Sunday, August 26, 2012

Patience, Joe, & NYC Traffic

I'm not quite sure what came over me, but I made a very bad driving decision today. With all of the driving I do - both for work and for pleasure, I should have known better. My sister, the little guy, and I had gone to the Mets v. Astros game (where FINALLY the Mets won) and we were on our way from the game to the vacation house we would be sharing with our family.

There was heavier than normal traffic on my regular route home from the game so at the last minute I decided to follow the GPS directions onto the Williamsburg Bridge and over to the Holland Tunnel. I think I can say with no hyperbole that I have NEVER made a worse decision on the road. It took us just shy of three hours to get through Lower Manhattan and to the other side of the Holland Tunnel (where, of course, the roads were as clear as could be). I venture to say that outside of maybe your wedding day there is no worse time to be stuck in traffic like that than on the first day of a much-anticipated vacation. We finally made it to our vacation spot at just after 2am.

While I am relieved to be here and wish we could have arrived earlier, I had a special "Joe moment" on our crawl through Lower Manhattan and I wouldn't trade that for an extra 24 hours of vacation let alone an extra 3.

It happened just at the moment I had reached my breaking point. If you know me in real life, then you probably know that patience has never been one of my strengths. It's one of the ways that Joe helped make me a better person because he was the most patient person I've ever known. He had a way of inspiring patience in me through his own exercise of it and as our relationship grew so did my ability to be more patient and gracious in various situations. Over the past 8 1/2 months, I've missed his gentle presence encouraging me to take it easy and be more patient.

Today, as I reached my NYC traffic breaking point, some familiar chords came over 104.3, the New York rock station. It was Don't Stop Believin' by Journey, a song which had been to us the end of The Sopranos before it became a mantra during Joe's illness and then the song that always pops up when I'm feeling low or missing him deeply. The tears started before the lyrics even did.

Then, I looked to the side and noticed that we just HAPPENED to be stopped in front of The Bowery Ballroom. Let me repeat, IN FRONT OF THE BOWERY BALLROOM (if you don't already know, see my post about The Afghan Whigs reunion show in May for the importance to us of this venue).

At this realization, I thanked Joe for giving me another dose of patience and started mentally counting my blessings. The biggest one? I was "stuck" in the car with my sister who lives 1,000 plus miles away. We literally had 10 hours of together time in that car and I'm so glad we did. While I still had frustration with the traffic, it was a much more pleasant experience after Joe's "touch". I won't forget how we jammed out to Call Me Maybe once we escaped the Tunnel or how we marveled at the engineering (and the length) of the Chesapeake Bay Bridge & Tunnel or how we raced each other to be the first to "check-in" to new places on foursquare.

I think Joe would have been proud of me today and I know he must be happy that the Mets finally won again. As a life long Mets fan, maybe that's where he perfected his virtue of patience.

Monday, August 20, 2012

Part of the Journey - Another 5k

Today I registered for my next 5k. On Saturday, September 8, I will run the Undy 5000 in Philadelphia in an effort to raise money in the fight against colon cancer.

From the event website:

The Undy 5000 is a family-friendly 5K run/walk that was created by the Colon Cancer Alliance. It is unique because participants are encouraged to run in their boxers to bring attention to the area affected by colon cancer. We have found that by getting people talking about this disease, we can save lives!

It never ceases to amaze me how my path always seems to cross with just the right people at just the right time. That has been especially true this year.

I first met Malinda, who introduced me to the Undy 5000, in May when we both attended the Afghan Whigs Reunion show at the Bowery Ballroom in NYC (post here). We have been in touch since then on Twitter and by following each other's blogs (Malinda's blog). As it turns out, she is a runner and is training to run the Chicago Marathon this fall. On July 16, she lost her Grandma to cancer with only 3 days from her diagnosis to her passing. Malinda and her twin sister Leah are running the marathon to benefit Alex's Lemonade Stand in memory of her as well as in memory of Leah's brother-in-law Michael who passed from leukemia in 2003. Malinda has been an inspiration to me with her running (even though she often refers to herself as the slower half of Twins Run she is still way faster than me!) and we have been able to encourage each other through our grief. And, of course, it doesn't hurt that we'll also get to rock out together to some Afghan Whigs in Philadelphia at the end of September!

I only know Nick Salve in the online world, but he has also crossed my path with perfect timing. Last week, he replied to one of my tweets about my 5k training with some encouraging words. Since then we've exchanged #5ktraining tweets and I've started following his blog. Like Malinda, he too is an inspiration. Nick was diagnosed with MS when he was 21 and is training to run his first 5k on September 1. Our paces are similar so it's been encouraging to follow Nick and his progress and to read about all the things he is doing to say #FU2MS.  From taking on surfing to forming a rock band which raises funds for MS research and assistance, he is doing some inspiring stuff. I'm thankful to have another virtual running buddy as I approach this fall and the list of 5ks I hope to run.

