autumn days

Thursday, August 10, 2017

Lessons Learned through Dying and Living

I am so grateful for my life!  I am so thankful for getting to mother these three beautiful children.  I am so thankful for all I've been through, all the lessons I have learned, all the tears and laughter I have gotten to experience.  Months ago I took notes of the important things I wanted to talk about after my husband died of non-smoker's lung cancer at a young age.  These notes aren't comforting or thrilling.  They are part of my lessons.

Avoid working in old buildings.
Get radon testing in your home.
Stay healthy in all ways.
Balance mental, physical, emotional, and spiritual health as best as possible.
Give great thanks for these extraordinary lives we get to live.
Each life and each day is an immense gift.
Focus on what makes you happy, on what feels good.
Laugh, cry, smile, touch.
Love those around you as completely as you can.
Fall deeply and madly in love with yourself.
Everything else will fall into place.

Digging into the dying process

My beloved partner of 18 years died nine months ago.  As I hear of my husband's uncle's dying process, it brings me back to my time traveling the path of supporting a loved one through this grand transition.  In my reflective state, I have found several messages that capture what it felt like to support my dying partner through the dying process.  These following entries are from three weeks before my beloved's death.  A few days after these messages were sent, M left our home to spend his last weeks in the hospital.

Dear Asma,

M is actively dying.  Each day is hard.  We are loved, supported, held, blessed.  Friends are coming to take care of our home and children and us each day.  I feel sad, devastated, hopeful, angry, calm, hollow, overwhelmed, supported, loving, full.  So many contraries.  Too soon, too young, too good, not ready.  Thank you for asking and wanting my honest response.  I cherish you.

Jennifer


Dearest Pamela, 

I am writing here so I don't wake you with a text.  I'm just awake.  You know sleeplessness is a part of the ride.  M's heart rate is rising, blood pressure dropping, pain at a 7 all day yesterday.  This is so hard to watch him suffer, but I am also holding on to having him here with us, as I let go.  This is so hard.  I am calm and gentle with my children and everyone, so I took an hour to cry alone and with a friend yesterday, even forgetting to pick Hannah up from class at a friend's home.  My focus now: time with M, care for my children, find out what accounts to use to pay for (3!) mortgages, credit card receipts, sign will and other important paperwork, and primarily to do what M wants me to.  I think that covers it.  It's suggested M go in for an exam today, but I don't know if he can.  Any exercise pushes his physical limits.  He has declined night care and I leave my phone on for him to call when he needs me.  Anything big I'm missing here?  

So much love and gratitude,
Jennifer


Margaret,

M's blood pressure is dropping and his heart rate is high, but I'm not ready to say his organs are shutting down or to hear this repeated back to me.  Cancer is a yoyo of a ride with so many ups and downs.  Is there a way to let people know I need help with my home (dishes, laundry, etc.) and children (food, helping them play and laugh and do chores) and not about talking with me about M's condition?  I find with my friends coming they want to talk about their lives and adventures and M's current condition.  When I want to talk about how he is, I will.  My hospice people on Facebook are on it.  When others talk talk about their own things, I just keep moving and eating and doing my own things.  This is all such a delicate balance.  I just wanted to say it... at 4am.  Thank you.  For everything.  You bring such comfort to our family.

Jennifer


Another letter from two weeks before his death...

Sue and Shannon,

There are 15 new cancer spots on M's brain.  His oncologist said he needs to improve his numbers on vitals in order to do immunotherapy this next Monday.  If numbers stay on the consistent trajectory they've been on, he says there is likely 1-2 weeks left for M to live.  It took this for M to realize the severity of it.  I think he's shut down a bit after the diagnosis of the spots on his brain.  I went to visit him twice yesterday, once with kids.  I am stretching myself between M and our children's routines.  

I met with a memorial service yesterday and looked at plots and urns and services.  M said the death industry is "all such a racket."  So he wants just an urn instead of a $3000 plot.  Tommy said yesterday people may want to visit M's ashes somewhere.  It isn't as awesome as a headstone and space in the grass, but a wall urn is still beautiful in its own way.  I'd like to have mine there with him, for our children and grandchildren and friends to visit.  So I will do what feels right in my heart.

I love my M.  I am there for him in the ways I know, there to hold his hand, ask him what he needs, what he wants me to do for him, for our family, for his treatment.  I cry when alone, letting so much flow.  Tommy shed some tears for me yesterday.  This is a beautiful intense process.

I love you.

Jennifer

Sunday, April 30, 2017

New Love

Each Wednesday I have a beloved friend, whom I call "my favorite wife", love on my children while I go play with other adults.  This is a way for me to see a different friend each week, investing in relationships that feed my soul.  I've been on thai-curry-and-ice-cream dates with a friend whose husband has just died.  I've been on watching-ducks-on-flood-plains-in-the-park dates with a single dad friend in Washington.  I've been on Goodwill-bins-and-Irish-car-bomb-drink dates with my attorney's legal secretary, my smoking hot friend who wears all black and gifts me mixed CDs.  I've been on bibimbap dates with groups of laughing and crying homeschooling girlfriends.  I've been on talk-about-everything-in-our-hearts dates with my beloved cousin-in-law's wife.  I've gotten to go on dates with my cross-country-motorcycling-line-dancing-farmer friend.  Other dates too.  There are wild plans for many more dates without children.  What an adventure!  I look forward to and cherish these playful Wednesday night dates!

Six weeks ago, with a last minute cancellation, I couldn't find a Wednesday night date.  I sat in my car outside the accountant's office, crying over the intensity of assembling all my family's financial information for the last year.  This is one of the zillion responsibilities my partner used to manage that I know get to tackle and embrace.  The many firsts as a widow can be surprisingly hard.  In planning my evening, I dried my eyes for a moment to look at movie listings.  With a good movie, attending a show alone can be awesome.  My choices that day were children's movies, war films, and horror flicks.  I would rather sit alone in my car than choose one of these.  And I was going to... until my friend J said he could step out of his son's class for a walk.  This stepping out of class shifted more than either of us expected.  I had met this friend in my Dougy Center Pathways Program group in July.  My partner died last autumn and my family transitioned out of the Pathway Program.  J and I somehow forgot to exchange phone numbers, though I kept in touch with others from the group.

Four months later, my son wanted to go to a specific arcade, and we couldn't go until Monday after errands.  When we were a block from the arcade, I spotted two familiar people.  I didn't know in that moment who they were, but I knew I needed to stop to talk with them.  My family got out of the car and we visited with J and his son for 45 minutes.  We greeted each other with hugs and were so happy to see each other again.  J held my wee babe as our big kids played in the trees.  We all endlessly talked and laughed.  I noticed how much I was laughing with J, knew it had been a long time since I'd laughed that much, and thought of how I'd like to spend more time laughing with J.  When it was time to go our separate ways, J buckled my wee one into her carseat and we worked through our busy schedules to plan a play date for six weeks later.  So it was J who agreed to a spontaneous walk on that date night when no other friend was available.

