Sunday, November 15, 2015

Unexpected Hope

"How is your heart lately?"

It was a tweet. Innocent enough. Just floated across my timeline, but - wow - did it get the wheels turning in my brain.

I knew my response because shit has been building.

Building for quite a long time.

Honestly, at this point I'm afraid to check in on it. My heart that is.

Not everything in life these days has been bad, but it has been heavy.

And then last night while I was on the way to band practice at church I saw the news about the terrorist attacks in France and how one of the targets was the Eagles of Death Metal concert that was happening at a Paris venue.

The feeling for me was much like that moment in 2013 when I first saw news of the Boston Marathon bombing coming across my Twitter feed. A million thoughts flashing, twists in the pit of my stomach, not knowing whether someone I knew was in harm's way. The endless loop of my own memories. In 2013, it was the community of runners to which I belong at the center of the violent attack. This time it was my family of music lovers - those of us for whom a concert hall is a form of church and live music is a salve for our world weary souls.

The band involved was familiar, one that I had been introduced to for the first time in 2012 at a live show in NYC. Like many of my friends, my mind immediately went to that show upon hearing the news. I thought about all of us who were there and what the night was like. And what the night must have been like for the music lovers just like us at the Bataclan. I couldn't turn it off. So many people I know travel for shows. Yes, even around the world. Our fan groups span the globe. It's one of the things I love most.

EODM at Terminal 5 - October 5, 2012
I felt glimpses of hope that had found their way into my world from earlier in the week fading away. I just couldn't wrap my head around any good here. Just heaviness and horror. Close to home even while far away.

But one thing about being a single mom to a 5 year old is that action is almost always demanded. So, on Saturday morning we were up at the same time as every other day and I forced myself out of the house for a run once the babysitter arrived. It's amazing what some sunshine and exercise can do for a brain that won't shut off.

On the way home I allowed myself to listen to some EODM music and it felt right. When I got back home I still had it on as I was doing some things in my bedroom and Little Guy came in to hear what was going on. He started dancing. REALLY DANCING. So I did too. We worked out a lot of "ugh" dancing around to "Cherry Cola" and "Speaking In Tongues".
Sometimes hope comes in the most unexpected places.

Tonight I was once again flipping through my social media and saw a news article confirming the death of a crew member with EODM. I had just gotten into the car with my little guy and as soon as I saw the article I said "Oh no." He, of course asked me what was wrong. As I have grown accustomed to doing, I gave him the 5 year old version of death and grief.

Then, we started driving.

We were only a few minutes into the trip when he somehow started the exact conversation I needed:

Little Guy: Mommy, you know what 3 things I'm thankful for?
Me: What, buddy? What 3 things are you thankful for?
Little Guy: Love
Me: That's a very good thing.
Little Guy: Mommy & Daddy
Me: (tearing up) Yes, definitely...what's #3?
Little Guy: Lollipops!
Me: (Laughing) That's awesome buddy, those are all really great things. Do you know what 3 things I'm thankful for? You, being able to run really fast, and having a cool job doing organizing.
Little Guy: And the 4th thing for me is PRESENTS!
Me: Of course... you should always be thankful for presents.

Sometimes hope comes in the most unexpected places.

I'm still afraid to fully check in on my heart. In fact, that tweet exchange happened tonight after all of the other stuff. But I do know that I got the doses of hope I needed today to push me onward.
Perhaps that is the thing for which I am MOST thankful.

Thursday, October 22, 2015

World Series Bound...Why Am I So Sad?!

I finally realized it today when a good friend said it to me at lunch. It hadn't been the first time this week. Friends and family alike have expected me to be ecstatic. After all, my Mets just finished sweeping the Chicago Cubs on the way to clinching the National League Championship and a berth in the World Series. I know that co-workers who could normally care less about baseball had been checking scores each morning to have an idea whether it would be a "good mood" or "bad mood" day. It took until my friend's blunt declaration that I should be happier for me to recognize what I really already knew.

This is a bittersweet journey through the playoffs. It carries with it shadows of loss - not only of my beloved Joe - but also of my Mets-loving Grandma who died many years before him. With the joy of every win also comes the sinking feeling of who is missing. The high five almost always denied by Joe who hated high fives. The reminders of those Mets mementos that continued to pop up throughout my grandparents house long after my Grandma had passed away. That "ya gotta believe" spirit coming on the heels of what was almost always soul crushing year after soul crushing year.