I'm also thankful for those I know in real life who have been lighting a fire under my butt from near and far: Christon, Justin, Jess, Suzanne, Bob - I can always count on them to help me along in my training whether by text or a tweet or a phone call or even running by my side. And, it's also worth noting that there would be no running for me if not for my amazing family who consistently watch Domani while I do my training. 

Getting to September 8 and beyond will truly be a group effort. I'm excited to be running for such a great cause and happy with how I feel physically and the energy I've gotten from being so active again. And, I know that when the Undy 5000 rolls around, I will have one more cheerleader rooting for a good finish, even though it will be from that cosmic finish line.

You can follow Malinda on Twitter @MalindaAnnHill and you can follow Nick on Twitter @NickwithMS. You can follow me @MamaDeak.

To make a donation to the Colon Cancer Alliance, visit my Undy 5000 fundraising page:

Thursday, August 16, 2012

Remembering Our Wedding Day

I spent most of today thinking back over that day 4 years ago when Joe and I said our vows and promised to be there for each other 'til death do us part'. From the moment I stepped outside I was reminded of our wedding day. The sun was shining brightly with a gentle breeze, just like it was four years ago.

Our first moment together all dressed up for the wedding.
We took this photo in our backyard.
Our yard isn't nearly that neat now. There are more weeds mixed in with the grass and the bushes aren't as neatly trimmed, but as Domani and I stepped out of the house this morning it was still into that same backyard. And it brought back all of the memories of that day...

It brought feelings of sadness at the thought of those who are no longer here...
With Joe's Grandma who lost her own battle with
cancer in 2009, two months before Joe's diagnosis.
 It brought feelings of overwhelming love as I recalled our vows and how special our ceremony was - from the music we picked to the thoughtful words of our friend & officiant Dave, from the decorations made with love to the most adorable flower girl and ring bearer ever.
Our ceremony at Eagle River Day Camp. The night before
there was a huge storm, but you wouldn't have known it.

A little smooch after the ceremony.
It brought feelings of joy at the endless fun we had that day with our family and friends. The blob, the waterslide, beach volleyball, kayaks, paddle boats, swimming pools, Italian Ice, foosball, the kids playground, line dancing, lots of candy - there was more to do than could be packed into one afternoon.
Fun on the blob in the lake.
Yes, that's the bride being launched in the air.

And the bride on the waterslide.

The groom on the lake in his kayak.
It brought feelings of contentedness as I recalled that moment of knowing that I had joined lives with the one who was perfectly right for me.
We even brought our Mets to our wedding!
A smooch before hitting the road in our nice rental car.
Today was a rough day, but I am thankful for the ability to look back and remember. And I'm especially thankful for all these photos from Black Lab Studio. As much as Joe liked to joke around about how much we had to spend for wedding photos, I wouldn't trade them now for anything.

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Hopeful Anticipation in the Midst of Grief

Warning: This is a post filled with sadness because of all the happy.

Four years ago today I fell asleep next to my Joe full of hopeful anticipation. The next day would be our wedding day and for a love story like ours it was a long time in the making. People still talk about our wedding and the canoeing and the Blob and the candy table and the foosball, but my most vivid memory was the song - I Will Be Here For You - and how, except for the part about growing old together, we lived it out. Our difficult times started a year and a half in, but we were there for each other through it all. Through a devastating diagnosis. Through the birth of our first child. Through many family adventures in one short year. Through illness and peaceful death.

Last year on our anniversary we left our Domani with a babysitter and enjoyed a night out. We had a tasty dinner at The Cranbury Inn and like most new parents spent at least half the time talking about our little guy. Tonight a million what ifs fill my mind but what I do know is that our last anniversary together was a wonderful one. It was quintessential Joe & Anne and for that I am thankful.

I am also thankful for the two cards I received in the mail today. My beloved Grandmom and a childhood friend each sent moving notes to let me know they were thinking about me this week. While each card brought tears to my eyes, they were tears of thanks and tears of hope. I am blessed to be surrounded by such caring people and I am comforted by the endless memories of how Joe showed his love to me while he was here on earth.

And I am thankful for my sister and her sweet hug while we were singing praise songs at church and the strangers and friends alike who found their way to offer encouragement to me today in my #5ktraining. The tweets I received assured me that I am on a good path and that I am working through my grief in a healthy way.

I miss Joe. We were after all joined together as one no matter how hokey that sounds. He was my inspiration. And in some cosmic and spiritual way that I will never be able to understand he continues to send encouragement and inspiration my way.

Tomorrow will undoubtedly be one of the hardest days yet, but I am determined to face it with the same hopeful anticipation of what lies ahead as I had on my wedding night. My life story is still being written and I know that's exactly how Joe would have wanted it.