For that first walk, we strolled into the sunset, holding hands, and laughing.  We went on a hike the next day.  Sitting atop Rocky Butte, holding hands, we shared more details of our personal stories with one another.  J said he didn't think he was ready for a romantic relationship.  I said, "Me neither,... but doesn't this feel nice?"  The next day we went to the library and snuggled into a corner with windows and books with my wee babe.  Since then, we have had a "hot date" with each other every night via text or telephone.  And our connection and love for one another continues to grow.  We are so grateful for each other, feeling like our partners have hand-selected us for one another.  We feed and support and heal each other in ways others cannot.  J loves my children so gently, playfully, and lovingly.  As his only son grows more independent, he treasures this connection with my younger children who still want to hear bedtime stories, talk about their day, and hold hands.  My children and I are discovering new depth within ourselves, feeling more grounded, excited, supported, and playful than we have in a long while.  With our new loves in our lives, my children are laughing their way to greater independence, resilience, perseverance, and joy.

Just a few days ago we opened up our schedules and got to play with J's son again.  We greeted each other with hugs and then spent an hour slamming each other with dodge balls in a room of trampolines.  Pizza, puns, and chocolates were the sweet ending to our first family date.  It is such a surprising experience for my children and me to fall slowly and fully in love with J and his son.  We are thankful for these extraordinary people every day as our connections grow stronger.  I hold no specific destination in my heart for where this new love will lead.  I trust we are following our hearts and moving in the right direction.  I trust myself in these choices, in leading my children to more loving connections with each other, in finding more patience and grace within my parenting toolbox, in moving more completely into my own strength and color, and in following our hearts to create space for those that love us back so fully.  I am so grateful every day for this new love that reflects for me my own strength and beauty, for this love that brings new light into our lives, and for this love that brings my children and me closer to our true selves.

Manifesting overflowing hearts everywhere...

Saturday, April 29, 2017

Falling in Love

Ten months ago, my beloved partner was diagnosed with an aggressive cancer.  Losing him six months ago has been an intense and devastating experience for our three children, our family, friends-who-are-family, and me.

I am feeling especially grateful for my gratitude practice right now, as redundant as that seems.  I've spent years focusing daily upon what I appreciate in my life.  And now I am seeing more side effects from this practice of shifting and shaping my own thoughts.  With an intentional turn of perspective, I get to see the many blessings that have come about as a result of this journey in the last ten months.  I believe there are silver linings or helpers in any situation.  Sometimes they are harder to find, yet they are still present.  Most people in our world are well-intentioned, helpful, and want to show up for one another.  To move forward in this world, this is what I believe.

Our biggest silver lining was, upon diagnosis, the family and friends-who-are-family who showed up for us in every way imaginable.  We were and are surrounded by incredible love and never alone, even though sometimes we felt alone.  They were there to hold me while I sobbed in the grocery store.  They were there to drive my partner to appointments.  They were there to talk with my partner while I ran errands.  They were there to be with our children so I could sit at my partner's side and attend appointments.  

We were able to join the Dougy Center support groups right after my partner's diagnosis, both the transitional pathways program and later the bereavement groups.  Through Dougy, my wee family has found so many loving families in similar situations.  We see these friends at least twice a week to play and connect, along with our twice-monthly support group.  These families are our primary support network when it comes to brutal honesty in our raw moments, our surprising and intense feelings, watching the flow of storms through our core, and knowing we are not alone in searching for the light through painful experiences of losing a loved one.

As I experience the privilege of turning 40, knowing many others won't have this same privilege, I step more fully into myself, into knowing myself, trusting myself, discovering myself.  As a single parent, I get to explore and play and create in ways I couldn't as part of my wonderful co-parenting co-habitating relationship.  Now I get to choose what I want to bring into my life, what I choose to leave behind, and how I choose to move forward with my children at the forefront.  My children benefit from getting to watch me explore and expand.

I am writing from a little room in a small house in Waldport, Oregon.  My children are here with me in this room and on this adventure.  My son is now driving a car across bumpy terrain on an electronic screen, my oldest daughter is asleep on the couch, and my youngest wee one is on my lap drawing pictures in this morning's window condensation.  I hear and see the ocean.  I don't have telephone service, so all the world of talking and texting others falls away.  There is a calm and quiet within myself that I haven't known in this way before.

I am growing in trusting my instincts, in trusting my connections with others, in trusting the resiliency of myself and my children.  I trust my children are growing in beneficial ways by watching me grow into myself more fully, in their growing independence.  I get to fall in love with this life in all its intensities: full time parenting, taking over every aspect of home care and choices, life with tears and laughter and melancholy and beauty, learning as I go, leaning on my people in ways I haven't before.  I get to learn more about my own strengths, weaknesses, interests, perspective.  I get to dig deep in the quiet moments, fewer quiet moments than ever before.  I get to connect with others in ways I haven't before.  I get to be responsible for my own (oh-so-early) bedtime.  I get to fall in love with the details of this moment, in my relationships with my children, in how my child grates slowly upon every carrot in the communal bowl, in how long it takes me to finish a sentence, in how I slowly grow stronger in who I am so I can more lovingly support my wee folk.  What a privilege to get to fall in love with my own life, again and again, and then share that with my people.

Living at the heart of it all

Butterflies

In my new life as the single mother of three young children, everything is simultaneously new and unknown.  It is as if I am reborn into a different reality that I get to create.  Along with this newness is the beginning of spring after a very long winter and the approach of my fortieth birthday.  When others feel anxiety and nervousness, I intentionally call these flutters in my gut butterflies.  I intentionally try to find the delight and play in new experiences, even as awful as removing my partner's name from utility bills.  I have worn my wedding ring nearly every day for the last 11 years, aside from the days when I was super angry with my partner.  Those were tiny bumps held by a big love.  I was completely committed and faithful and devoted as a wife and mother.  I still am, though the rules of the game have changed.

I have now been a widow for five months.  In leaning upon those in our support groups, I cherish deep connections with those who really understand my experiences.  I lean in and hug these friends, needing that physical touch with safe adults.  Last week I was able to take an hour walk with a friend.  We walked on the sunny side of the street into the sunset.  When his arm was sore from the way I held it, he asked if I minded holding hands.  I told him that was uncomfortable for me, but I'd like to try it.  Hand holding is very intimate for me.  Like kissing.  I was wearing my late partner's wedding ring and my own ring on that sacred ring finger.  The very act of holding hands with a man produced the butterfly effect in my gut.  Along with that familiar flutter came a deep grounding from the balance of feminine and masculine energies.  This was an incredibly nice, grounding feeling.

The next morning, my finger was sore from the bulky tight rings.  I struggled to get the rings off to rest my hand.  My fingers tend to be cold now, as I am not eating all that my body needs, a painful thing to admit.  My wedding ring then would not go back onto my finger.  So here I type with butterflies in my gut and no ring on my finger.  In tears.  With children at my sides searching for their layers of nourishment and comfort.  There are so many emotions on this part of the journey.  This lovely man and I aren't really ready for a new romantic relationship, though we take comfort in each other's company.  In holding hands and talking.  We have full, busy lives as single parents that center on raising our children and putting one foot in front of the other.  We have created beautiful lives we love, aside from the devastation of being without our most beloved partners.  We collect hearts and relationships and look for the light in our world.  What an interesting place to find myself.  Everything is new and uncomfortable and somehow there is so much beauty in the melancholy.  I am so thankful for these experiences that torture and expand me, that comfort and connect me.  I am so thankful for this pickle I am now in and the butterflies that accompany it.