When Jeurys Familia struck out Dexter Fowler looking to end the game last night, sending the Mets to the World Series and the Cubs directly into the cold Chicago winter, there was no avoiding the flashback to the 2006 NLCS when the result was the heart-breaking opposite for the Mets. Joe and I were glued to the TV in his apartment when Beltran struck out looking against Adam Wainwright to end the Mets World Series hopes that year. There were plenty of expletives. There was much hand wringing and head hanging. There may or may not have been something launched in the general direction of the TV. I remember the scene and the feelings and being there with him as if it had happened yesterday.

But it isn't what happened yesterday. What happened yesterday is the Mets won in decisive fashion. Duda and D'Arnaud didn't make us wait with painful anticipation. Instead they launched back to back homers in the first inning. Matz, Colon, and Reed combined to hold the Cubbies to just one run through 7 innings - plenty of breathing space. Daniel Murphy did what Daniel Murphy apparently does in the postseason and went 4 for 5 with a homerun. Then, Jeurys Familia left all who were watching no doubt that the Mets were going to the World Series.

How I felt post game is exactly how I explained it back when I made the trip to Washington, DC for the final game of the Mets series there.
It was as if for that moment, 2006 and 2015 occupied the same space in my heart and mind. Honestly, it was a beautiful thing and I am thankful for it because it was something like this...

Then, this morning - while it was all still sinking in - I received the most perfect text from my aunt with the sentiment that I had already been mulling around the night before. Grandma would have been so happy. Oh, those Mets fans in heaven... and now with some of the most AMAZIN' Mets players as well.

At so many points this season, I have had the privilege of living into a space that was both full of joy and full of sadness. I have come to learn this is just as much a part of the grieving process as those first few months after Joe died when all I could do at the sight of the Mets orange and blue was bawl. The memories and the loss were just too raw then for much else.

It's been almost 4 years since Joe died. Maybe if the Mets weren't the Mets I could have dealt with all of this sadness in the midst of joy sooner, but, in typical Mets fashion, it took a little while for the joy to get here. I'm ok with that...perhaps it just means that I'm in a better place to soak it all in.

As the season has progressed, there have already been some special moments.

From the "magic number" that was his.... the conjuring of sweet memories from bygone seasons.

So many times this year and especially this postseason I found myself happy and teary. I was overwhelmed by it when I wrote about the Mets v. Nationals game I went to in DC in September and it has only snowballed since.

Thank goodness the ride's not over yet. So, when I roll into the World Series games at CitiField next week I'll probably have some tissues tucked away in my bag. It won't be in case we lose, but, more likely, in case we win. How beautiful and special it is this bittersweet journey to become World Champions. #LGM

Tailgating at NLCS Game 1 with the Little Guy - He has loved the postseason and this was a great Mets win!

Sunday, September 13, 2015

Ya Gotta Believe in DC

I guess somewhere in the back of my mind I knew that there was some significance to heading down to DC for the 3rd game of the Mets "Labor Day" series with the Nationals, but when I bought the game tickets I definitely wasn't thinking about it. It didn't really hit me until I stepped out of the car in the parking lot and realized I was parked in the very spot where Joe and I had parked with Domani 4 years ago.

Domani with Joe at the Mets v. Nationals game on 9/4/2011
Maybe my memory is off by a spot or two but it was close enough that it made me stop in my tracks and catch myself against the car. It had been Domani's first Mets game, also one of the Mets "Labor Day" series games, part of a weekend getaway that we made a priority as Joe's health was beginning to decline. We had things we wanted to do as a family and even though the Mets were less than impressive, finishing 77-85 and 4th place in the division that year, seeing them was one of those things. Joe and I were long suffering Mets fans. But we suffered and celebrated together and it was a wonderful thing about our relationship.

For the last month and a half I've been pinching myself over this amazing Mets run and wishing more than anything else that my Joe were here to share it with me and Domani. What a year 2015 would be if he had been here cheering along with us. When I'm home watching the game, I glance at his empty recliner. When I'm at a game celebrating, I think about his aversion to high fives and how in REALLY exciting moments you could squeak one out of him. Inevitably I come across old Mets pictures of us. I think back to the best season we shared together - 2006 - and then many frustrating ones.

I drove to DC on Wednesday alone in my car with so much of that on my mind. This year has felt different to me for awhile, but it has really felt amazing for the last month and a half. That's been great, but it's also been hard. So, when I arrived at the parking lot and found myself leaning up against the car catching my breath and holding in the tears, I finally just allowed all of that to sink in. What's happening is a perfect storm for me and perhaps one more stage of grieving to move through.

