Saturday, March 31, 2012

A Red Shirt, Forgiveness, Sweet Potato Pies, & Loving One Another

I went to the memorial service today for Brian, the shop steward from my Union who I mentioned in a previous blog post. It was one of the most spiritually moving services I've attended in awhile. It wasn't just because of the sadness of losing Brian and his mom, Sandra, but it was also because of the genuineness of the prayers, the music, the testimonies and that all pointed to the spiritual truth I have been learning - that what we do in the ordinariness of each day matters greatly.

It matters when we give a warm hug to someone having a bad day. It matters when we keep reaching out to someone in need even though we may not feel like it. It matters when we let someone know we love them. It matters when we forgive, when we risk being hurt and confide truth to another. It matters when we take the extra time to write a letter or an email or even a text. And, perhaps most of all, it matters when we love others as we love ourselves.

We grow spiritually when we do these things and we impact the world in a profound way. Over the past few months I have thought periodically about what people would say at a service celebrating my life (perhaps a bit morbid, but I have actually found these thoughts to deepen my own faith and practice). I wonder if the things we think about ourselves are actually the things that others would say at such a service. Two moments in particular stood out to me at Brian & Sandra's service and I think they are ones that each of them would probably have thought to be inconsequential.

One of Sandra's nephews shared a story about how Aunt Sandra would always bake the best sweet potato pies (even better than his own mom's he confessed). He recounted with passion an occasion just this past January when she called him up saying she had a huge bag of yams. She guided him through baking 7 or 8 sweet potato pies and he was clearly moved by it. This simple story captivated all of us in the congregation and I think gave us a beautiful glimpse into both Aunt Sandra's career as a teacher and the way she cared for her family.

Brian's co-worker shared about his role as a Shop Steward by giving a specific example of how he engaged his co-workers in mobilization activities. She spoke of how he would always be wearing his red on Thursdays (this is a "thing" in CWA) and how on one particular day he literally gave a shirt off his back so a co-worker would have something red to wear. I doubt it is something that Brian would have found significant, but to me it captured the essence of Brian the Shop Steward (and perhaps even Brian, the person). He was dedicated to the struggle for justice. He was generous and he was a problem-solver. Not a bad legacy to leave behind.

The memorial service today (and the spring service later on at the cemetery where Joe is buried) reminded me of how important the little things we do can really be in the lives of others. We may never know the impact of a phone call, an invitation to dinner, or a note dropped in the mail, but I can tell you from my own experience that each of those things can make a very big difference.

Thursday, March 29, 2012

Letters for Domani

For the past month and a half I have been attending a grief support group which I have found to be very helpful in dealing with the many emotions associated with the loss of Joe. There is something to be said for sharing with others who are walking a similar path and being able to be honest and open with them, even when I am not always able to be that way with my own friends and family.

Tonight I shared about how the coming week will be a very difficult one for me. This Saturday, there will be an Easter service at the cemetery. This coming Wednesday would have been Joe's 37th birthday. The following day will be four months since he passed and the season home opener for our beloved Mets. And then, of course, it will soon be Easter. Lots of emotion packed into one week. I've been wondering how I will ever make it through without withdrawing into my house with the blinds drawn and my phone turned off.

I found an idea tonight in the DVD we watched at group that immediately gave me comfort. It suggested having people who knew your loved one write letters to his child as a way to help the child cope with the loss in the years to come. I thought, now that would be a lovely way to remember Joe's birthday this year. What a tribute to him for the people who knew him and loved him to take the time to write letters about him to his son. It's not that Domani will read them for awhile (he's smart, but not quite reading yet), but I know that having them tucked safely away will make me feel better about being able to fully teach him about his Dad once he is really old enough to understand.

So, here is the call. (And don't be surprised if over the next few days I approach you individually to consider remembering Joe's birthday in this way.) It can be a few sentences or a book chapter. It can be funny or sweet. A story or simply a reflection on Joe as a person. You can include a photo or not. Your letter can be sent by email or snail mail or delivered in person if you prefer. Most importantly, there's no deadline so feel free to complete it at your own pace.

I have come to believe that community is so important to the grieving process, so I can think of no better way to muddle through this coming week than the support of those who knew and loved Joe. And to have that community support come in the form of a project that will give Domani something to remember his Dad by for many years to come - well, that's a birthday gift Joe would have loved.