Searching for hearts

Saturday, March 25, 2017

Saying Goodbye

My dear partner lived only four months and one week past his devastating diagnosis with lung cancer.  From the day of diagnosis, his main focus was on how to stay alive longer to be here to raise his children.  His children were his life.  With this extreme focus on saving his own life, to the very last waking moments of his life, there was also a loss of getting to say goodbye.  When he focused so entirely on his survival without fully entertaining the possibility of dying, in my opinion, there was an inability to say goodbye.  My partner wrote me a two page love letter in the middle of his suffering, in case he didn't survive a biopsy surgery.  He penciled two pages of life lessons for his children.  We made a two hour video of him with his family talking about his childhood.  He also planned to make other videos of his teenage and adult years.  We were so thankful he was able to make that one video for his children.  The cancer moved so quickly we just tried to keep up.  A core team of family pulled in all the resources possible, conducted extensive research, communicated for hours each day, in hopes of finding something to slow down the angry attacker.

For a few days near the end of his life, I was able to spend a couple hours daily holding my partner's hand in the hospital, to lean in on him ever-so-gently, to rest my head against his, to talk to him as he slept.  It was then I was able to tell him about the depths of my love, how grateful I was for him in my life, how grateful I was to spend so much of my life with him, how we would hold him with us forever and always, how he could go to his meditative happy place for reprieve from the pain, that his parents were waiting for him and he could go to them when he was ready, how he was surrounded by such deep gratitude and love.  I talked and talked and talked as he slept.  When he was awake, we spoke with hope for healing and also of the details in preparing for the possibility of life without him.  It was more natural when he slept to talk about the true possibility of his dying.  We shared our hope of him surviving or at least of having a lot more time with us.

In his last couple weeks, I sat with my partner and played the sound of the Pacman game, sharing with him my visualizations of the immunotherapy acting as Pacman characters eating up the cancer cells, changing the tide of growth in his body.  Our support team visualized with this same analogy.  I put everything I had into it.  I was there for him and our children as much as I could.  I know I did my best.  It was so hard.  I wanted to do more.  We all did.  Every week received more devastating news.  One of the hardest days was when he said casually shared news with me as our children walked into the hallway with an uncle; the cancer was found in 12 additional places in his brain.  That's when it became clear where our road would lead.

I wish I could go back and hold him more, be with him more, smell his neck, kiss his lips again.  I wish I could bring his children to his side to talk with him and kiss him more.  I miss him dearly.  His smell, his voice, his skin, his heart, his everything.  These yearnings for him will continue for the rest of my life, though they will ebb and flow and maybe grow slightly more tolerable.

In support groups, I connect with others in similar situations who have partners or children battling for their lives, or those who have lost a partner or child.  It is a safe place to be vulnerable and open up about how hard this path really is.  These people have become my dear friends, my extended family.  I lean on them and they lean on me.  We walk the walk together.  I have been with my closest female friend from support groups through the months of juggling and balancing and staying sane while supporting children and a dying partner.  She shared intimately with me the details of his dying, of their transformed connection, of the love that healed and blossomed between them along the way.  This friend was able to fully say goodbye to her beloved in ways that I wasn't able.  She got to kiss him often, tell him how she would miss him, bring him his favorite meals, talk openly about death, to be alone with him, to hold him, and to share a bed with him until his last breaths.  I didn't have that experience.  I wanted that.  Holding my friend through this process allows me to experience the loss of my partner in different ways.  I get to have this long goodbye experience through my dear friend and her willingness to share it with me.

In my partner's dying process, I invited all those in our circle to participate, to see the dying process, to connect with us, to spend time together, holding one another.  I shared my feelings openly through the process, once I knew this was not a small detour for our family.  I invited others to process with us, to step more fully into their lives, into their dreams, and into their connections with others.  My dear friend allowed me in this same way to share her experience of caring for a dying partner.

My friend and I are finding the silver linings together, and processing the density of this new reality as well.  We talk about our feelings of the vases of dying flowers, of the question to wear or not to wear the wedding ring, how to make way for play and rest while also keeping the health of our children and ourselves at the forefront, how to balance so many things in our new lives.  It has been healing to share this experience with others, to be vulnerable and safe in sharing the details of this unexpected and uncomfortable journey.
  
While I didn't get to say goodbye to my beloved partner in all the ways and in all the hours I desired, I do get to experience a deeper goodbye through my friend's different experience.  There is great treasure to be found in opening our hearts to be with others.  I am thankful for the many ways to grieve and say goodbye.  I am so thankful for this life in which I get to find new ways to intentionally connect and enrich our collective journey.  I am so thankful for my life and the gift of knowing how precious it really is.

Monday, March 13, 2017

Self-Nourishment

In the four months my partner fought cancer, I lost weight.  In the 16 weeks since he died, I have lost more.  Food is a tool.  In times of stress, we each use it differently.  I had been telling myself I was not hungry and was too busy to eat.  When my older children are home, we sit and eat meals together.  Once they are off at school, each moment is full of meeting the needs of my toddler, running errands, planning meals, figuring out financial details, arranging counseling, various scheduling, construction home details, and many other matters of business.  This means I am sitting down for 1.5 meals each day.

After having a business lunch date with my partner's best friend, a meal I barely touched, I had a meltdown.  My partner wasn't there to remind me to step up the self-care.  I realized I was the only one there to take care of myself.  My health is vital to my children's health.  I must take care of myself if I expect to be around for my children.  The way I treat myself is how my children will treat themselves.  My example is important.  Food is a priority.  On this wild day after the business lunch, I reached out to a friend to keep me accountable for eating enough.  I asked her to help me keep track of what I was eating.  Just admitting to myself and a friend that I needed help with food alleviated much of the stress.  After a few more hard days, I began to eat enough.

There are still occasional hard days, though I am generally meeting my goals.  Now when I sit in front of food prepared by others, I eat until I am full.  When I sit with meals I've created, I eat an average adult portion.  I have also indulged in simple meals and snacks for our family to get through this hard place.  In these small ways, I am committing to my children's long term well being.  They are my reason to take care of myself, to slow down, to sit while eating, to model healthy habits, and to commit to my being fully human.  I am so thankful for the privilege of getting to parent these young people.  While I focus on their short and long term health, I also get to take care of myself.  What a responsibility.  What a gift.

Balancing Female Male Energies

In my life I have generally shied away from men and taken refuge in the company of women.  I've surrounded myself with female friends, authors, musicians, actresses, and children.  I love physical contact with adults.  My friends and I talk about building a Hug Revolution.  My friends have filled my need for physical contact.  My partner was my male counter balance.  Now that he is no longer here to cuddle, the dynamics of being with men have changed.  At this stage in my grief I am definitely not ready for romance.  My children are the focus and loves of my life.  I want simple and I want play.

In finding my own balance and bringing safe male energies into our lives, I am finding ways to meet my needs for more male contact in a variety of ways.  I am embracing the music of male musicians and the books of male authors, spending time with families with loving and interactive dads, and putting my arm through a platonic male friend's arm while watching our children climb muddy mountains together.

It has always been my role to wrestle with my children.  We find inspiration in the book The Art of Roughhousing.  Now I get to encourage my children in sports and getting outside more often.  I find my athletic skills to be so very entertaining that I get more exercise by laughing than I do with my attempts to block shots and find the basketball hoop.  Thankfully we are spending time with male friends and relatives who tend to provide a more experienced example of athletic skill.  It takes a community to raise a child and I am so grateful for the many ways we connect with healthy men in our lives.  I am thankful for knowing our needs and for finding safe, comfortable ways to meet those needs.  What a gift!  What a life!

