumbling down like an avalanche in the Rockies. 

It is true that through tragedy our character strengthens and we grow as humans; but it is also true that darkness comes with experiencing life's less than Pollyanna perfect side. People like to say things to me like, "well, now you can use your experience to help others" or "it's all part of God's plan" or "now you can use your experience to grow."  Sure, in some respects, those things have a grain of truth...but they are not the whole picture.  I am not a martyr.  I didn't sign up to be the poster child of grief management or anyone's inspiration.

I am just a woman doing the best I can with life's challenges that are all too common.   I get confused in the midst of all the healing, the moving on, the falling backward, the expectations, the anger, the loneliness, the only-parenting, the career building, the starting over, the budgeting, the redefining, the disappointments, the heartache, the trying, the hoping...damn, it's exhausting.  Of course there's a dark side.  Thank God there's a dark side to give me perspective. 

Because of my descent into darkness, I whittled away through the Pollyanna-Midwestern-Play-By-The-Rules-And-Life-Will-Be-Glossy bullshit to the truth.  My truth, which isn't to be confused with anyone else's. 

My truth is that my heart is broken.  My truth is that I do not believe in being politically correct.  My truth is that I forgive but don't forget.  My truth is that I am an optimist.  My truth is that I am a romantic.  My truth is that I love my family.  My truth is that I have scars that sabotage my love life.  My truth is that I know what evil looks like and am not afraid.  My truth is that I have no desire to impress my neighbor or prove anything to anyone. My truth is that I am angry over Sean's suicide.  My truth is that I like being snarky from time-to-time. My truth is that I am vulnerable and compassionate.  My truth is that I am scared.  My truth is that I am generous.  My truth is that I see goodness in everyone.  My truth is I am creative.  My truth is that I am always searching.  My truth is that I am at peace with God. 

I like my darkness.  I know that may sound odd or even scary for those who haven't been down my path, but trust me.  Through my darkness I experienced despair, hopelessness and anger.  Through my darkness I found strength, compassion and empathy.  Through my darkness I let go of what I thought of as reality, opened my mind to new ideas and surrendered my past.  Through my darkness I found a deeper connection to Spirit. 

As with all great works of art, which we as humans truly are, shadows add dimension and perspective.  The dark shadows transform a mere picture into a priceless collectible.  I am thankful that I whittled away to the truth through the dark so that I can bask in the light. 

Thursday, September 2, 2010

Let me do yoga!

I am sick of triathletes.  I don't care if someone wants to be one, but I am sick to death of hearing about it as if I should be impressed.  I'm not.  Maybe I would be if you had one leg or if it wasn't the current trend.  I prefer going to bed at 4AM  rather than getting up at that time to put on a wetsuit to swim a few miles.  That's my choice and it's right for me.  Get over it.

Perhaps it's the woman's mid-life crisis that pushes us to do things we never wanted to do 20 years ago.  Maybe it's seeing our children growing into adults that makes us desperate to be young again.  Where men buy sports cars or seek out younger women, we get botox and look at younger men.  And that's fine, really.  I am not against change, especially if it enhances my life.  I am 100% pro-health and reinvention. Believe me, I exercise, watch what I eat and buy anti-aging lotions like most Americans.  But does it make me a slug because I don't care to compete with the girls next door over something that I could care less about?  No. 

I see more and more women my age trying to be something they aren't in the name of change or renewal.  Slap a label on it and become part of a movement.  Go ahead, everyone's doing it.  Meanwhile, I see judgment toward anyone who doesn't participate in the madness or--gasp--enjoys a cocktail or two.  That's what bothers me.  The pointing of fingers, gnashing of teeth and whispering behind backs about anyone who is walking a different path.  It is never ending.  Didn't high school end a few decades ago?  I swear I remember graduating in 1986. 

As 40-something year old women, I believe we are above this competition with one another.  Life is much more profound than the size of our jeans, the job we have, the food we eat, our marital status, the car we drive, the trips we take or the type of exercise we enjoy.  If you're happy getting up at 4AM to ride your bike, swim in a lake and run several miles, then that's great.  Enjoy.  But don't judge me for being happy eating pasta, stargazing almost every night, going to bed at 4AM and having zero interest in your sport of choice.

Everyone has their own thing, or at least I hope it's their own thing and not simply the latest fad that lets them blend into a group.  When we fade into the illusion of group approval, we lose the precious commodity of our individuality.  How boring is that?  Personally, I choose not to run my life via committee approval. 

As Sheryl Crow sings, "If it makes you happy, it can't be that bad."  Do what makes you happy, but don't judge someone else for finding happiness elsewhere.  The world has plenty of room for morning people, night people, triathletes, couch potatoes, vegetarians and carnivores.  As for me, I will choose the yoga mat over the bike every day because that is what makes me happy.  If that doesn't meet your 'status approval', then kiss my downward facing dog and go jump in a lake. 