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

What a Midwife!

This morning I had to face another one of those "firsts"...those things that a grieving person does that will almost certainly bring back that flood of memories which inevitably leads to a cascade of tears. Today it was me vs. the Midwives' office.

I arrived early and listened to a couple rounds of Silent Lucidity while sitting in my car. I sipped my coffee and ate my chocolate chip muffin from Mendoker's. I was feeling ok....that is until I saw that guy carefully walking with his obviously pregnant wife back to the car that was parked near me. Oh boy. Not quite 2 years ago that was us.

I let out a good cry and steeled myself up to walk inside. I took the stairs, just as I did every time. Well, except for my very first time since I didn't know where I was going. And except for October 11, 2010 because my contractions were a minute apart and (as we would find out the next day) I was apparently already 10cm dilated. So, I took the elevator then, but I took the stairs today. I cried a bit as I approached the door, and then put on my poker face for the signing in, the form filling out and the presentation of the "Parent/Child" insurance card. After all, according to Blue Cross Blue Shield (and my employer's Human Resources) we are no longer a "Family", simply a parent and a child. Oh, how words can matter. Sigh.

The receptionist informed me that I hadn't been there in awhile (translation: I missed my annual exam in 2011) so she had some forms for me to complete and another for me to update. It was the dreaded "Married" to "Single" switch. Then it was changing my emergency contact from my loving husband, my friend, my Superman to someone else. Then, it was entering the details of my son's birth. Finally, it was a million personal health questions not a single one of which I wanted to think about for longer than a second.

Then, I prayed. Please just don't let them take me back to THAT room. I could handle any room except the one where I was in labor. The one where he held my hand and told me I was doing a good job as we waited to hear what sort of progress our son was making on his journey into the world. The room where the midwife with decades of experience told us I was "8 or 9 centimeters along" so as not to panic my dear husband who would have to drive us the rest of the way to the hospital. The room where it became clear that it wouldn't be long until we met our Domani. The room we left under strict instructions to go to the hospital, go directly to the hospital, do not pass go, do not collect $200. Don't stop for coffee. Just get to the hospital and walk right up to L&D. Carolyn would be waiting.

Thankfully, they didn't take me back into THAT room.

Instead, it was a room with a different memory, the room where I went for my first appointment. I had to go without Joe that first time because he was home recovering from his emergency surgery. I met with Katherine and I told her everything. She confirmed my pregnancy and figured out my due date. She assured me that she and the other midwives were there not just for my pregnancy, but to be a support for Joe and me. One of the things that I valued most about Ursula, Grace, Katherine, and Carolyn was how with every appointment they checked on not only me and the baby but also on my husband and our emotional well being. They genuinely cared about how he was feeling and what he was going through. I felt like they each were on the journey with us.

This morning, back in that room, I felt that care all over again. Once again, I was there without Joe. Really, really without Joe. But once again I felt like I was not alone on the journey. The most wonderful part of my annual checkup today was the loving words and sweet hugs from a midwife who had been through my grief herself. Having lost her own husband to cancer, she knew just how to connect and what to say and do. There was nothing especially profound about the visit itself, unless of course you count the fact that I made it through as profound.

And maybe for those of us living through grief, that is profound. It is profound to move forward through those places and circumstances which bring us face to face with our sadness, anger, and fear. It is profound to embrace that first time and second time and third time as an important slice of life. And it is profound to allow my Joe to smile next to me through it all, always a part of who I am and who I am becoming.

Sunday, March 25, 2012

A Photo Shoot to Remember - November 2011

Just like the year before, we had planned with Joe's siblings to get together for some family pictures in early November so that we would have some good photos to use for Christmas cards and Christmas presents. Earlier this week I was reminded of that photo shoot as I was going through a box of cards and came across the one our photographer, Amy, had sent to Domani and me for Christmas. It featured prominently one of the photos she took of our family and the photo tugged at my heartstrings then just as it did when she sent it to me on Facebook right after Joe's passing and just as it did when I received the card initially in the mail just before the holidays. It was one of the last photos taken of the 3 of us as a family and even though there are certainly "better" pictures of the 3 of us, I will always cherish this one because it captured a special moment in our family's life.
To me, this photo captured our ability to find a measure of happiness no matter what the situation and to just enjoy each other's company. Once you read about the full story of that day, I think you will agree that Amy's photo with all three of us smiling was nothing short of an expert catching our own miracle of love. I am amazed that by this point of the day, we were all still able to muster a smile at the same time.