With Susie before the game!
With Tom after the Mets won!
Once I arrived at Nationals Park I met up with Tom, a friend from NJ and Susie and Matt, friends from the DC area (and Nationals fans). For part of the time while Strasburg was shutting down Mets batters I was hanging out with Susie and Matt near a whole bunch of Nats fans who were acting like they had won the World Series with every out. But, Tom and I were lucky enough to be sitting with a few other Mets fans so there were plenty of high fives to go around when Strasburg gave up the game tying homerun to Kelly Johnson. Then, when Matt Williams decided to bring in Storen to replace Strasburg in the 8th we had good company for the Stooooren chant and subsequent high fives after the inevitable Cespedes homerun.

And then Familia shut it down. And there were Let's Go Mets chants in Nationals Park. And I got a little teary and thought of Joe. We lingered for a few minutes soaking in the victory and then made our way out of the stadium. Tom and I were still talking about baseball, and "I can't believe Yo" and that Rendon won the internet by actually bunting for a hit this time. Then he headed off to the Metro and I went back to my car which was parked in the very same spot where Joe and Domani and I had parked four years ago.

Mets win.

Let's Go Mets. I've got a feeling this is our year...

With Joe at the NLDS in 2006. Definitely dreaming of October baseball again....

Sunday, August 30, 2015

Getting Ready for School

When Joe was diagnosed with his colon cancer in January 2010 we had found out a few days before that I was pregnant with our first child. He went through an emergency surgery and by the time his oncologist came by to speak with us it was Friday evening. While most of the conversation seemed like the scene out of 50/50 in which Joseph Gordon Levitt's character receives his own unbelievable diagnosis, the one thing I clearly remember her telling us was to not go on the internet and start searching WebMD for survival rates. She said there were new trials every day and lots of possibilities, but of course the first thing I did once I had a moment away from Joe's bedside was to google "web md stage 4 colon cancer prognosis".

I will never forget the way my stomach dropped as I scanned to the bottom of the page - past all the treatment protocols and lingo - straight to find that at 5 years the survival rate was 10%. In my mind, I pictured our child about to start school and me being the lone parent taking the first day photo and giving the goodbye hug and kiss. It was too much to bear. When I returned to Joe's hospital bed he was asleep, but I held his hand and cried to him about how I needed him to be there for my pregnancy and the birth, and for our child's first year and first day of school and holy fuck this is all so unfair.

Now here I am over 5 years later with a soon-to-be five year old and no Joe. School is about to start and for the first time Domani will be taking part in the festivities - heading off to pre-school. It is what I feared in that hospital room more than 5 years ago. 

I can already feel the feelings. Yesterday, the little guy and I decorated our windows with some school-themed Stik-ees and today we finished putting together everything he needs from his pre-school checklist. 

Domani showing off his Stik-ees

The back door decorated
August has been a tough month. It included my and Joe's anniversary, so much work, a family vacation, and all sorts of difficult news from many corners of my life. Each of these things has brought on me their own unique emotional and spiritual weight. I didn't realize just how much until I found myself in church this morning singing "My Hope Is Built on Nothing Less". By the start of the second verse I casually pulled my sunglasses down, mostly so my old lady eyes could read the words but also so the stream of tears that had started flowing would stay a little more private. 

When darkness veils His lovely face, I rest on His unchanging grace; In every high and stormy gale, My anchor holds within the veil. 
On Christ the solid Rock, I stand; All other ground is sinking sand, All other ground is sinking sand.
His oath, His covenant, His blood Support me in the whelming flood; When all around my soul gives way, He then is all my hope and stay.
On Christ the solid Rock, I stand; All other ground is sinking sand, All other ground is sinking sand.

Then there were parts of the message that especially sat with me. God meets us where we are but doesn't leave us there... We do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses... How long must I wrestle with my thoughts and every day have sorrow in my heart? Don't be afraid to risk yourself and your deepest longings by bringing them to God... Accept what God pours back.

By the time the service was over, I felt some measure of peace - at least enough to know I will make it through this week. September is not quite as scary now (and not only because the Mets are still in first place!) And what was too much to bear five years ago is sad, but definitely manageable. 

I know that Tuesday will be both exciting and hard. Domani is more than ready. I'll probably need to tuck some extra tissues in my purse before we leave the house. But no matter what, I know that we will get through it together.

Wednesday, July 22, 2015

Faded...This I Feel

It doesn't happen nearly as frequently as it used to, but when the flood of grief comes it still comes with plenty of force.

Usually I can pinpoint a particular cause - it's a special day or there's an event that carries a memory - but today there was no such thing.