Sunday, August 22, 2010

Promises

Ever since I held my daughter in my arms, I have lived for a higher purpose.  All my selfish tendencies of single life fell away as I looked at the little life who depended on me.  I made a promise to that baby girl that I would take care of her, that I would make sure she had everything she ever needed and that we would be a happy family.  Promises were kept.  Promises were broken. That's how life goes...keeping promises and breaking others.  Now my little girl is starting her freshman year of high school...not a baby anymore. 

We've been through a lot, my daughter, my son and me. We witnessed Sean's suicide and held hands at his funeral.  We had a lot of money, had very little money and then stumbled back on our feet again.  Together.  We have traveled to other countries, swam in several oceans, explored US cities, hiked mountains, skied in bitter cold wind, and snuggled on the sofa for movie marathons. Together. 

As we walk through yet another life transition, new promises are made because the others no longer fit.  My kids are growing up.  Their independence shines through with a brilliance that is sometimes blinding.  I admire them as people with their own opinions, hopes and dreams.  In four years, Briahna will graduate high school.  Ben graduates in six.  It's time for me to make new promises, but this time I am making them to myself.  I say things like, "I promise to get a life of my own again, above and beyond being a mom", "I promise to carve more time for myself into the daily routine", "I promise to let the kids be who they are meant to be and not who I dream them to be."  

It's not easy being a parent, let alone being a widowed mother.  The children have been my entire world for fourteen years now, even more so after Sean's death.  Parenting isn't all lolly pops and rainbows, though, and there have been moments when I had no idea how I would survive one more day doing this all alone.  But I have done it all alone and now see how temporary even the most difficult moments have been.

In a few years, the kids will be in college or off doing whatever it is they choose to do with their lives.  Time to ask myself the old interview question, "where do you see yourself in ten years?"

I know the answer to the question.  I really do, but don't feel like telling anyone because I am absolutely sick of the naysayers, doubters and fools in the world.  I know myself well. Trust me when I say it's gonna be fun. 

Monday, August 16, 2010

Connected

A friend from Italy sent me a music video tonight.  Despite not knowing the language of the song, I understood the emotion of the story.  Love, betrayal, sadness, love again...only the Italians could do it so artistically.  As I watched, I thought again how basic life really is.  All any of us really want at the end of the day is human connection.

During the past few months, I have been meeting one-on-one with fellow widows whose husbands committed suicide.  Their wounds are more recent than mine so I am unwittingly cast into the role as 'grief expert'.  As I listen to their stories, I am astounded time and again how common we all are.  Our fears are not unique.  Our desires are not unique.  We all want the same things: someone to love and understand us.

A woman I will call Monica is only a few months into this process.  She talks of desperately reaching out to anyone who will listen because she is lonely and scared as her life unravels.  As a result, she is getting burned because she allows untrustworthy people close to her during her time of need.

Grief blurs boundaries and distorts perceptions.  We don't see it at the time because all we want is human connection amidst chaos.  I understand this.  I did the same thing.  Who am I kidding?  I still do it.  Even though I no longer feel that I'm in the active grieving stage and feel confident about where I am in life, I occasionally let the wrong person close in an effort to connect with someone. And I get hurt.  Again. 

Widows are a misunderstood group.  I have heard the following things in the past five years:  Your vulnerability scares me.  You should lie about how Sean died because people would care more if they thought he died in an accident instead of suicide. It's not like you lost a child; a husband can be replaced.  (I swear these are all true.)

People misunderstand the magnitude of grief over a spouse.  Not only did someone we love die; but the person who co-parented, who helped pay the bills, who held us at night, who kissed us, who shared our dreams, who we shared pillow-talk with died.  Died, as in no longer on this planet in human form. Permanent. No second chances.  Gone. 

And we who once called ourselves wives and lovers are left feeling desperate for human contact as the world as we had known it crumbles.  We freak out.  We do things that seem strange or inappropriate.  We make mistakes.  Some overspend, overeat or overindulge.  And that's okay.  It really is.  Each mistake is part of the messy process of healing.  I listen to these other women and understand everything they are experiencing.  I wish I didn't understand. I wish their stories of loneliness, betrayal and abandonment were unique, but they are really quite common.

What is so difficult to understand about people needing one another?  Why is that scary?  All of us, not just those who grieve, but every single one of us on this planet needs love, understanding and connection.  Perhaps we all need to reach out more to that elderly neighbor who walks his dog every night, the goofy guy at work who just doesn't seem to fit or the widow down the street who looks like she has it all together.  Why not?  Love transcends language, age, economics, race, religion and politics. Unfortunately, so does loneliness.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Noise

Screech. Bam. Beep.  Blonk.  Noise rattles through my brain with all the naysayers and troublemakers who enjoy being the speed bump in my otherwise good mood.  To them I say...thank you.  Thank you for thickening my skin, solidifying my resolve and emboldening my already bold attitude. 