The photo shoot was not easy for us that day. 

We started out at Thompson Park in Monroe Township, not far from our home. But even so, Joe's health was in decline and he wasn't eating much due to the tumors that were wrecking havoc throughout his body. As a result, he was in more pain and much weaker than he had been even a couple of weeks before. And yet, even then he was my Superman. Joe walked out from the house to the car and rode over with us to Thompson Park, waiting for the moment when he would join us outside to take the photos. 

As further proof of what a wonderful man we had in Joe, he agreed to go for the photo shoot WHILE his NY Giants were playing the New England Patriots for the first time since their historic match up in Superbowl XLII (when the Giants dashed the Patriots perfect season with a Superbowl win). He did, of course, wait in the car once we arrived at the park, listening to the game (and chatting with his mom), until we were ready for him to come out for pictures. As often happens, though, things weren't that simple. Amy had gotten lost trying to find the park and the sky was getting darker much faster than we had anticipated. It was time for our backup plan, so we returned to our house and took the rest of the photos there.

There must have been some divine intervention because there was no score in the Giants v. Patriots game for the entire first half. Joe was comfortably at home and in his La-Z-Boy recliner before any of the scoring happened and we were able to watch the exciting end of the game (the Giants won 24-20) without the distraction of photos to be taken.

Even at the house, however, it was not easy getting pictures with Joe. It was difficult for him to move around and we had to be careful of things like the tumor on his shoulder (of which I admittedly bumped once or twice during the course of posing for pictures). He was resilient though and hung in for the photos even while casting sideways glances at the football game on the TV.

One of the lovely things I clearly remember about that day, though, is how much our son wanted to be near his dad. Amy captured this lovely photo which still brings tears to my eyes - it's our little Domani grabbing onto Joe's leg.
To me, it is priceless and tells the story of a precious Father/Son bond in a way that my words never could. The two of them were bound together in a powerful way and I think remain so to this day. I am so grateful to Amy for capturing these moments for our family. Less than a month from the date of our photo shoot with her, Joe passed away at home, just one room removed from our living room where these photos were taken. These, along with all the other photos Amy took of us during that shoot, are highly cherished now as some of the last photos of Father & Son and Family before he passed.

**Photos by Amy Pinard -

Thursday, March 22, 2012

Bird by Bird Motherhood (with acknowledgement to Anne Lamott)

Yesterday, I read a  blog post by Lisa Belkin where she recounted an exchange with author Anne Lamott. It came at the perfect time. Somehow the universe must have known that I would need a new Anne Lamott book release (and all the Anne Lamott coverage that comes with it) right around March 20, 2012. For the last few weeks, I have been feeling pretty dry. But whether it is a quote or an interview or a blog post or a book (or now even a tweet), I always seem to find just the proper measure of inspiration in Anne's words (I'm calling her by her first name because I feel like she's a friend). This time it was a simple reminder drawn from one of her books that I actually have not yet read (it's on order though, so I'll read it soon!).

In her book Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life, Anne gives a piece of writing advice centered on the book title. Lisa Belkin explains Anne's advice in her blog, "It comes from a moment when her brother was sitting at the dining room table decades ago, surrounded by stacks of books for a report about birds. He was overwhelmed and drowning. So much to do. So far to the completed product. "Son," she quotes her dad as saying, "just take it bird by bird."

Last night, I was feeling like Anne's brother as I was driving home from a late night work meeting on Long Island, missing my son, exhausted from a long day, and caught up in the million things I had to do. These days there is a never-ending list of household tasks ranging from the mundane tasks of laundry, dishes, bills, and oil changes to the less routine tasks of settling medical bills, canceling credit cards, arranging flowers to bring to the cemetery, and following up on unpaid life insurance. Each task, whether mundane or less routine, has the potential to become completely overwhelming. Add to it the fact that I've been battling the poor memory and fuzzy brain that I'm told is common with grief and you have a recipe for task paralysis.

Then, I read Lisa's blog and those amazing words from Anne Lamott's dad. "Son, just take it bird by bird." My friend had just given me the same advice when I had called her crying on the phone, but for some reason the bird by bird image made it stick.