Friday, August 10, 2012

When The Best Laid Plans Crumble...

One of the things that the past two and a half years has taught me is how to go with the flow. To some extent, it's something I learned most from Joe since throughout our relationship he was always goading me on to be more patient and less stressed. However, it was also a lesson that grew out of cancer and the treatments that came with it, a new baby and the new "schedules" that came with him, and now the life of single parenthood and the give and take that goes with it.

On more than one occasion, Joe's treatments interrupted plans we had made - the most memorable one being that morning in November 2011 when I had to cancel our tickets to Conan O'Brien because there was just no way Joe was strong enough to make the trip into NYC. Conan was Joe's favorite late night host and I had been so excited when I was able to surprise him with the news that we would be seeing the show when he filmed a few episodes back in NYC. I was really sad that we weren't able to go, but we still spent that day together and eventually got to watch the show we would have seen in person. The unpredictability of cancer and treatment may have altered our plans, but it didn't keep us from enjoying what we had together.

That little guy of ours is also pretty unpredictable. I remember vividly Christmas Eve 2010 as we arrived home from Joe's aunt's house with our 2 1/2 month old. Joe was tired and was going to stay home and relax and I was going to bring Domani to our Church's Christmas Eve service. I had never missed a Christmas Eve service at my church. When I say never, I mean never. And this one was extra special because it was the last one we would have with our pastor of 30+ years, the only pastor I had ever known. His wife would do her last Children's Sermon and give out her last handmade ornament. We would sing Silent Night by candlelight and I would take a picture with my two best childhood friends, just as we had done every year for as long as I could remember.

But, Domani wasn't having any of it. Once we were back at the house he cried and cried and cried and cried. Joe, being the patient wonderful man that he was, told me that we had to calm him down before I even considered taking him to church. He was right, but I was so frustrated. Joe couldn't be expected to take care of Domani on his own with how tired he was and it wasn't fair to ignore our young son's cries simply for my own gratification. I cried and argued with Joe that I was sure Domani would calm down on the car ride. I was so emotional about getting to the service that in that moment I had no patience for disrupted plans. But Joe was right and eventually the little guy was soothed at home and he actually did fall asleep comfortably in the car. He and I made it to the service in time for the Children's Sermon and the candle lighting and the Silent Night singing and the photo with my two best childhood friends. It wasn't exactly how I envisioned it, but I probably wouldn't remember the night with such fondness had it not been for the disruption.

We tend to forget about the things in our lives that go smoothly.

So today, when I got the email that our flight to Minneapolis had been canceled, I let out a sigh and started walking through in my mind the next steps. Re-book the flight. Text my friend who would be expecting us at a rehearsal dinner later that night. Call the hotel and adjust our reservation. Log on to the car rental page and change the pick up date. Decide whether we would still in fact travel to MSP for the wedding tomorrow. Sigh. And I did all of that while in a meeting for work and taking care of a rambunctious almost 2 year old. I was disappointed, for sure, at the disruption to our plans and I even cursed the bad weather once or twice.

In the end though, we did some good things with our freed up afternoon and evening. Once we got home from work, we each took a nap. I finally got to watch the episode of The Newsroom from Sunday night - the laughing and the crying that came with it were cathartic. We invited my parents and my grandfather over for dinner and Domani got to play with his Grandpop while my mom and I chatted in the kitchen. Later in the evening, I got to have a nice long chat with a friend and enjoy a couple of glasses of wine. I was even able to firm up some plans for the Mets game Sunday night and get a little encouragement from a friend in my 5k training. And then, of course, I got to write this blog post. Not so bad for a day when my best laid plans fell to pieces.

Maybe it is the way my perspective on life has changed since death so unexpectedly invaded my marital bliss. Maybe it is the lessons in patience and calm that I learned from Joe. More likely, it is a combination of the two that has brought me some level of zen in the hustle and bustle of constant change. Whatever it is, I appreciate being able to capture life in this way, even when it is highly unpredictable and not what I expected.

Sunday, August 5, 2012

A Little Florida Journey to Remember my Joe

It's 8 months today. The little guy and I are in Florida visiting friends, the same friends Joe and I visited 7 years ago this month for their son's 1st birthday. We never made it to Florida as a family, so it seemed fitting that today I would take Domani on a little journey to some of the spots that were special to his Dad and me.