Adversity does teach a lesson.  All of the challenges and disappointments I have faced during the past years have taught me the value of advocating for myself.  This should be a no-brainer, you might think, but the fact is that I forgot this lesson somewhere along the way.  Somewhere along the way I started doubting my opinions, my purpose, and my innate value.  In the aftermath of my husband's suicide, I felt scarred and abandoned.  But all of that has changed. Thanks to the challenges and the tragedy I have overcome, I now know what I am capable of handling and am confident being my own advocate. 


To the critics and naysayers who have continuously told me all of the things I cannot do and should not do as a widowed mom of two, thank you for being wrong on so many occasions.  Your continued non-support and misguided opinions have validated my gut instincts.  Intuition and confidence were once my innate nature, but I lost that for awhile.  Thank you for helping me find it again. 


Like a river smashing against boulders, I am carving my own path through the canyon.  My river may be twisting and turning more than anticipated, but it's a beautiful albeit unexpected path.  I love the rush I get from walking in my own power.  Doubts are cast aside as I shut out the noise and do what I need to do.  Those boulders, those speed bumps, those challenges and disappointments are not enough to stop my momentum.


I see my 14 year old daughter advocating for herself, too.  She has learned hard life lessons at a young age, but they are serving her well.  I have no doubt she will conquer the challenges in her life because of the obstacles she has already overcome.  She is more powerful than I ever was at her age.  The path she carves will be magnificent. 


Yes, the past five years have been incredibly difficult.  I have cried more than I ever thought I would cry.  I have struggled to stand when all I wanted to do was curl up on the floor and lose myself in darkness.  I have cursed my fate.  My children have suffered the loss of their father and the trauma of seeing his suicide.  They have screamed with anger.  They have clung to me in sorrow.  Together we have gotten to the other side of grief's chasm of despair.  We have gotten here despite the critics who told us we never would. 


In the famous words of Frank Sinatra, "I did it my way."  So thank you, speed bumps, for thickening my skin, strengthening my resolve and emboldening my already bold attitude. 

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Broken open

"When we have been through a trial and survived it—or better still, transformed its terrors into revelations—then we begin to approach other adversities with a different attitude. Change and loss may still knock us off the horse, but soon we are back in the saddle, stronger and wiser than ever. As life progresses, and we continue to transform and refine our consciousness, we gain more insight and humility, greater strength of character, and deeper faith in the meaningfulness of life."---an excerpt from "Broken Open" by Elizabeth Lesser

I have been broken open.  I look back at my evolution from wife to widow and everything before and after with a profound sense of peace. Where once I wore the word widow as a scar that I feared would broadcast darkness to the world, I now see it as merely a fact of my life.  Where once I hid myself because I was too immersed in grief to embrace my confidence, I now make no apologies for who I am or what I have survived.  

Witnessing my husband's final breath changed me forever.  Hearing my young children begging me to save him and knowing I could not changed me forever.  Evolving through the trauma and grief has changed me forever.  Suffering through the loss of friendships during the grief process changed me forever.  The changes broke me open...open to who I truly am.  

I fought it.  I said from the moment Sean left this earth that I wouldn't let his suicide break me.  I didn't know what I was saying.  I didn't understand what it meant to be broken so I fought the process for a long time.  Once I surrendered...once I admitted that everything I had once known and embraced as my reality had been shattered...I could breathe again.  I could heal only after I surrendered to the breaking. 

Being broken open feels like the first rays of sunlight hitting your skin after a long thunderstorm.  Being broken open feels like reconnecting with that long-lost friend you never thought you would see again.  The greatest thing about being broken open is the coming back together in ways that are more magnificent than ever imagined. 

I like who I am now.  I like who I am becoming.  I wear my past like I wear my favorite writing sweater...with confidence.

Friday, July 16, 2010

The Summit

Yesterday the kids and I decided to go to Breckenridge for the afternoon. Normally, the trip takes less than hour, but we decided to take a rustic route over Boreas Pass. In certain areas, the dirt road is wide enough for only one car with a sheer 1000 foot drop off to one side and a rock face on the other. Unforgiving terrain.

As we neared the summit, we saw patches of snow and my son wanted to hike up there. Ben ran up the hill while I walked. Slowly. At nearly 12,000 feet above sea level, I gasped for breath while he raced upward. But we made it to the snow.