Bird by bird is what I did today. I cuddled with my son after our morning breastfeeding ritual. I got us both dressed and fed. I checked some items off my to do list for work. I put gas in the car. I went to the doctor to have my knee checked out. I checked a few more items off my to do list for work. I called my sister in law. I took my son to lunch for some really tasty Indian food. We stopped at Bellies & Booties, one of my favorite kid stuff stores. I took him for a haircut. I checked yet a couple more items off my to do list for work.

I did a few loads of laundry. I put my son down for a nap. I sorted through 3 large stacks of mail. I made a list of all my bills so I can set some up for autopay (that poor memory thing again). I cooked dinner. I ate dinner. I arranged child care so I can go out to dinner on Friday night. I chatted with my Aunt. I fed my son dinner. I responded to some FaceBook messages. I gave my son a bath. We cuddled. I finished the laundry. I wrote my blog.

There was nothing earth-shattering about what I did today - except maybe my attitude. Taking things bird by bird made all the difference when it came to my enjoyment of the day. In the end, it was a special day because each moment felt like a little victory. Each moment was truly a moment of my life and I made the best of it. I'm going to have another long day tomorrow and I'm already praying that I'll find the strength to take it bird by bird. That's the best I can do.

Monday, March 19, 2012

My Superman - Warning, This is Permanent!

Yesterday I did something that I never thought I would do. Well, I thought about doing it when I was newly 18 and wandering around South Street in Philly with my friend Andrea, but never actually followed through. After contemplating it constantly since Joe passed, I decided it was time to do it.

Choosing what it would be was easy - he was my Superman and the tattoo would be a Superman logo. What was difficult was actually getting up the nerve to go. I am not the sort to frequent a tattoo parlor (it was a BIG deal when I got the second holes pierced in my ears) and I expected to feel wholly uncomfortable from the minute I walked in. So, once I decided I was definitely going to do it, my solution was to ask Joe's brother to come with me. He agreed, but I happened to arrive at the spot before him.

As soon as I approached the doorway, I felt the emotion well up. I started walking down the long hallway, then turned around and walked back out. I finished the Gatorade I had been drinking and worked up the courage to go in for real. Part of me wished that instead of a Gatorade it was a shot of something a tad bit stronger.

Once I went inside, though, I felt completely comfortable. Inside it was... well, cool. The staff were helpful and before I knew it I was planning out my tattoo with Evan (who, by the way, happened to be available to do it right then, lucky me). Thankfully, by that point Joe's brother had made it and he helped me make some final decisions about the tattoo. After completing a form (it's amazing how many different ways the paperwork reminds you this isn't going to wash off), we were off to get my first tattoo.

Anyone who tells you that getting a tattoo "doesn't hurt" was either under the influence of something at the time of tattooing or is lying.  It took a little over half an hour and it was pretty much the most painful thing I've experienced physically with the exception of childbirth. Add to that the emotional meaning behind my tattoo and it was a pretty intense experience. I was so glad that Joe's brother was able to be there with me while I got it, although I do think that if he told me one more time that it was "almost done" with another 5 minutes then passing by, I might have just come after him to do my own version of tattoo artistry. In the end though, I was really grateful he was there to support me and I am thrilled with the result.

Perhaps getting the tattoo opened me up a little bit more spiritually, because this afternoon while I napped I had the most wonderful dream. It was Joe and I living together in a place I did not recognize, but the feeling was a happy one, a complete one. The plot of the dream was news that Joe was being relocated for his job for one year to London. It was not totally imaginary - a few years ago he did spend several weeks in London for work - but it was exciting and warm and reminded me of so many wonderful things about our relationship. I woke up feeling a bit emotional and very close to Joe. It was special. I am thankful for moments like that dream which help me keep moving forward and remind me that I have not "lost" Joe.

I felt that even more powerfully when I came home tonight and found the following quote from Anne Lamott while I was doing a google search about her new book which is coming out on Tuesday.

"You will lose someone you can't live without, and your heart will be badly broken, and the bad news is that you never completely get over the loss of your beloved. But this is also the good news. They live forever in your broken heart that doesn't seal back up. And you come through. It's like having a broken leg that never heals perfectly, that still hurts when the weather gets cold, but you learn to dance with the limp." - Anne Lamott

I look forward to someday learning to "dance with the limp", but today I'm just glad that I will have a really cool tattoo to wear while I'm dancing.