There was only the weight of everything and then at some point about 2/3 of the way into the 7 hour drive home from Niagara Falls I missed Joe with the ache as if it had just happened yesterday.

Deep anxiety. Hopelessness. Fear. Extreme and complete loss weighing down. It bubbled up at first and then overflowed.

He was always the proper measure of crazy and sane when it came to our Mets and God knows I could have used that after the disaster of a game today.

He always knew just the right way to direct even my deepest well of injustice-fueled rage and mine still sits within me tonight with no idea where to put it.

He challenged my mind and sharpened my soul every day, constantly pushing forward a better version of me and my heart and mind have been feeling all kinds of cloudy lately.

He made me more patient, more observant, a better listener and in his illness and death more appreciative of each of life's moments.

He kept my life ordered and complete, but also exciting and beautiful.

Tonight, as I stared down the construction traffic on Route 78 and had my good cry to Faded and Step Into the Light, I realized once again the true value of a loving relationship.

It was a realization that made me happy and sad at the same time.

Happy because the relationship I had with Joe was amazing - not always perfect or always smooth, but amazing.

And sad because I miss it. At this point, I've got my eyes and heart open in case another relationship comes my way, but I don't miss what I had with Joe enough to settle for anything less than what I know is real and inspiring. I will take these moments and memories, grab on to what I know is possible, keep believing on what may be found, and in the meantime do my thing the best I know how.

Sunday, June 21, 2015

I am not his Dad - A Father's Day Post

This will be the 4th Father's Day since Joe died. By this point the routine should be familiar, but somehow it seems to be getting more difficult. As he gets older, my little guy is growing more and more aware of how he misses his dad, and so I am finding that days like this are becoming trickier to navigate.

Two weeks ago we looked at cards and picked out ones for his Peepaw, Grandpa, and PopPop. At the same time, I picked one out for my Dad. After that, we were done. I no longer have any Grandpa cards to pick out and Domani doesn't have a Dad card to pick. That's still hard.

The time following that card selection has been rocky in our house.

Not long after picking out the cards, I saw a strange toilet paper ad in my Facebook stream with the hashtag #HappyFathersDayMom. It reminded me of the times over the past several years when I have noticed attempts by well meaning people to acknowledge single moms on Father's Day as playing both the role of mother and father. I've been thinking about this quite a bit since then as I've watched Domani deal with the ways in which his misses his Dad and the ways in which I struggle to parent him through his loss.

He sees his cousins with their dads and his friends with theirs and his ache is obvious to me. He may not have specific memories of his dad beyond what he has been told or has seen in photos, but he knows that he misses his dad and he isn't shy about saying it. Quite a few times over the last two weeks there have been "I miss daddy" moments. In a few cases, he wanted to look at a book that has photos of him and his dad. A couple of times he just cried about how much he missed him. Others he just said he missed his daddy and moved on to battling bad guys or watching a video on the iPad.

Domani's board book - it had been a gift to Joe.

My son has many men in his life who have stepped up since Joe's death to love and support and teach him. These men are not his dad, but they each play a special role in his life. Peepaw, Granpa, PopPop, Uncle Chris, Uncle Jimmy, Uncle Derek, Uncle Sam, Uncle Scott, among others. All are men who Domani relies on in one way or another for his growth and well being. I rely on them too.

It has taken many of us to begin to fill in the gaps left in Domani's life by Joe's death.

But just like they are not his dad, I am not either.

I may kill the spiders crawling in the corners of his room while he shrieks from his bed, but I am not his Dad.

I may talk Minecraft and Disney Infinity with him and troubleshoot iPad apps until my brain hurts, but I am not his Dad.

I may teach him about Mets players and Mets history and how to bounce back after losing (a key lesson for any good Mets fan), but I am not his Dad.

I may explain to him how football works and cheer for the Giants with him, but I am not his Dad.

I may play Superheroes with him, battling bad guys all around the house, but I am not his Dad.

So when Father's Day comes around and I think of those well meaning attempts to embrace the efforts of single moms, I know in my heart that I don't want it to be a day of acknowledgement for me or anything that I do. I know that my son still needs space within which to grieve his dad (or not to if someday that's his choice) and I will always allow him that on this day.

It's not my day and it never was. And no matter how much I do for my son, Father's Day will never be a day to honor me. 

You see, each day I am the best mom I can be given the hand we've been dealt, but I will never be my son's dad. He's only got one of those and we all miss him dearly. Maybe someday there will be another man in his life who he chooses to also call dad, but for now, for our little family, this day is a celebration of Joe and all that he has brought to Domani's life, including the many amazing men who have stepped in to play important roles going forward.