After sliding and stomping around in the white stuff, Ben looked at me and said, "I'm so glad we took this way, mom. The road is a little scary, but look at how far we can see. It's almost like we can touch the sky."
We hung out up there for awhile and took in the view. Remnants of old mining shacks line Boreas Pass and we were lucky enough to see the crumbling foundation of one not far from us.  If we hadn't taken the scary, unpredictable road, we wouldn't have had that experience together. We would have still made it to Breckenridge, yes; but we wouldn't have stomped around in snow in July, hung out near the summit on the Continental Divide, or shared that moment together.

Yes, there is the saying about taking the road less traveled, but that sometimes seems so exhausting. It is exhausting. For some of us, we were sent on a life path we never intended and the going has been precarious if not down right terrifying. But when we catch our breath, appreciate how far we have come and realize we are standing where few others have ever stood, we can enjoy the view and celebrate our climb. 
Being on the top of a mountain is like touching the sky.  Taking a precarious road brings life into sharp focus. Pay attention, slow down or risk going off the edge. 

Monday, July 12, 2010

The elusive 'someday'

Someday. The word bugs me. Someday I'll hike up Machu Pichu. Someday I'll move to Hawaii. Someday I'll get my athletic body back. Someday I'll get a clue as to what the hell it is I'm doing. Someday is just another word for maybe, which we all know really means it's probably not gonna happen.

When I hear myself saying it, I know I am putting off making a plan. It's easy to focus on the mythical 'someday' and avoid making a commitment to change. Well, I don't want to wait for 'someday'. Waiting for 'someday' is a good way to go insane and I'm already on a slippery slope.

I am great at excuse making. In fact, in high school, the freshmen had to write little things about the graduating seniors. One of my freshman friends wrote that I was great at excuse making. My creative mind came up with some brilliant excuses, usually to get myself and friends out of some type of trouble. Over the course of time, however, my excuse making has been my biggest obstacle to living life to the fullest.

Yes, sometimes excuses are actually reasons. Sean's death is a reason for the grief the kids and I experienced. His traumatic exit from our lives caused us all a lot of anxiety and has taken a lot of recovery time. It is not an excuse. It is a reason. But using the fact that I'm not a size 8 right now to avoid going to the water park with the kids is ridiculous. That is an excuse to avoid living in the now.

What have you been putting off for 'someday'? What if 'someday' never comes and you realize that you have wasted life stuck in limbo? What if waiting for 'someday' is a complete waste of your valuable time?

I wish I could promise that I'll step away from the computer and never use the word again; but I can't. I will. We all will. But I hope that now whenever I say it I'll catch myself and revise the statement into something more proactive. Statements like: I will work every day to get into the best shape of my life. I will move to Hawaii when the kids graduate from high school. Of course I can always change my plan, but at least there will be a plan to change instead of an elusive concept that never had a shape or a true intention behind it.

Monday, July 5, 2010

Lessons learned from Lisa

An uncomfortable fluttering stirs in my chest.  My foot taps nervously beneath my desk.  I feel a determination coming from deep within that making me even more contemplative than usual.

I attended my friend Lisa's funeral this past Saturday here in Denver.  At only 41, she lived a life full of laughter and love.  Three hundred people attended her funeral, a tribute to her incredible spirit that profoundly touched us all.  She died an incredibly painful and untimely death; but she never gave up fighting to live or surrendered her optimism.  As I watched the video that summed up her life---or tried to---I realized how terribly I will miss her and how deeply she touched my soul.  

Life lessons Lisa taught me during our friendship:
  • Life is too precious to waste doing anything you truly don't want to do.  
  • If you want something, go out there and get it.  Don't let anyone or anything stop you.
  • Health is wealth.  Take care of yourself and stop making excuses. Now.  
  • Love is all that matters.  Love your family, love your friends, love yourself.  
  • Practice kindness and gratitude in every moment, no matter how challenging that moment is.  
  • Laugh as often as possible.
  • Be spontaneous.  
  • Never settle for less because you deserve to live the best life.   
  • No obstacle is too big to tackle.  
  • Always think "yes, I can" even when the odds are against you.
  • Dance and sing out loud as often as possible.
  • Seize opportunity without second-guessing yourself.
  • Cherish each one of the people in your life and let them know it.  
From now on when I feel stuck or challenged or frustrated, I am going to ask myself, "what would LDW do?"  And then I am going to do it. I am going to live life as fully as possible because I am able and I deserve it.  Lisa was denied her opportunity to continue living the life she loved so dearly.  I will not be denied.  

Thursday, July 1, 2010

The Dancing Queen

Dressed in 70's clothes, wigs and feather boas, two friends and I walked up the ramp at Red Rocks Amphitheater for an ABBA tribute concert.  Our four inch high-heeled boots clomped against stone as we danced under the stars singing as loud as humanly possible while laughing as our sequined and feather covered arms swayed toward the sky.  That was three summers ago.  Now Lisa, who sang the loudest and danced the wildest of us all, has passed away at only 41.