Saturday, March 17, 2012

Silent Lucidity

Tonight was a special night. I had a tough day at work. I had Praise Band practice at church and emotionally, that was tough too. I cried pretty much the whole way home from church. Once the little dude was sound asleep, I felt the loneliness overtake me. I decided to call someone who I knew could identify.

I felt relief the minute that Joe's brother answered. My intention was just to talk for him a bit, but once he realized I was upset, he offered to come over and then offered again. I was feeling alone and dreading the long night ahead so I welcomed the company. While he was here we got to talking and the subject turned to Joe's guitar-playing. He told me about a song that Joe taught him to play on the guitar - Silent Lucidity by Queensryche.

At first I was resistant to listening to it. My task for the night was going through sympathy cards to find a missing check and the last thing I needed was more emotion. But I kept coming back to it and a little while later, I just had to text him for the song title again (because in typical mourning fashion I could not remember ANYTHING, let alone THAT!) I'm so glad I did.

I plugged "Silent Lucidity" by "Queensryche" into YouTube and came up with the most perfect video. It was the lyrics and music all in one YouTube, perfectly representing to me the essence of this song that my Joe had taught to his younger brother. I immediately recognized the melody as one that I had heard Joe playing. I think you will agree that the lyrics are fitting and as deeply intense as my Joe. I find comfort in them and am glad that my brother felt comfortable enough to share this Joe story with me.

I have a pile of tissues and an empty glass of wine to go with this song (which I downloaded to my iTunes and put on repeat tonight), but it was just what I needed right here and right now.

The image my brother-in-law and I like best from this song? "I am smiling next to you..."

Somehow, we know he is...

Silent Lucidity by Queensryche

Hush now don't you cry
Wipe away the teardrop from your eye

You're lying safe in bed
It was all a bad dream
Spinning in your head

Your mind tricked you to feel the pain
Of someone close to you leaving the game
Of life

So here it is, another chance
Wide awake, you face the day
Your dream is over...

Or has it just begun?

There's a place I like to hide
A doorway that I run through in the night

Relax child, you were there
But only didn't realize
And you were scared

It's a place where you will learn
To face your fears, retrace the years
And ride the whims of your mind

Commanding in another world
Suddenly, you'll hear and see
This magic new dimension

Will be watching over you
I am gonna help you see it through
Will protect you in the night
I am smiling next to you
In silent lucidity...


Visualize your dream (Yes)
Record it in the present tense (Don't be scared)
Put it into a permanent form
If you persist in your efforts
You can achieve a dream control
(How're you doing today?) (Better?)

Dream come true
Dream come true
Dream come true

Help me...

If you open your mind for me
You won't rely on open eyes to see

The walls you built within
Come tumbling down
And a new world will begin

Living twice at once you learn
You're safe from pain in the dream domain
A soul set free to fly

A round trip journey in your head
Master of illusion, can you realize?
Your dream's alive, you can be the guide but...

Will be watching over you
I am gonna help you see it through
Will protect you in the night
I am smiling next to you...

Thursday, March 15, 2012

Things That Make Me Happy

I could come up with a pretty long list of things that make me sad these days. Today, I decided to come up with my own very personal list of things that make me happy. It's way longer than I thought it would be. And that makes me very happy.

-Listening to The Afghan Whigs
-Reading about The Afghan Whigs
-FaceTime with my sister in Idaho
-Making travel plans
-Phone calls with friends
-Re-discovering an old friendship
-Praise Band
-My friends who are pregnant or new mommies
-Dinner plans with friends
-Reading Anne Lamott
-Watching my son play with his cousins
-Best friends
-The prospect of something new and/or exciting (tattoo, motorcycle ride, travel abroad)
-My son's out of control laughter
-My son's out of control appetite
-Having some time alone
-Workers standing up to the boss
-Mets tickets
-The NY Giants Superbowl Champion DVD
-A quiet movie night at home
-Anything from Mendoker's in Jamesburg
-The attention (and occasional free cookie) my son gets when he comes with me to Mendoker's
-Family members who show up
-Friends who show up
-Co-workers who show up
-The therapy I found in the movie 50/50
-Spiritual direction
-Two of the best cleaning people anywhere
-Old cards and notes from Joe
-Flowers popping up in my side garden
-A slightly too strong mixed drink at the end of a long day
-Salsa and chips from Mexican Village
-Catching up with high school friends
-Joe's slippers
-Bejeweled Blitz
-Words with Friends
-A good meal at Makeda
-The songs from Joe's thumb drive on a random mix
-A good sermon shared on Twitter
-Emails, FB messages, blog comments, RTs, replies, comments, wall posts, likes, phone calls, texts and snail mail
-Greg Dulli on Instagram
-A cup of hot tea
-Hugs and kisses and pats on the shoulder from my son
-A massage from Nancy
-Caring neighbors
-A hot shower
-Meaningful work
-A gift certificate for a pedicure
-Cuddling in the morning with my son
-Child care helpers
-Sesame Street with Ricky Gervais
-Line dancing
-ATP IBYM Festival in September in Asbury Park curated by Greg Dulli featuring a reunion performance by The Afghan Whigs