The Fine Lines of Before and After

There is a fine line between before and after for my family and for others like us.  For me there are two large lines dividing my life into three segments.  There is the life before the diagnosis, the life of struggling for survival with the diagnosis, and the life with devastating loss.  For my family, we had four months and one week between diagnosis and death.  My last twelve months have been neatly dissected into one third part "normal every day life", one third holding onto my partner and children as my partner tried to survive a devastating illness, and one third of my year has been lived without the daddy of my children.

Before diagnosis day, my partner and I made time to talk and connect, to go on dates with each other, host backyard barbecues, and to spend days leisurely playing at the beach.  Diagnosis day changed everything.  Beach trips became medical emergencies, we were racing against the clock to find a solution to our biggest challenge, and our sole focus was his survival.  Focusing with pinpoint attention on survival, we invested everything into keeping my partner here to raise his children.  He went into every step of his treatments for his children.  While focusing upon survival, we lost many things.  We lost the time to say goodbye.  We lost our shared plans and dreams for our future together.  He lost his life.  I lost my life partner.  Most unfortunate, our children lost their beloved, extraordinary daddy.  The time of his death was where we tipped over the fine line into our "new normal."

I find my own psychology so entertaining.  As an example, within my own experience I've noticed the difference in relationships I have from "before" and "after" my partner's death.  The people in our circle before my partner's death feel safe, secure, comforting, and grounding.  The relationships I've begun after his death feel less safe and secure.  A part of me isn't trusting these new people.  They haven't met my partner's approval on which I so easily depended.  It feels as though a part of me is still living in the before time and holding onto my before life, without letting the new life in freely.  I am a ship at sea learning to navigate without my usual tools.  I've built a dam to hold off true connections with new people.  I wonder at which point it will feel safe to let new people in, when I will fully trust my own judgement.  In the meantime, I am deepening my relationships with those in my "before" circle, investing in what I want to grow.  We are blessed with many wonderful people in our lives.  In moving through life after death, I wonder when I will truly embrace this new life.  It will happen slowly without fanfare.  Just as it is meant to be.

I am so thankful for the opportunity to take this little snapshot of where I am in this phase of grief.  Now that I have witnessed my truth, I can let it go and welcome in the next phase.  Change is constant, so I know my snapshots will continue to shift.  My children will continue to grow and expand, as will I.  My blessings will continue to grow with my intentional awareness.  What an adventure!  What a gift to get to live this life!

Dreaming Bigger

It is so strange to find yourself in a place where it is radical to dream of a bigger life.  A year ago I was enjoying a beautiful life with my life partner and our three happy children.  One year ago we spent several nights at the Oregon coast, ducking into a coffee shop to avoid the wettest part of a downpour, flying kites, laughing, digging holes, drinking coffee, taking lots of photos of blue skies and happy faces.

This year, without my children's "Papa" (daddy) we four returned to the coast for a few nights.  We dug holes, laughed, rested, and avoided rain showers, but it was... different.  We miss our sweet Papa very much.  We would give most of what we have to go back to the day before diagnosis.  But we can't.  We have watched him die and know we cannot ask for him to come back to us in the same way.  We know we get to continue living and falling in love with these new lives we get to live together.  This is a privilege we do not take for granted.

This year we put our own twist on our beach vacation.  The kids helped pack and unpack much more than usual.  They were responsible for their own clothing and I didn't check to make sure they remembered everything.  While our big kids brought everything for themselves, I forgot to pack our wee one's shoes and my own underwear (found in the suitcase upon unpacking at home).  Fun times.  We brought real shovels, short metal versions of the standard kind.  We dug holes big enough to put whole adults into.  We buried one adult in one such wet hole.  We spent a whole day with my parents, two dogs, and two whole days with friends.  We invited friends to spend the night with us at the hotel.  We purchased little toys and trinkets and wall decor to support local shops and artists.  We stayed as long as we pleased on our last day and didn't mind the heavy traffic on the way home.  We revel in the sand still tucked into our pockets.

We are talking of global travel.  My oldest daughter said she wanted to travel to every continent in one year.  She thankfully modified that to be accomplished in one decade.  In dreaming of worldschooling, we've been partaking in the book Lonely Planet's Where To Go When.  So many ideas, so many dreams!  We may start with Thailand.  While we await international travel, we have many trips planned within our own country, to visit family both local and distant.  In dreaming of getting on an airplane and surrounding ourselves in different cultures, cuisines, and time zones, our planning has become our play.  We are contacting friends in other countries and sharing our traveling dreams with them: Canada, Uruguay, Paraguay, Turkmenistan, Australia, France, Taiwan, Korea.  It may take a decade, perhaps more, but we are currently thrilled with the dream of seeing the whole world, connecting with our global family, and simultaneously deepening our existing relationships (with self and other).  The world is awaiting our exploration and laughter and little toes, and it is such a gift to get to dream of flying out to embrace it all.  As I often like to shout from my porch, "Look out, World!  We are coming to getcha!"

Life with Papa

Saturday, February 25, 2017

Infinite Possibilities

When my mind and heart have been processing so much, it is hard to find the focus around which to begin.  Our world is changing.  Most of us know the density of darkness and are reaching for the light.  We search for human connection and building bridges to higher ground.  My focus now is to keep my own energy positive, inclusive, and solution-focused.  My prayers are for moving toward our most benevolent outcomes, especially when we can feel so divided in holding onto specific results.  My goal each day is to fill myself with so much radiant light of unconditional love that it leaks out into the world around me.  Yes, my adoration of adjectives and togethering is a bit much for some.  I like to think my love for humanity (both personal and general) softens others in ways that benefit the world.  When buying lunch for the stranger behind me in the restaurant's drive-thru line, I feel a softening between humans with differing opinions.

I often feel like my life is a theatrical performance and I am merely an enthusiastic member of the audience.  Lately, my life has been like a musical.  This is one way I build my energy.  I sing wherever I am.  I talk with myself in public.  I find myself funny.  Though you will find me singing and dancing through some of my days, my life contains plenty of dark to contrast the light.  My darkness helps me search for even more light.

In some way, my intentionally high energy level and appreciation in challenging moments and relationships has led me to more instant manifestation.  When I am feeling aglow with the wonder of our world, more high vibration possibilities present themselves.  Last week I was taking a bath while a friend watched our wee toddler.  I was in the bath meditatively sending love bombs to people I love who are ill.  As I got out of the bath, my friend called to ask if she could bring wee Charlotte to me so I could have more time by myself at home (instead of my leaving early to pick her up myself).  Other pieces of my puzzle began to come together and my heart overflowed to others.  There were so many awesome ripples from that one meditative bath that I cannot now recall them.

When M was dying, an extraordinary woman came into our lives to help us.  Shari is a friend of a friend of a friend and is now a member of our family.  She generally comes for several hours each week to do so many things a wife does: childcare, human jungle gym for children, play, laugh, hug, rub my back while I cry on the floor, dishes, laundry, shuttle children, prepare dinner and lunches, sell my goods on Craigslist.  I tell her often she is my favorite wife.  She loves on my children while I run errands, send emails, shower, and have dinner with other adults.  Shari has been spending time with her mid-western family the last couple weeks and I've been on my own in parenting.  It's a little hard to get along without a wife once you get used to having someone around to spot you.