For almost two years, she battled against one complication after another as she struggled to defeat aplastic anemia.  She always believed she would get her life back. She never once surrendered hope.  She always tried to make those around her happy and kept her sense of humor despite intense pain.  I know she is now at peace.

Today I listen to ABBA and remember Lisa's excitement for life.

Why does it always seem to take tragedy to make people say things like, "I should have taken more time to meet her for lunch" or "I should have called more often"?  I am saying these things today.  I wish I would have stopped in more often these past few months instead of always rushing to one thing or another.  But I didn't.  And I know Lisa of all people would be the last to judge.  She wanted people to live their lives, to cherish their moments with their families, to embrace the day.

If you are healthy, celebrate that today.  If your kids are healthy, celebrate that today.  Hell, if you are alive, celebrate that today.  Your bank balance doesn't matter; it can turn around.  Your small arguments with someone don't matter; you will regret the anger if they are gone tomorrow.  Stop what you are doing and listen to yourself breathe. You are alive.  Celebrate that today.

In honor of Lisa, I will wrap this up with lyrics from Chiquitita by ABBA.  Celebrate your lives, everyone!


Chiquitita, tell me what's wrong

you're enchained by

your own sorrow

in your eyes

there is no hope for tomorrow

how I hate to see you like this

there is no way you can deny it

I can see that you're

oh so sad, so quiet



Chiquitita, tell me the truth

I'm a shoulder you can cry on

your best friend

I'm the one you must rely on

you were always sure of yourself

now I see you've broken a feather

I hope we can

patch it up together



Chiquitita

you and I know

how the heartaches

come and they go

and the scars they're leavin'

you'll be dancin' once again

and the pain will end

you will have no time for grievin'

Chiquitita

you and I cry

but the sun is still in the sky

and shining above you

let me hear you sing once more

like you did before

sing a new song

Chiquitita

try once more

like you did before

sing a new song

Chiquitita



So the walls came tumblin' down

and your love's a blown out candle

all is gone and it seems

too hard to handle

Chiquitita, tell me the truth

there is no way you can deny it

I see that you're

oh so sad, so quiet



Chiquitita

you and I know

how the heartaches

come and they go

and the scars they're leavin'

you'll be dancin' once again

and the pain will end

you will have no time for grievin'

Chiquitita

you and I cry

but the sun is still in the sky

and shining above you

let me hear you sing once more

like you did before

sing a new song

Chiquitita

try once more

like you did before

sing a new song

Chiquitita


Monday, June 28, 2010

There comes a time

Like a chick cracking through the egg into the new world, I have pecked through the outer shell of my evolution and am shaking the shattered pieces of my journey from my wings.  Looking around me, I see where I was, where I am, and wonder, "now what?"

On shaky legs, I step forward not knowing exactly what it is I am doing or what I hope to accomplish by any of it.  Just like that new chick, I am filled with wonder tinged with fear about where it is I'm going from here.

When I was a single chic, pre-marriage and pre-child, I had a fierce confidence and sense of independence.  I was invincible.  If I wanted something, I got it.  Whether it was the job, the promotion, or the man, I got it.  Even near-death experiences didn't stop me from moving on and taking what I wanted from life.

Flash-forward to now, post-Sean's suicide and post-grief, and here I am annoyed at myself for inertia.  Limbo isn't for me.  I smile as I write this because I no longer feel guilty for wanting to break free of the shell that has protected me for so many years.  I am thankful that I had an opportunity to hunker down and heal before leaping back into the world.  I needed time to recover from the trauma of Sean's suicide.  I needed time to focus on the kids and healing our family.  I needed time and I received it.  Thank you, Universe.

But now the time has come to walk away from the shell that holds my comfort zone, my former identity as wife, my grief, my insecurity, my self-sabotaging tactics and guilt.  I no longer need its protection or its containment.  I am finished incubating in muck.

Yes, the shell has broken open and I am standing here enjoying the sun on my face.  I'm scared about taking that leap again, but at least I'm free to fall and free to soar.  There comes a time to walk away from the broken shell of the past, shake off the dust and embrace the new.  This is my time.

Saturday, June 19, 2010

Flying solo

I have been researching an article on travel packages for single parents and a disturbing trend keeps popping up: single parent travel packages that double as dating trips.  What?  Maybe I don't want that extra baggage, thank you very much. 