What's on your "happy" list?

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

When Bad News Invades...

I thought today might be the day. The first 24 hour stretch without having to step away from a situation with tears in my eyes or stop talking mid-conversation to keep from losing it. I had a pretty good day at work, connecting with co-workers, checking things off my to do list. I had a nice conversation with an old friend, punctuated with some wonderful laughter and catching up on each others' lives. And then a conversation with one of my best friends, this one punctuated with good news about a new job she had just started and a family vacation she had just enjoyed.

I had just started my workout run for the day and then I got the news. It was horrible. It took a minute to sink in, but once I fully realized the violence that had invaded my little corner of the world, I just couldn't run anymore. Only a mile in, I walked back to my parents' house and sat at the picnic table outside. And I called the friend who had delivered the news, knowing he would understand my emotions because he was probably feeling them too. I'm glad he answered the phone.

The man we lost to senseless violence was a shop steward in our Union, someone I fought beside through horrible state budgets and difficult contract negotiations. Someone who showed up and fought and led his co-workers. What I remember most about him was his smile. What can we make of tragic stories like these - just don't have any answers. And I guess that's ok.

A wise friend reminded me tonight as I was struggling with this news that I will see death differently now since Joe's passing and that I shouldn't be too hard on myself when I can't immediately "pull it together". Even though I only knew Brian through our Union, his death hit me hard. It may sound cliche, but it reminded me of how fragile life is and that we just never know what tomorrow may bring.

Keeping that in mind, I'm choosing to be thankful for the happy moments I enjoyed today and I'm moved to search for those moments again tomorrow, wherever I may find them. I will think of Brian and his smile in the days and weeks to come and remember that we are all here only for a short time - we should do whatever we can with what we have been given.

Monday, March 12, 2012

I Am a Fragile Person

My name is Anne and I am a fragile person. It's taken me awhile to admit it, but I've finally come to realize that I'm like an egg with the tiniest of cracks. All it takes these days  is the slightest bump for all my gooey, messy insides to come pouring out.

I guess the first time I realized I was a fragile person was during my pregnancy which is funny because it also began the time in my life when I felt the most powerful. It was a different sort of fragility than I live in now. It was an exciting and hopeful fragility - and it was a hormone-induced one. Even though my husband received his cancer diagnosis only days after we discovered I was pregnant, our life then was much more overrun by baby fever than cancer fear. We had our moments for sure, but unless he told you or mentioned having to go for a chemo treatment, you wouldn't have even known what he was battling.

My fragility now is very different. It is a fragility rooted in loss with forever love as its trunk and many happy memories as its leaves. A true conundrum.

It is a fragility that makes me cry at the emergence of my son's next tooth (his first since his Daddy passed) and respond with biting sarcasm when a friend makes a slight modification to our plans to hang out. 

The messy goo in my cracked egg can pour out at obvious moments (like at the Memorial Service I went to on Saturday) or in the most unexpected time or place (like when I notice the chocolate cupcakes that were my husband's in the cupboard while packing my son's lunch). 

Sometimes it's when I get the mail or when I hear a song or when I see a TV show or watch a movie or drive somewhere we used to go or hear a phrase he used to say or see coverage of the Mets or the Giants. Well, you get the point - it's anytime or anyplace.