So, Happy Father's Day, Joe. On this day, my son has an amazing dad to remember and without a doubt your legacy will live on in a thousand different ways.
Domani's First Cooperstown Visit
Then, when Mother's Day rolls around again next year anyone reading this blog can feel completely free to shower me with all the praise you like for the things I do to keep this one parent household running. (I will never turn away bottles of wine or gift certificates to 40-One Salon and Spa, but please be forewarned that I've been known to kill all types of plants and flowers.) Perhaps, just maybe, I'm not such an all-around supermom after all.

Friday, March 13, 2015

Feliz Cumpleaños

I remember learning in my Spanish class in middle school that the verb "cumplir" means to fulfill or complete so that when we say Feliz Cumpleaños we are wishing a happy filling of our year, and that in some way we are also recognizing the completion of all of our years that have come so far. I've always loved thinking about my birthdays this way, but especially over the last 5 years - from the time of Joe's diagnosis on - there has been a particular drive behind completing the years with vigor.

Getting ready to blow out the candles on the red velvet cake!
Joe was 3 years older than me with a birthday that fell one month after mine. So for exactly 1 month, he would make fun that I was "catching up to him". He loved it and it was one of the things I missed the most when I started celebrating my birthday without him. No one to tell me "I can't believe you're only two years younger than me now, pretty soon you'll catch up to me." Most heartbreaking this year though is that on my birthday I did finally catch up to him and saw the birthday that he never got to see. This would have been Joe's year to turn 40 but instead it's my year to turn 37 - the age he never turned. It was bittersweet. Bitter for what is so obviously missing, but sweet for the unmistakeable blessings that are part of my life right now.

I woke up on my birthday to my excited son wishing me a Happy Birthday and insisting on a hunt around the house for me to find my gift. After some fun searching I found two gift bags in the corner of his room and opened them with Domani cuddled up next to me. He had gone shopping with his Grandma and Peepaw and picked out two pairs of earrings for me. He was so proud of his choices and I was more than happy to wear a pair to church that morning. I'll never forget his smile as he watched me put them on.

Earrings from Domani
Starting first thing in the morning and continuing into the evening, I had hundreds of Facebook posts, messages, and texts to read through wishing me a happy birthday. I was overwhelmed by the love and especially moved by the friends who took to wishing me a "Feliz Cumpleaños" even though I'm certain they didn't know how meaningful it was to me.

Then, for the first time since 2011, I had a gift to open from another important guy. Honestly, I was a little nervous about this one. After all, it's hard in moments like these not to think about Joe, who was the best gift giver I had ever known. So there I was staring at the gift bag that my boyfriend had left for me, wondering how this was going to go. I have no idea why I even hesitated because OF COURSE as it turned out he is quite the thoughtful gift giver himself. He was modest about it, but each thing showed to me that he already knows me well, cares about me, and can make me laugh even when he is not actually there with me. 

You know, because nothing says "I get Anne" like a FunkoPop Spiderman that sits on top of your computer monitor and an armband safety light for running. Or an iTunes gift card without the same Afghan Whigs download restrictions that was put on the one she gave you for Valentines Day or the iPhone 6 case for the iPhone 6 which is still sitting in its box. Or the bath fizzes because it's been a month that has fully depleted Anne's previous stockpile. 

The total mix was perfect and it so made me cry on the spot. Domani wanted to know what was wrong and I of course had to explain to him that we don't always cry because we are sad. Sometimes we cry because we are happy. And mommy was really happy.

There were plenty of other wonderful parts of the day - an unexpected gift from a special friend at church, dinner with my family at a favorite restaurant, the much ballyhooed red velvet cake, and a chance to FaceTime with my sister Naomi in Idaho. It was a full day that capped off a full year of life.

I have celebrated four birthdays now without Joe. After the first three I never imagined I would be in a place again to share it with someone who cares about me as deeply as my boyfriend and I was starting to find my peace with that. I have gone through some dark moments since Joe died, including plenty of times when I questioned whether I could continue on without him. During my most difficult times, I would go to the first two verses of Psalm 121. I had memorized the whole Psalm when I was young - I believe it was also while I was in middle school. 

There were many times over the past three plus years that I went to this Scripture as a way to get me through.

"I lift up my eyes to the hills - from where will my help come? My help comes from The Lord, who made heaven and earth."

Wouldn't you know that on this, my 37th birthday, one that was both bitter and sweet - I felt the tears well up once again as I sat in church while the morning Scripture was read. It was, OF COURSE, Psalm 121. And the tears were a perfect mix of happy and sad.