As a single mom, I travel often with the kids without giving it much thought except for the expense.  For example, when I took the kids to the Dominican Republic a few years ago I had to pay for two adults and one child at the resort, even though my kids at the time were nine and eight.  I understand that the resort makes more money from adults, but as a single parent I felt screwed.  After all, the room was occupied whether I had two adults and two kids or--as it was--one adult and two kids.  I would be happy to pay a fraction of a second adult price added onto mine, but the fact is that two children under the age of ten do not equal an extra adult plus child.


This scenario happens all of the time, not just in the Dominican Republic.  So I started searching for travel packages geared toward single parents for my article and was irked to find that they are either non-existent or revolve around dating.  Family packages (as in two adults/two plus kids)?  Yep.  Scuba diving packages?  Yep.  Single parent travel packages?  Not unless you want to participate in the dating game.  

In a world where the majority of marriages end in divorce and widows/widowers are not uncommon, why is it that society still thinks we need to be paired up like we're boarding Noah's Ark?  

My friend Martha spent this past week in Vegas and called to tell me that she had a new understanding of what it meant to be a single mom.  Although she is not a single parent, her husband was attending classes all day while she and her two children were left on their own.  She decided to take advantage of a discounted show ticket offer by going on an hour excursion to a new resort.  She was denied access to the trip because she was told that she and her two children were not a family and that the discounts were for families only.  

Being Martha (who is quite ballsy--in a good way), she decided to experiment by telling the woman at the kiosk that she was a widowed mom.  Still denied.  She then went to other kiosks with the same story to see what would happen.  She was repeatedly turned away with the explanation that single parent households did not qualify as a family.  


The last time I checked my kids and I are a family.  The definition of family is: 1.) A fundamental social group in society typically consisting of one or two parents and their children. 2.) Two or more people who share goals and values, have long-term commitments to one another, and reside in the same dwelling place

So what am I as a widowed mom to do when I want to travel?  Suck it up and pay the extra costs even though I am living on one income instead of two while stretching it to pay for three people?  Go on a single parent dating trip to appease the status-quo?  For single parents who want to travel with their children, there need to be options that don't penalize us for being single by charging extra costs or that allow us to travel without adding the extra pressure of finding a date.  Ugh.  That sounds exhausting.  

Single parent households are families.  Flying solo, being comfortable alone, is a talent that some people cannot embrace and a skill most of us didn't anticipate acquiring.  I did not ask to be widowed, but that is my reality.  My divorced friends didn't anticipate being divorced when they said "I do", but that is their reality.  Being a single parent doesn't mean that I need to sacrifice exposing my children to the world. 


Have passport, will travel.  With the kids, you ask?  You betcha.  They have passports, too.  
Us arriving in the Dominican Republic after 12 hours of traveling.  It was well worth the journey; then again, isn't the journey what it's all about?  

Friday, June 18, 2010

Thanks to the damn cat

Last night as I chased my cat to toss her outside, a journal popped out from a shelf.  I recognized the cover immediately as a journal I wrote in when I was 25 years old.  I knew the time frame and hesitated.  I wasn't sure I wanted to unlock that particular door.  Cat caught and tossed outside, I looked at the journal awhile before opening it.

The first entry was August 5, 1993, two days after an ex-boyfriend had tried to murder me.  The handwriting is shaky--I was on some serious pain medication at the time.  My jaw had been dislocated, ribs bruised, head injury from a car accident exasperated; but I needed to write, needed to purge the raging emotions in my heart.  I am glad that I did.

I read the journal with the detachment of an anthropologist studying a lost culture.  Curiosity kept me turning the pages when I realized that there are things I have blocked out from that time period.  Maybe I didn't want to remember all of it, but I did write it all down.  I also realized that I never truly dealt with the trauma of being brutally assaulted by a man I had once trusted.

After a lot of physical therapy and doctor care, I rushed back into my life as a 25 year old, anxious to simply be 25.  As a result, I stuffed down a lot of confusion and glossed over a lot of fear.  A lot of life has happened between now and then, but the words I wrote as that 25 year old girl opened a wound I had avoided tending.

I have never forgotten what it's like to have someone slamming my head against a wall.  I have never forgotten the pain of being kicked across a room.  I have never forgotten the look of evil in a man's eyes.  I have never forgotten the feeling of absolute terror.  I have never forgotten the inner strength that kept me alive.

But I had forgotten that he destroyed most of my photo albums from college and high school.  Strangely enough--beginning about 2 years ago--I started looking for them at my parents' house when I visit.  My memory completely blanked out the facts of what had happened to them---until now.  Interesting. I had forgotten that he ripped up most of my clothes.  I had forgotten that my doctors wanted to keep me in physical therapy but I was too stubborn to cooperate.  

Why did I forget these seemingly small details yet remember the most horrific details such as his eyes and the scent of the night?  Why does it matter now?