It's being told how cool it is that I have a MegaTouch game in my basement or finding out that The Afghan Whigs are reuniting after 13 years. It's going into Tastee Sub and not ordering a half of a #1 or into
Sansone's and wondering who the heck is going to help me finish this pizza. It's tipping the delivery guy a little extra because well, Joe used to be a delivery guy too. It's getting a dollar bill with my change and remembering how in college we stubbornly mailed a $1 bill back and forth and back and forth through campus mail.

It's Boston and Florida, London and Washington DC, LBI and the Poconos and everywhere in between. It's a Ford Bronco or a Corvette or a Scion or a Civic Si. It's any number or bars or restaurants or streets. It's every giggle from my son's mouth and every time he brushes his hair.

I'm a fragile person finding my way through each hour of each day with thousands of reminders that threaten to break me, resulting in that geyser of tears.

I'm a fragile person who finds comfort in knowing other fragile people and in accepting my own reality. I am learning that it's ok to be fragile. In fact, it has made my relationships deeper, my spiritual life more exciting, and has challenged me to relinquish a bit of the control I thought I had over my life. These have all been life changing things.

Now that you know I'm a fragile person, I ask you this favor - be mindful of us cracked eggs roaming around the hustle and bustle of life. We don't come with signs on our forehead about who we are so be kind whenever you can. Be sensitive to those who may not want to hear all the details about your wonderful, amazing husband or the grand vacation you are planning with your children and their families. And, most importantly, if we get bumped and all that gooey messy stuff comes pouring out of our egg, offer a tissue and a shoulder and let us have a good cry. It may be just what we need.

Saturday, March 10, 2012

Til Death (or money) Do Us Part...

Last night as I was getting ready for bed I had on a TV show called Four Weddings. If you don't know the premise, it's basically four brides who attend each other's weddings and then rate which ones they liked the best. There are safeguards in the grading system so that a bride can't undercut everyone else's wedding in hopes that she will win. In the end the bride with the most points wins a pretty impressive honeymoon for her and her new husband.

Last night's show was not a typical Four Weddings show; it was a Four Weddings special. It was a review of many episodes in the form of "blunders" - what not to do (and specifically what cost brides points in the evaluation process). One segment in particular caught my eye. It was called "for richer or richer" and it was literally a string of brides who refused to say the "for poorer" part of the traditional wedding vows. I was floored. Some women just said "for richer" and then after a pregnant pause moved on. Others said "for richer or for richer", slyly replacing the dreaded "for poorer" part with what she thought would be the circumstances for her continued commitment. Now I have to assume that these brides thought they were being funny, but it got me to thinking.

My brain was going into hyperspeed thinking about how this "for richer or for richer" sentiment is really a symptom of a bigger problem in our think of yourself first, do what makes you happy, immediate gratification culture. It made me very uncomfortable. And it wasn't just because I thought these women were horrible, but because in different ways I saw that same sentiment in myself both currently and at various points in my life.

Then, this morning I saw the counterpoint. My mother-in-law gave an eloquent eulogy for her Uncle Pat at his memorial service. Part of the eulogy was talking about his courtship and marriage to his wife of nearly 47 years. During the eulogy, Mom talked about the vows they took and the part that struck me hardest (probably for obvious reasons) was the "til death do us part" part. Tears were streaming down my face as I stood in the back of the Church holding my son while she spoke. She talked about how it's hard to do that and (maybe I'm embellishing a bit here), but how you have to work at having a marriage like that.

It got me to thinking about my first marriage to an emotionally and verbally abusive husband, a marriage that while it didn't end well, has left me nothing but happy at a second chance.  I then, of course, think of my marriage to Joe - one in which no matter how difficult things got - we were in it together. A marriage in which I had someone to challenge me to be a better person and to dig deeper in everything I did. A marriage in which I found everything I had been looking for - literally everything. I knew that ours was a "til death do us part" kind of relationship, but I never thought that time would come as soon as it did.

The traditional wedding vows that couples take are very difficult. They run counter, I believe, to our nature as human beings. Sickness, poverty, death. These are devastating, hard things. But, that is why these vows are so wonderful. It's because they bring us to something bigger and deeper than ourselves. Perhaps the amazing part is that I believe I can have those same counter-cultural, earth-shattering relationships as a single person. I find that the Jesus I have come to know is that way and that we are called to do the same while we are here. I think we could turn the world upside down by committing to love people (all people) for better or worse, for richer or poorer, in sickness and in health, til death do us part.