In Shari's absence, another friend's friend's friend came to love on our children.  This young woman from South America loves beautifully on my children while I get time to sort tax forms and run errands.  I also get to practice my very rusty Spanish.  New Spanish words are bending my brain in awesome ways.  This new friend is working for us in her extra time to help her sister buy a home.  And in my own zany ways, I let her know how much I appreciate her presence in our lives.

My family has planned and build our dream home perfect for our family of five.  Now that we are a family of four, we are completing and selling the construction home.  Just as I was ready to pay for home upgrades and staging, we received an offer on our home.  Awesome.  That buyer slowly backed out of the buying process, and in their place was another buyer.  Just tonight we've had a counter offer accepted!

What amazing lives we get to lead when we open our hearts to ourselves and one another, when we find delight in the moment.  There is such beauty in maintaining some unattachment to specific outcomes and watching our own stories unfold before us.  I am so grateful for the awesomeness that flows through my life, in and through and out, like breath.  I am so grateful for my lungs that open and fill me with radiant joy in each intentional moment.  I am so grateful for the infinite possibilities of our humanity... and the freewill to move toward the light together.

My Heart as a Pendulum

While my family has really enjoyed homeschooling, this year we are partaking in the beauty and routine of public schooling.  My oldest daughter loves school, religiously completes her homework, and refuses to miss a single day for any reason.  My son is having a hard time moving with the flow of the class and remaining engaged in activities.  Both are making friends, gaining academic skills, enjoying the routines, and say their day at school was "GREAT!"  They are also both clear in their pleas of homeschooling next year.

In public school, they miss their homeschooling community, the more flexible flow of our days, the free time available after completing required tasks, the mid-week spontaneous vacations.  They also miss their daddy and the comforts of being home to rest and process at their own pace.

My heart moves like a pendulum on this issue, back and forth every week or two.  In talking with many friends, I see homeschooling as a definite possibility.  A clear and simple routine will need to be in place, more chores, along with built in breaks for me.  A babysitter will be able to back me up so I can run errands, manage business details, exercise, and get out without children.  While I love the connection in homeschooling, public school is a definite reprieve for me.  I need that routine and time with our wee toddler while the big kids are accountable to other adults.

Tonight my son had an upset stomach.  I asked him how long he has had diarrhea.  "Since the school year started."  Oh, my heart as the pendulum swings the other way.  (I remember the feeling of stomach knots when I was a public school teacher.)  Parenting is such a balance of taking care of ourselves and our children.  The fine art of this challenge is finding the sweet spot where most of our needs are met and we come together in the middle to love on one another.  I am still searching for this sweet spot.  It is out there.  I can feel it when I cuddle up with my sweet children and listen to their hearts beating in rhythm with my own.

Creating a Home

When I was a little girl, I'd always wanted my own apartment, to live where and how I chose with my collection of plants and animals.  Three years into my relationship with M, I set off to find my own little apartment... cat in tow.  It was such a thrill to easily fit all my worldly belongings into a studio apartment and to immediately paint the walls a bright yellow.  Next to the big open windows I taped handmade cards that brought me joy.  I hosted craft nights and invited friends to join me there for dinner and movies.

Then I was ready to settle into committing to live with another human.  As M and I lovingly created a home, yellow paper lantern walls and all, we experienced some resigned compromise.  When we purchased our current home with his mother, her decor went into place immediately.  Our personal pieces took longer than planned.  After the first two pieces went up, it was another five years before we hung more, and three more before we painted a wall.

When M's mother died several years ago, all her decor stayed in place.  Now that M has devastatingly died, I am slowly shifting our home from his mother's tastes into my own.  Bookshelves now stand where wall scrolls hung.  Our books and photo albums are out of boxes and into rooms where we seem them each day.  Large photographs of great-grandparents are now in our prayer room.  Figurines and vases are slowly finding new homes.  Framed photos of M dominate our prayer room.  Photographs of our family of five fill the other rooms.  (No post-M photos are part of our collection yet.)  I am dreaming of painting walls vibrant blues and greens to match my mother-in-law's large Mediterranean painting.  I envision owning hand-blown sea glass light fixtures, crafted 90-minutes away at the Oregon coast.  I dream of renting out this beloved home so I get to go explore the world with our children.

While I would give much of what I have to go back to the day before diagnosis, I also finding pleasure in making my home my own, in releasing other people's treasures, in dreaming of the possibilities in the recreating of a home... and a life.

Friday, February 24, 2017

Playing In Dreams

About two months after M died, I had a dream of him.  I was looking down at our children playing at my feet and looked up to see M turn and walk away.  The image was too brief to see his face.  He has been gone now for 16 weeks, a short enough time for me to still be counting weeks.  Even now I can only access videos of two weeks after we met and the last two weeks of his life.

In the weeks before he died, I saw the clock almost twice every day show me numbers that reminded me of when M and I first met and fell in love.  In those moments of numerical assistance I reminded myself to recall the love we shared in the beginning, the lightness and playfulness we shared with one another.  In the last two weeks I've begun to see these numbers again.

A few weeks ago I began to meditate in deeper ways, while also asking to see more of M.  I finally got to see him in a dream.  In this dream, our children were again playing nearby in the woods by a creek.  M and I watched our children play from inside the dim house.  I got to hug M, to feel his skin, to smell him.  I could almost hear his voice.  There was a tattoo across the entirety of his bare chest.  I imagined it would be an image from his favorite sports team.  To my surprise, it was a cowboy on a bucking bronco.  One hand was holding the cowboy hat down while the other held a circling lasso over his head.

I awoke and laughed at the absurdity of the tattoo image, at the relief at finally seeing him again.  My M was never a fan of horses, rodeos, or the Wild West.  What was he doing with a bucking bronco on his chest?!  Each week I translate another layer of meaning from the tattoo.  At first I thought the dream was suggesting I go to a rodeo.  Then a neighbor told me the tattoo sounded like a university mascot that had the same initials as my M's favorite team.  Last week I explained the dream to my masseuse.  He helped me remember how I swooned when M wore a cowboy hat.  He helped me see the tattoo as a reminder of M's playfulness.  The people I now draw into my life are playful.  M used to be quite playful with me.  In the density of our lives, I had really missed that humor.  This tattoo helps me remember the playfulness that drew me to M.  

Now I get to rewrite my story by intentionally recalling playful memories.  The silly jokes.  "We are going to the nose farm... to pick noses!"  In our early days, he would talk with me on the telephone for hours until he worked all the different angles of reason to have a date with him that same night.  His pickup lines were timely and hilarious.  His favorite Spanish phrases were: Hoy es miercoles! (Today is Wednesday!... every day of the week), De donde es el bano? (From where is the bathroom?), and creative Spanglish like "closeto".  That man had me in stitches laughing so hard during labor with our third baby that I could no longer feel contractions and could hardly breath.

He was especially playful with our children.  He pretended his hands were named Handy and Lefty in order to brush our daughter's teeth.  His feet were named Footy and Righty and sometimes tried to brush teeth too.  In Berenstain Bear books, M's Papa Bear voice was often quite high and squeaky, while Mama Bear's voice was baritone.  He read happy stories in sad voices, so each night our daughter shouted, "It's a HAPPY story!"  He spontaneously told complete and silly stories for our children on long walks.  With other's children he had running jokes he would bring up each time we saw them.  He pretended their favorite objects were his and that he had forgotten to take it home the last time we visited.  He was a silly child-magnet.