It matters now because I want to be healthy and healed.  It matters now because I want to embrace my future without old wounds bleeding into it.  I can deal with scars but not open wounds. I am on a precipice of all things wonderful.  My dreams are coming true.  I am happy again.  I see the big picture and it's pretty damn spectacular.

I will not be haunted anymore. I will not be held back by fear.  I will no longer hide.  I don't believe in coincidence.  I have no idea why that journal fell out into the open last night when I was looking for the damn cat.  I do know that the only way to heal is to wade through the muck and come out the other side battered but not broken.

Avoidance never works.  Eventually, whatever it is you're hiding from finds you and bites you in the butt. You're better off turning around, facing it head on and smacking it in the nose.

Thursday, June 10, 2010

The big picture

When I was a kid, I used to ride my horse Tango into the fields and daydream about the fabulous adult life ahead of me.  I would tie Tango up to a tree, lie on the ground and watch clouds pass through a large South Dakota blue sky.  I dreamed I would travel, write stories, fall in love, make friends from all over the world and live a life of adventure.

Those dreams came true.

I have traveled around the world, but have a burning desire to see more, do more, experience more and meet more friends from far away places.  And I will.  I am as sure of that now as I was when I daydreamed beneath that tree.

What I didn't know was that I would fall in love more than once in my life.  As that girl lying beneath the tree, I dreamed of Mr. Right and happily ever after.  I didn't yet understand the heart's capacity for all-consuming love, didn't yet comprehend that there would be more than one Mr. Right, or understand that love comes in many forms. Life enlightened me. I have had three great loves so far on my journey. Each one has been pivotal in shaping who I am and forever changed my heart.  I have no doubt that there will be another big love affair or two in my future.

The girl who used to write stories in spiral-bound notebooks at age nine is now writing stories on a computer at age forty-two.  Articles are just as important to me as my latest manuscript.  After all, I am a writer and I'm happy as long as I'm writing.  I am sure that girl beneath the tree would give me a thumbs up at that.

Tragedy intervenes over the course of a lifetime; but I now see that each tear, each heart-wrenching sob, each moment of desperation has transformed my dreams rather than destroyed them.

Tango passed away when I was in college;  but I remember the feel of his mane beneath my fingertips, the exhilaration of riding him over the plains with my hair flying in my face and the joy of him nudging me with his soft nose when I would lie in the grass daydreaming too long.  I may have moved far from that place, but I am still that girl who rode that horse.

Dreams don't die.  Dreams evolve.  Yes, I have traveled the world, made friends from far away places, loved some unforgettable men, and written some great stories; but I am still that girl who dreamed big dreams...and still does.  The only difference is that now my dreams are even bigger than that blue South Dakota sky.

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Just a mom

I am not superwoman.  I am unable to leap tall buildings, although I can jump pretty high if there is a snake or spider in my path.  I am unable to see through steel, although I can eavesdrop with great accuracy.  I am unable to fly, although I am very flexible thanks to Pilates.  I am also unable to be a father when I am a mother.  That last one gets me every time.

When Sean died, I tried to be both mother and father to the kids.  I bought a fishing license even though I cannot stand fishing, bugs or worms and we all went fishing because that's what Sean used to do.  I have always been a guys' girl by being competitive, loving sports and have probably more than my share of testosterone when it comes to a fight.  But I am not a dad.  I am a mom.

My family and I have just passed the 5 year mark of Sean's suicide.  For the very first time, my son unraveled.  He simply fell apart with sorrow.  When I tried to comfort him, he yelled, "I don't want you.  I want my dad."

Impossible.

I would give my kids anything to ease their pain, will fight every battle they need me to fight, will do anything for them; but I cannot give them their father back.  I cannot pick up the phone and ask Sean to get over here to console his son.  I can't even have one all-out-drag-out-no-holding-back fight over his not being here.

So I did what I know how to do as a mom.  I wrapped my arms around Ben even though he cringed away.  I told him that I will be here to have his back forever.  I told him that I understand whatever emotion he is feeling and that it's okay if he wants to lash out at me.  I held him until he stopped crying.  I am a mom.  That's what moms do.

I may not be his father, but I have never missed a lacrosse game.  I may not be his father, but I get--let's say passionate--about hockey.  I may not be his father, but I enjoy watching Mythbusters and The World's Dumbest as much as the next guy.  I may not be his father, but I am pretty sure I can teach him how to shave when that day comes.

I have given up trying to split myself in two. I am who I am.  I am not a dad.  I am a mom.  Because of my female status, Ben is learning patience while his sister and I shop, get pedicures or become overly emotional.  The fact is, Ben has learned many life lessons already at the tender age of 12.  I cannot erase Sean's suicide, but I can be the compassionate compass that guides my children forward.  After all, that's what moms do.