What used to be the entryway to the hotel...
I started out by pointing the GPS to 160 Royal Palm Way which was The Heart of Palm Beach Hotel. Emphasis on the WAS because when we pulled up I realized it was boarded up and what used to be the central courtyard (with pool) was dug up. I can't say I was terribly surprised since it wasn't what I would call a premier hotel but its location was perfect (a block from the beach) and that pool in the courtyard was really nice. We definitely got our money's worth out of that place. I didn't make Domani get out to look at the abandoned hotel, just snapped a couple of quick pics while he napped in the car next to me. I felt a twinge as I looked at what used to be the lobby door and then at the torn up earth where I remembered the pool to be. Once back in the car, the twinge turned to tears as I remembered our arrival at the hotel in our rental Sebring Convertible and how excited I was for this first vacation with Joe.
Looking in to where the inner courtyard was...
From there it was a very short ride up the block to the beach. I remembered very clearly two photos we took there standing on the sidewalk with the ocean in the background. One of the photos was of me by myself taken on the sidewalk in front of the beach on a very hot day and the other was from the one night we ventured down to the beach. We were there well after the 8pm closing time and got yelled at by a patrolling police officer to get off the beach. We did, but we also managed to snap a photo of us standing on the sidewalk before we walked back to the hotel. (I remember distinctly that we had used the timer on the camera so we could both be in the photo.) He later used the photo on the card he gave me for our 6 month anniversary. Today, I was overwhelmed approaching the beach and Domani was a little cranky at the heat so I just snapped a few photos of the ocean and of Domani and me in roughly the same spot where we had taken those photos 7 years ago. Being there made me miss Joe terribly.

Roughly where Joe & I took our photo 7 years ago...
I remember the fence the most. It's still a beautiful spot.
Our last stop on the "Joe & Anne tour" was City Place, although there were a few places I made sure we stopped at while making our rounds there. There were a at couple of restaurants where we ate and the Improv Comedy Club where we saw a show, but most memorable were Wet Willie's, the Barnes & Noble and the balcony where we took a photo. I took another photo at the balcony, this time it was Domani and me in the hot summer sun.

Posing on the balcony. It was very hot.
We went to Wet Willie's that first time we came to Florida and spent a long time talking on the porch area outside the bar, indulging in their way too strong frozen drinks. It was that conversation that made me realize this was going to work because my normally quiet and self contained Joe shared some very personal things with me about his life in the years while we had fallen out of touch. I knew on that porch at Wet Willie's that our second chance would be better than any Cinderella story.

Before leaving City Place we stopped in at Panera because Domani was doing his little "Eat. Eat. Eat." show. After sharing a mango smoothie and some fruit we walked down to the Barnes & Noble. I remembered being there with Joe the last time we were in Florida. He had gotten me into watching True Blood on HBO and I bought the first books in the Sookie Stackhouse series to read while we were there. Today, the little guy and I checked out the kids books and ended up buying a new Dr. Seuss book (known as "Cat", "Hat" to Domani) and a book with a frog on the front (which requires a full on "Ribbit Ribbit" while crouched down impression from him every time he sees it). Leaving the store and walking back to the parking deck was hard.
The Barnes & Noble at City Place
Today was hard. It was hard to find hope in the midst of such beautiful memories now dashed. There were  moments today when I felt that this love I had with Joe was the once in a lifetime kind. He was an amazing guy and in a way I will never fully understand the yin to my yang. I realized today that while I'm growing and changing and moving forward and while I do encounter many glimmers of hope, there is still this uncertainly, this loneliness in the depth of my being. Perhaps I shouldn't be so surprised - the cliche of the two becoming one was nothing but true for us, in the most transformative way imaginable.
My photo of hope for the day. The sun over City Place.

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Practice Compassion

I did something nice today. And it warmed my heart on a day when I was feeling nothing but cold.

The opportunity appeared quickly and two possibilities flashed through my mind. Skip it and move on with my very busy day or take 5 minutes and do something.

I'm so glad I chose the latter.

For me to do it was not much effort at all, but I know the person I helped was really appreciative.

I think the reason I jumped at the opportunity can be easily traced back to a moment from last week while I was sitting at a rest stop on my way up to Utica, NY. I was quickly eating a slice of pizza when I noticed one, then two, then three, four, five soldiers in uniform on line at the fast food place in front of where I was sitting. My immediate thought was - "Oh, I should go pay for their lunch."

In my moment of hesitation, someone else stepped in. A man who had just paid for his own meal approached the first soldier in line and I am assuming informed the cashier that he would be paying for his meal. (I was far enough away that I couldn't tell EXACTLY what was being said.) But, it was crystal clear what was going on. He paid for that soldier's meal. And then the next one. And then the next one. And so on and so on.

As I watched this unfold, the tears welled up in my eyes. What a privilege to a be a witness to such kindness.

So, this week when I saw my own opportunity for kindness I just couldn't let it pass.

I won't reveal what it is I did because that's not what it was about. Let's just say that I think my kindness recipient was pretty happy, but I don't think that person's happiness was anything compared to my own.

And my day is perfectly captured in this gem from the Dalai Lama...
If you want others to be happy, practice compassion.  If you want to be happy, practice compassion.