In going through M's mother's seven boxes of family photos, I found so many playful photos of M.  I've been hanging my favorites on all the kitchen cupboards.  One is of M at a table of all Asian people; M has his arm playfully around a little Caucasian boy who is obviously not a part of their group.  Another is M wearing his mother's fancy coat, her arms wrapped tightly around him.  In most pictures of M and his mother, they are leaning together, cuddling up in the ways that comfort parents and children.  One of my favorites is of a toddler around the age of our youngest child, his arms wrapped firmly around his mother's face; she is unable to see, yet her smile is luminescent.  This is my M with the first great love of his life.  I am privileged to get to be one of his great loves, to have known the depths of his playful spirit.  

I miss my M so deeply, as I always will.  It brings me comfort to be able to hold onto him in these ways.  Photos in the kitchen, chest tattoos dreams, remembering the laughter and lightness of our time together, and the gift of getting to raising our beloved children.  It's a HAPPY story!

Wednesday, February 1, 2017

Choosing Health

The love of my life, M, died of lung cancer 12 weeks ago.  He was the young father of our three young children.  M ate well, exercised, had a variety of well-rounded routines.  Then why did this happen?  After asking myself this question too many times to count, I have come up with my own translation of events.  M had a family history of cancer.  His parents and grandparents died of cancer.  Each generation seemed to die younger than the last.  M's branch of the family tree has been the hardest hit at the youngest ages.  His parents were the first to die in their generation and M was the first in his.  This genetic predisposition is just the beginning of the challenge.  M and his parents unknowingly lived in homes with radon and worked with chemicals in an old building for much of their last 15 years.  I blame these exterior factors for the loss of my beloved at a tragically young age.  Perhaps I choose to blame these things because they are outside of my control.

After testing our 10-year-old home this last summer and autumn, I discovered my children have unknowingly been exposed to harmful levels of radon for their entire lives.  They also carry their father's genetic predisposition.  This is unsettling.  As the remaining single parent, I have also been exposed to this deadly gas.  I also worked in old buildings.  We are not alone.  Many people I know go to school and live in old buildings with possible.  Our metropolitan area also has substantial air quality challenges (large company emission levels allowed for small companies) that have led to cancer in people we know and love.  It is a true privilege to make healthy choices for my family.  Not everyone gets these choices.

Why bring down our energy by talking about death by everyday poisons?  In my opinion, once we know about a problem, we can finally do something to rectify the situation.  Ignorance may be bliss, but it can also be deadly.  After finding radon in our home, I had a mitigation system installed.  I am comforted in knowing our levels are now far below "safe levels".  I make a point of providing regular doses of fresh fruits and vegetables for my children.  They have plenty of physical exercise and outlets for their emotions. 

I take comfort in knowing my children live in a newer home and attend a newer school.  I take comfort in knowing their school doesn't have asbestos in the walls or lead in the water.  I take comfort in knowing my children eat healthy foods, drink a lot of filtered water, stay away from plastic dishes, eat plenty of fruits and vegetables, hang out with friends often, and regularly spend time outside.  I take comfort in trusting I am strong enough and resourceful enough to handle the raising of these extraordinary children in our changing world.  I take comfort in knowing it is a gift to get to live life fully with these people at this time.  I take comfort in knowing I continue to choose to be here with my children.  I take comfort in knowing I am doing my best in the roles I have been given.  I take comfort in loving this wild adventure we intentionally choose to share each day of our blessed lives.

Time for Ascending

I get to take a class year on the ascension process.  For me, ascension means to raise our personal vibrations, resulting in benefits for everyone around to witness the shift.  In my new class, I have homework.  Daily homework.  For one year.  Each day my task is to find one way to raise my vibration.  Thankfully these little challenges can fit into small moments.  This project is simple and complex at the same time, as is much of life.  Here is my log so far.

Day One: I sat quietly, breathing in through my heart, and out with love for my whole being.
Day Two: I made a financial contribution to something that feels good to me.
Day Three: I called my electric company to shift my power from natural gas to wind power.
Day Four: I loaded up my porch with unloved goods and invited strangers from "Buy Nothing" on Facebook to take everything home.
Day Five: I picked up cereal and a sweatshirt from a neighboring strangers home and left them love notes.
Day Six: Blog about how I love the privilege of being alive in this life.

My mind loves to focus upon how to I can raise my vibration each day, hold onto that vibration, remind myself to breath, to spend most of my time around others that help me feel good, to focus on the beauty in our world.  What wonderful homework!  Feel good homework.  My favorite kind.

Extraordinary Times to Be Together

Dearest Reader,

After an exhausting day yesterday, I spent a little time on social media.  A bit too long.  One article led to another on where our country is heading.  Together.  There was a great growing of fear involved in this reading. 

My oldest daughter asked me before she went to sleep what that noise was.  I blamed it on the heater outside our window.  Then at midnight my youngest daughter awoke beside me in full screaming.  After a few minutes of unsuccessful attempts to soothe her, I went to the other bedroom to let my other two children get back to sleep.  That is when the thumping began.  After my wee one was back to sleep, I went to investigate which neighbor was doing wild activities at this wild hour.  The thumps were coming from near my living room. I opened the curtains to find a wildly swinging bird feeder banging against the house in another before-a-winter-storm wind dance.  I opened the door, cats went flying in the excitement, and couldn't get the blasted thing off its string.  Towing out a chair to reach up higher, the second bird feeder that was standing still began to hum as if possessed.  I found this unsettling to be out in the dark alone with such an unusual noise after reading too many articles.  Finally both feeders were freed of their hooks, the noises seized, and everything was brought inside.  On my way back to bed, the cats flew across the room as if thrown, all in their continued excitement.  I again wondered why I was up in the middle of the night after such an exhausting day.

Instead of bed, I chose to spend a little time in our prayer room.  I went to talk with my late sweetheart M.  I told him I wish he were here.  I wish his parents were here too.  I wish we could talk about how our world is changing, the things shifting within our country, and how to plan for what is moving through our lives. 

I find myself at the keyboard, my bare feet pushing library books around on the floor, cats on the table licking bird feeders and brushing past my ankles.  In this moment, I feel alone in protecting my children.  In this moment, I let fear run through me.  I le myself acknowledge the fear of the changes moving in our direction, of the subtle yet vast movements that shift beneath the colorful world drama.  In our country we are being tested, individually and collectively.  We see history repeating itself in various and unsettling ways.  It really doesn't matter who we voted for or where we think we stand.  It matters that we see we are in this together.  We all feel fear and unsettling winds.  We are all awoken from our comfortable routines and expectations.  We share the same air and water.  We all want our children and grandchildren to live full, healthy, joyous lives. 

Admitting to my fear is a big step.  I am able to witness its flow through my body and mind.  Now that I know where it lies, I can do something about it.  I turn to see this from a different angle, a new and intentional perspective.  I see we are all in this together.  I see we are finding new ways to open our hearts and to connect with one another.  I see we are all moving toward standing up together to make way for a future we all desire.  Stable jobs, a clean planet, nourishing food on the table, a predictable income, healthy children, free will, an occasional vacation, and safety.  Even if in my mind, envisioning the coming together of those who love this country and this world we get to share soothes my soul and gives me something to ease my fears as I return to holding my children through this long night.  My trust in the buoyancy of humanity is my guiding light as I make my way back to that cozy bed.  I am thankful for these midnight musings.  I am thankful for the brilliant gift of getting to be alive on this planet at this extraordinary and challenging time.  I am thankful for my children giving me more reason to take a stand and speak from my heart.  I am thankful for getting to raise and protect such extraordinary children.  I am thankful for this world we get to share and the freedom to get to talk about it all here with you. 