Friday, March 9, 2012

Driving at Night with the Headlights On

I have decided to take up running again. Specifically, I have set a goal of running (or probably more realistically jogging) a 5k in April. It's 6 weeks away and I have started following a Couch to 5k workout program. After looking through the workouts, I decided that I wasn't quite starting from the "couch" category so I decided to begin with the workouts for week 4. The workouts at this stage alternate between a fast walk and a jog with a beep indicating when you should switch your pace. I completed the first workout today.

As the final jog interval began, I faced a choice - to the right was the easier path and to the left was the hill. It might as well have been a mountain, given the fact that I haven't run hills for a very long time (probably going back college). Something inside me demanded that I take the hilly path to the left. Maybe it was the fact that I already feel like my life is on the hilly path, so why not. Maybe it was simply my desire for a challenge. Either way, once I was on it, I was there and turning back just didn't seem like an option.

For the first 30 seconds or so I felt great. Then I slowly started to feel the burn in my legs. And my breathing became heavier. And I kept staring up that hill. The top seemed so far away. What came to my mind in that moment was something I had read awhile ago.

Anne Lamott offers the following musing in one of her books (with my brain as mushy as it is these days I just can't remember which one)..."The great novelist E.L. Doctorow once said that writing a novel is like driving at night with the headlights on: You can only see a little ways in front of you, but you can make the whole journey this way. It is the truest of all things; the only way to write a book, raise a child, save the world." 

I would add to the end "run a 5k" and "continue moving after a loss". And on this day I would add "run up a hill". As I started to look only just in front of me, jogging up the hill became easier. Concentrating on the next step and then the next step and then the next step allowed me to move forward without getting caught up in the immensity of the whole task.

Before I knew it, there was the beep. But I wasn't at the top of the hill yet. So I kept jogging. And jogging. When I reached the top I transitioned to my brisk walk with an overwhelming sense of accomplishment. It was a great feeling and I think a good lesson for me as I struggle through the pain of loss, the difficult rhythms of a busy work life, and the challenges of being a single mom.

"You can only see a little ways in front of you, but you can make the whole journey this way."

Thursday, March 8, 2012

Happy Birthday To Me...Without Him

It's time to celebrate another birthday when my only wish is for one more birthday with him.

This has been a tough week. It seems like ever since Sunday it has been one "gotcha" moment after the next. Sunday it was seeing some of his favorite foods in the cupboard while making lunch for my son. Monday it was walking the streets in NYC only to be reminded of our many trips to MSKCC for treatments. Tuesday it was a meeting for work in the same place where I got that call in January 2010 - I'm in the emergency room and they don't yet know what's wrong. Last night it was the sickening moment when I realized I had lost his wedding band - the one I've been wearing since I slid it off his finger before his burial. Now it's thinking back over all the birthdays we shared together and wishing we had just one more.

While cleaning the house (he would be so proud) I happened to come across both the first birthday card he ever gave me and the last. Each sentimental in their own way. So very glad to have them now. When we were young and newly dating he took up the whole inside of the card writing to me. Last year's card was simply signed "Love, Joe". By the time my birthday rolled around last year, we had both gotten much better at speaking our love to each other every day instead of waiting to write about it in a card - a welcome shift for this extrovert who married an introvert. However, now that he is gone, I am so thankful for those cards and notes we exchanged over the years and happy for the many times he expressed in writing that which was difficult for him to say.

In that very first card he wrote what became his traditional birthday greeting to me - "I can't believe you're only two years younger than me now, pretty soon you'll catch up to me." While it breaks my heart that he won't turn 37 in one month (maintaining our 3 year age separation), I find comfort in some amazing memories - like this one from last year...

Joe had our little dude all prepared to present Mom with her birthday cards and goodies. It was my "sweetest" birthday yet and not only because my gifts included a bag of my favorite candy.

As far as I'm concerned I have already received my birthday gift this year. Around 10pm I received a call from my mom that they found the lost wedding band at their house. What lovely news and how happy I will be to slip it back on my finger in the morning.

While my birthday this year is sure to bring some tears it will also bring some precious time with family and friends and if these last two years have taught me anything, it's the importance of making the most of our moments. 

It seems fitting to end this my first blog post with something that I used on the blog I maintained during Joe's illness. I wrote it the day before he passed and it seems even more powerful to me now - "Hug your loved ones and smile at a stranger. Today only comes once." May we all live like that.