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Keeping the faith

"To know even one life has breathed easier because you have lived, this is to have succeeded."--Ralph Waldo Emerson  

There are few moments in life that truly humble me and bring me to tears.  I experienced one of those moments this weekend at my daughter's confirmation.  On Sunday, Briahna stood in front of her confirmation class, the pastor, friends and family to confirm her faith by saying that I am the one who shows her what faith is.  With her voice breaking at times and the microphone shaking in her hand, she said that I have taught her to believe in herself and that I have shown her how to have faith through tough times.  She said that she looks at me to know that everything will be okay and knows that I will always be there for her in life, which is why I am an example of faith.  I felt incredibly humbled at such a declaration.  I didn't quite know what to do so I did what any mother would---cried and reached for some tissue.

Surrounding this beautiful moment, I received snide comments from a PTA mom because I didn't volunteer at the school this year, consoled my son who was cussed out at a lacrosse game by an ego maniac, defended my struggle to start my career over and debated whether or not the house should be put up for sale this summer.  But instead of dwelling on all of that, I hold onto the moment when my daughter--the 13 almost 14 year old drama queen--said out loud in public that I am her example of having faith and being strong.  Hearing those words makes all of the rest fall into perspective.

My children know the journey we have taken.  They know that I used to volunteer often in the past and even home schooled when I needed to do what was best for my family.  Ben knows that I have his back with lacrosse coaches and that I choose my battles rather than go into full-out war mode at every incident.  They know that circumstances have changed over the years, but I'm doing the best I can.  And that's all I ask from them--that they do the best they can despite what life throws their way.  

Faith is often hard, as is hope.  But I have discovered that life is much better believing not only in a Higher Power, but in having faith in yourself to survive whatever comes your way.  With faith comes hope for a better tomorrow.  We need both to get through each day.

I have faith that my daughter will surpass and outshine me in her life.  I often look at both of my kids in awe for what they have come through and how genuinely kind they are as human beings.  Maybe my career isn't as stellar yet as I'd hoped it would have been or perhaps my bank account has taken a beating this past year, but I have succeeded.  There is no doubt that I have succeeded.

Friday, May 21, 2010

Looking over my shoulder

Five years ago next week--the 29th--my life was forever split into before and after.  Someone recently asked if I had changed much from the person I used to be before that moment when I found Sean dead in my bedroom.  The answer is yes.  


Five years ago today I was a wife on vacation with her husband and two children in Playa Del Carmen, Mexico.  Smiles came often and easily.  Sean and I walked the beach while the kids ran in front of us weaving in and out of the waves.  We snorkeled and laughed.  We were a foursome...five years ago today.
Five years ago today we battled sunburn, played in the surf and shopped for trinkets.  Sean and I talked about his plans for expanding his business.  Promises were made.  I had optimism and hope in my heart...five years ago today.
 
Five years ago today my children had a father that they loved like a hero.  They were still innocent to the horrors of the world.  They had never been touched by tragedy, death or sorrow.  
The kids and I were unaware of how our world and ideals were about to shatter in only a matter of days from when these pictures were taken.  Five years ago today we were simply a family of four on vacation in the Mexican sun.  

May 29, 2005 changed us all forever. Until that moment, I hadn't ever tried to bring my husband back to life with CPR while the kids screamed for their daddy over my shoulder.  Until that day, none of us had felt betrayed and abandoned by people--not just Sean--who we had trusted to ride out the rough times with us.  That day rocked our foundation. And, yes, we were forever split into before and after.  


The kids have grown and adapted without their father, but they are more serious and anxious than most.  Old souls, they've been called.  Regardless, they are athletic and happy and smart.  I wear the word widow without flinching.  I don't smile as often as I used to, but I do.  There are days when I think I am forever stained with sadness, yet I still manage to enjoy the simple things.  I don't trust easily, but my heart is still open.  Maybe I'm darker on the inside, but my faith has deepened.  I now take nothing for granted--not a person, not a moment, not a feeling, not a chance--take nothing for granted.  
And when I look over my shoulder I see how far we have come and how strong we are as a family.  It's been a rocky 5 years full of more sadness and change than I ever expected or knew to be possible.  We're still standing, though, now a family of three.


Anniversary dates like the one approaching bring a myriad of emotions to the surface:  longing, wistfulness, regret, pain, anger, and gratitude.  I'm not sure there is a time limit for how many years a person misses a loved one.  I think I will always miss Sean from time-to-time.  He is always a thought away.  But when I look over my shoulder, I recognize how far I have come year to year in moving away from the pain.  I once feared that moving on meant forgetting, but now I see it for what it is:  inevitable evolution of life.  We're still alive.  The kids have huge mile-marker moments ahead and I alone will be there as witness.  And that's okay now.  I have made peace with being a tight little feisty family of three.