Blessings and buoyancy,
MamaJennDude

Wednesday, January 25, 2017

Daring to Dream with Alternate Realities

M planned every detail of every trip for our family for the last 18 years.  Now he is not here to plan for us anymore.  Along with a million other details, trip planning is now one of my new jobs.  M wouldn't fly under any circumstances.  He had an awful flight once and decided his feet needed to stay on the ground.  On the other hand, I took flying lessons as a teenager and adore getting into the sky. 

With the new gut-wrenching freedom that comes with losing a partner, I want to see the world.  I would love to be a worldschooler, to travel the world with my children.  I had the fantasy of backpacking Europe with my children long before I was a mother.  Maybe that fantasy has been there for a  reason.  Maybe one day I will get to do just that, and more.  Now is the time when I stay rooted in our routines, getting the kids onto the school bus and tackling financial projects for most of the day, driving children to classes, keeping up with homework, and taking my own classes once a month. 

And now is also the time when I dream about the possibilities.  I call these alternate realities.  I love my alternate realities.  When M was dying of lung cancer, I had many alternate realities: he would get well again, he would love a long time on immunotherapy, we would all travel together, M would be able to make one more video or write one card to his children, friends would move in and help me care for M, my cousins would visit us, and all my family's needs would be met.  Beginning on diagnosis day and continuing for four months, my focus and energy went mainly to caring for our children and supporting M as he and our extended family reached for a cure.  After he died, I focused on the memorial service and learning to manage the details of our home and supporting my brother-in-law as he took over the family business.  I was not as easily dreaming of the possibilities anymore.

In trying to raise my own energy, I am now intentionally focusing on the many possibilities of my life as a single-mother of three young children.  I see myself sitting with friends playing board games, laughing until my stomach hurts, feeling satisfied after a big meal, driving across the country with friends to see what is out there, my children taking gymnastics or martial arts, sitting on a warm beach, living in another country, getting my hair cut wildly short, sleeping in a bed by myself, eating a whole pint of chocolate ice cream by myself, writing love letters to all my beloved friends, my estranged brother speaking lovingly with me, going out to a comedy club, learning to ski and surf, using up all my crafty materials and selling my wares to pay for trips, starting my own healing practice, finding a way for my children to keep their possessions tidy, painting the inside of my home, driving an art car, traveling with friends and their families, spending a couple nights alone, finding joy in preparing a nourishing meal, and putting on that backpack and traveling the world with my children.  My children dream of driving around the country, opening businesses to sell honey and fried eggs, selling their origami creations and original art works, sleeping in the same bed with me every night, riding their bikes as often as they desire, eating endless desserts, reading every waking hour of the day, and playing with their friends all the time.  We are all dreaming of our possibilities now.

Many of these may not happen.  Some will.  There is empowerment in getting to choose which alternate realities to bring forward into our reality.  My soul takes great pleasure in this daring to dream.  Dream big, and then dream bigger.  My alternate realities open me up to the possibilities that await.  I get to choose.  What a satisfying feeling that is.

Self-care as a Family Investment

It is entertaining to watch my own psychology and grief play out.  It has been 12 weeks since our M died.  We miss him terribly.  Each day is easier and harder than the day before.  Emotions have been heavy and dense in the last month: the recent political election and the resulting challenges, trying to complete and sell the dream home we designed, tackling paperwork to close accounts, the cancellation of eight school days cancelled due to snow and ice, managing our higher emotions, and the other zillion details to keep this family and home up and running.  My usual morning meditation practice has come in handy, but does not get me as far nor as joyfully into each day.

My parents visited last weekend.  I admitted my exhaustion and sadness.  My dad says I just need to step back from over-parenting my children, locking the door to take a bath whenever I want while the big kids watch our toddler.  I told him my children have short attention spans, are easily distracted, can't seem to close the bathroom doors or close toilet lids... ever, and cannot keep our wee one safe.  In my experience, this is completely typical for children this age.  That is why nine year olds are generally mother's helpers and not babysitters. 

I am also putting pressure on myself not to squander the money M and his parents worked so hard to bring into our family, through their years of sweat and sacrifice.  In a heated conversation with my parents, I admitted this money is also here because of my hard work.  I chose to leave my good paying job to raise these children, to support them as they grow.  This money is now mine to use to care for and raise my children.

My parents asked me what M would want me to do in this situation.  My answer was easy: Take care of myself.  That answer is so very obvious to an outsider.  To me, the insider trying to manage on a limited budget, it was not as clear.  I need to take care of myself so I am able to be here for my children in the ways I choose.  Self-care is an investment in my family.

So I've now hired our nanny two mornings a week, with which I will get aerobic exercise, grocery shop, and tackle other errands that must be done.  Our nanny will help with laundry and dishes, read books with our wee one, and sit down with her to play.  What a gift.  A simple-yet-huge gift.

My children and I met our new grief counselor last night.  It doesn't feel like a match yet, but we will give it a couple more visits before fully committing.  We are starting to eat out more, as I was getting tired of our frozen burritos at home.  A couple friends are offering to babysit once or twice a week in the next month.  These details all hold together the current plan of how to move forward together.  Eat out, hire help, exercise, step into counseling, stick together.  Times and emotions are dense, but now we have a plan to get through them together.  Exhale.

Sunday, January 15, 2017

Dougy Center Support Groups

We have the great privilege of attending free Dougy Center support groups designed for families with children who have experienced the loss of a parent or child.  My children enjoy play therapy with counselors twice a month while I attend a support group with surviving spouses and parents.  My family began with the Pathway Program before M died.  M even attended one meeting with other cancer patients.  Our family is now new to the bereavement program. 

My family has attended two sessions since M's death.  The first time I was even and matter-of-fact.  The second time I was uncomfortably giddy.  Laughter was my coping mode that evening, as a way to break up the density of being in a room full of devastated survivors.

In these sessions we talk about what we are currently processing.  Each session seems to pull out the similarities in the ways we grieve.  In the bereavement group we talked about how it was so uncomfortable to live life in limbo, not knowing when things would slow down or progress.  In the bereavement group, there is a level of quiet devastation.  We all wish we had our loved one back with us, find uncomfortable comfort in doing things we couldn't do with our partner, want to take trips or change our home in ways our partner would not have chosen, worry about our children in all their phases of grief, take comfort in friendships and family, our lives are full and distract us much of the time from our loss, and feel great waves (of grief, anger, sadness, devastation, along with delight) crash over us without warning.  We want to travel and see the world while also staying home and stable for our children.  We together wonder when is the right time to open up to romance again after our loss: 15 months or 5 years?  We find ourselves crying for reasons invisible to others.  We find the quiet moments alone to be the hardest.  We find ourselves explaining to others that grief is not something you get over, but something you learn to live with. 

I treasure being in our sacred circle where we get to talk about how awful it is have watched our loved one die, for us to lose a partner or child, for us to parent alone, and to talk of the ways we support our children and take care of ourselves.  I am so very grateful for this free group therapy, funded generously by donations.  I am thankful for this program touching and supporting so many families.  I am grateful for feeling so supported by these new peers and mentors in our lives.  We are stronger with Dougy.

The Optimist's Guide to Divorce

I love my library, even when late fees get steep.  Fees are part of the deal for my family at the library, especially now that I am the only adult responsible for getting things back on time.  In the two months since M died, I have damaged one book and lost two others.  Our books may be falling apart, but we humans are generally keeping ourselves together. 

In our library's new book section, I found a simple drawing of a woman riding a bicycle in the wind.  It reminded me of Under the Tuscan Sun, a book and movie and adventure I love.  This carefree bicyclist was gliding across The Optimist's Guide to Divorce: How to get through your breakup and create a new life you love.  Six months ago, I would not have considered this title.  I have just gone through a death instead of a divorce, but if you skip a bit here and there, this book completely applies to my situation.  I am trying to get through my broken heartedness to create the new life I love... with my healthy, whole children.  I get a little thrill reading about recovering from divorce... as if to pretend it is what I've just been through, as if there is a small chance our M could walk back into our lives and kiss his children.  Divorce is preferable in some ways to the path our family has traversed.

Reading this book each day for the last two weeks while I wrestle my exhausted-yet-sleepless toddler, I have enjoyed the camaraderie of listening in on other women's stories of how they dealt with heartbreak, how they processed, connected with others, planned, and made the most of loving their new lives.  These women found themselves to be stronger in a myriad of ways than they had previously known.  My children and I are bringing some of their ideas into our own lives.  We have created a meal plan (Soup Sundays and Taco Tuesdays!), a budget, and my children are now responsible for all their own breakfasts and lunches.  (Why do you think Cheetos count as lunch?!)  I make larger dinners that double as leftovers.  My daughter makes toast and fried eggs for our family each morning and then tackles some dishes and laundry. 

There are stories detailing how to accept what has happened, seek therapy, create a home you love, bring in extra income, budget for what is most important, and so much more.   

I am currently right in the middle of the book at Twenty Things that Will Make You Feel Good.  This list reminds me of how I used to care for myself and how I will again.
  1. Take a bath with Epsom salts.
  2. Get your hands in playdough.
  3. Do a good deed for someone else.
  4. Sit on a chair and watch the stars.
  5. Plant something.
  6. Read a fun novel.
  7. Ride your bike in a park: Findyourpark.com.
  8. Take a brewery or winery tour with an upbeat friend.
  9. Cuddle up with dryer-warmed towels.
  10. Visit a fair or theme park and ride the rides.
  11. Focus on gratitude.
  12. Sign up for lessons.
  13. Declare a fashion goal, such as Wild Print Wednesday or avoiding black.
  14. Roll car windows down and put out your hand.
  15. Schedule a massage.
  16. Write a love letter to an old friend.
  17. Wiggle toes in the sand.
  18. Hang chimes outside your door.
  19. Paint.
  20. Create something and get lost in the project.
Our family has been through something awful.  While we would give almost anything to go back to the lives we shared before diagnosis day, there are many silver linings to find on this leg of our journey.  At least that is what I tell myself to get through the density of the situation.  For every positive aspect we find now because of M's death, there are a trillion negatives.  I intend to feel okay about where we are and how we got here, so I focus upon our silver linings.  Here are some.

My children are learning to work hard and take pride in the work they do for our family.  We are expressing our emotions through more yelling and crying, and holding each other as we talk through it all.  Regular game nights and book clubs with friends and family are awesome.  Decluttering without as much negotiation is nice.  I purchase and dole out fewer sugary foods.  We spend less on hot water, heat, and groceries.  I am planning for new light fixtures, wall colors, and simple (summer yard sale) d├ęcor.  We don't need to move into a bigger "dream home".  I get to sort through and pass on my parents-in-law's possessions.  We can see our family together again in family videos.  I am finally reading adult books again.  Good books.  I get to smile when sharing this title with a friend.  I get to make the time to talk about it all here with you.  Silver linings.  For these I am thankful.

Sharing the Process

Dearest Sister-in-law KR,

I hadn't heard from you, so sent a thank you card and deposited money yesterday.  I am glad that is also what you said is okay.  It is comforting to know you have Paula as your mother-in-law.  I've been going through things in my attempts to find other things (unsuccessfully searching for house plans for radon surveys and treatment in our home) and found your mom's driver's license and Taiwanese health insurance cards, M's medical file on your mom's health, etc.  I am handing many of these over to (brother-in-law) KE, as I am sure he will treasure them more than my children for now.  I also found your dad's favorite baseball cap.  There are so many files and spaces that one collects and fills through their lives.  Baseball cards.  So much.  So I am moving on things like the big vases, the entry way cabinet and its decorations, the water cooler, things I am not attached to.  I am not moving M's clothing or basic possessions.  I'm not ready.  It feels comforting to have them around, and we don't need the space yet.  I imagine my children wanting to touch and wear M's clothing sometime.

As a matter of survival, I have been very productive, moving forward on big projects, making 25 phone calls about our home projects on Tuesday when the kids went back to school.  I have a long list of things that need to be done.  I am trying to get to the most important ones each day: bills, grocery shopping, new home construction details.  It will all happen eventually.

Right now Charlotte is having her third morning of nap off my body.  I am so very excited!  This is when I pile and box up all the things the big kids have not put away while they play in the backyard. 

Our friend will borrow (your daughter) Y's clothing.  I need a new organizational system for all the clothes.  The closet is not longer able to hold everything.  We are so very grateful for having these clothes from Y.  We have hardly purchased anything for our children and have saved so much money this way.

I am thinking of doing a babysitting swap with a friend so I can get coverage when I have evening/weekend things I need to do alone.  Then I won't need to pay a babysitter quite so much.  I am currently hiring my friend to babysit one or two nights a week when she's available.  A friend I hadn't seen in a couple years with a son Charlotte's age will watch her once a week for a few weeks.  A neighbor is offering to share her nanny time a few hours a week for a while.  So in those times I plan to run errands, catch up on communications, meet the inspectors and installers, call banks, etc.  It's an endless list.  It feels really good to have time without holding my sweet needy babe to get things done.  So very good.

Thank you for sharing with me your processing.  I process my grief here and there and everywhere.  I wake up and go say hello to M in the prayer room.  I open up the door and curtain each day.  I talk with him, imagine what he would say about things, try to imagine him here standing in the kitchen with me, hold his presence here with me as much as I can, fantasize about watching our wedding video sometime soon.  Our family talks about him a lot.  Liam's wish for the new year is "Papa come back alive."  M is ever-present here with us in our processing.  I say goodnight to him every night.  I laughed through much of our support group meeting, shaking off the density of such devastating loss, collectively unimaginable, so many tears.  I think part of my goal with the groups is to help myself and others process and to shake off some density, to accept our new normal as painful yet possible.

I treasure having you in our lives.  I thought of you when opening a bank account yesterday.  I am so very grateful for you and how much you show your love to us all.  I know you are in great pain right now, as are we all, and it shifts and flows and moves.  We will always feel this great loss and for the rest of our lives we may burst into tears about the mixed tape of memories coming through our hearts.  My mixed tape plays all day long.

Blessings,
Jennifer