Monday, April 30, 2012

Encouragement From a Stranger

This morning Domani and I were going about our typical routine. Today, as is the case 2-3 days a week, it included a stop at Mendoker's Bakery. Domani has become known as the "bakery baby" and the women who work there pay extra special attention to him when he comes in. Some days it takes him a minute or two to warm up, but once he gets past latching on to my leg he moves quickly on to waving at the women, pointing at the cookies, and letting loose with whatever words come to his mind.

His antics usually lead to a special treat for him complete with the required giddy giggle, shy munching on the cookie he was just given, and a polite goodbye. We are working on "thank you". On a good day it goes like this:

Me: Say "thank you", Domani.
Domani: Thank you (or something mostly sounding like that.)
Woman who just gave him cookie:'re welcome.
Domani: You're welcome (or something mostly sounding like that.)

He's getting pretty good at repeating things, and eventually I'm sure he will actually understand the "Thank You"/"You're Welcome exchange. For now, it's just about the cutest thing ever. At least he's trying.

After he says goodbye to the women at the counter, he will then carry the ticket for our purchases over to the cashier. He often gets distracted by all the yummy looking food in the glass cases along the way, but eventually he gets there. He hands the ticket to the cashier and then waits for the exciting moment when he can say (and wave) goodbye and then go through not one, but TWO automatic doors.

This whole routine has become, well, routine for us. So, it caught me off guard today when we were at the cashier and the gentleman in line behind us asked how old he was and when I answered said simply, "you're definitely raising him right." It was a very simple thing for him to say, but it meant the world to this single mom who spends every day trying to do the best I can by a son who really deserves to have his Daddy here too. I may never see this gentleman again (or maybe I will since this is a small town), but he gave me a shot of much needed encouragement on this Monday morning when I was feeling ragged and unenthusiastic about the week ahead. I am so very grateful for that.

Sunday, April 29, 2012

Don't Stop Believin' - The 5k

Yesterday I ran my very first 5k.

I used to be a "runner", at least as much as you could call someone who always finished in the middle to the end of the pack in high school distance races. My body, mind, and spirit are in very different places now than they were 15+ years ago though, so my goal this time around was simply to finish the race.

Mentally, I prepared myself not to be disappointed if my body forced me to walk part of the way, but even so set a goal of finishing in less than 40 minutes. Emotionally, I recognized that this 5k would be rough on me - both because of the charity we were running for (Hugs for Brady, helping kids with cancer) and because I would be doing it without my number one cheerleader (I miss him in a new way every day). Physically, I was not as prepared as I hoped I would be given the fact that a knee injury and a busy work schedule knocked me out of a month of preparation.

Still, I ran.
Making our way to the starting line - Suzanne, Bob & Me
(with Katie in the foreground)

Well, not just "I". My cousin Suzanne and her husband Bob ran with me. A kick ass playlist on my iPhone also ran with me. I'm not sure that I would have kept running had either one of those been missing.

Suzanne and I kept pace with each other and Bob went on to finish a couple of minutes ahead of us. I met my goal and finished in 36:08, but I was happiest about the fact that Suzanne and I kept running through the whole thing. Sometimes it was a very slow jog, but we didn't stop.

Somehow during the run, the shuffle on my iPhone always seemed to know exactly what I needed when I needed it. I started the race listening to 66 by The Afghan Whigs and ended it listening to Gentlemen, also by The Afghan Whigs. It just wouldn't be possible for me to explain in this blog post about me and Joe and The Afghan Whigs so I'll just say those two songs were the perfect bookends. In between, there was lots of musical inspiration, but what stands out the most is the moment Get Back Up by TobyMac came on. We were about 1/4 mile past the 2 mile mark and I was really feeling it. Part of me just wanted to collapse on the road. Another part of me felt the immensity of the past two plus years and an overwhelming need to finish THIS. I listened to this song many times throughout Joe's illness and after he passed, but this time it took on new meaning for me. I felt the "you gonna shine again" line in my core and gave it everything I had left.

Get Back Up by TobyMac (YouTube with lyrics)

You turned away when I looked you in the eye
And hesitated when I asked if you were alright
Seems like you’re fightin’ for your life
But why, oh, why
Wide awake in the middle of your nightmare
You saw it comin’ but it hit you out of nowhere
And there’s always scars when you fall that far
We lose our way, we get back up again
It’s never too late to get back up again
And one day you gonna’ shine again
You may be knocked down, but not out forever
We lose our way, we get back up again
So get up, get up, you gonna’ shine again
It’s never too late to get back up again
You may be knocked down, but not out forever
You roll out of the dawning of the day
Heart racin’ as you made your little get away
It feels like you been runnin’ all your life
But why, oh, why
So you pull away from the love that would’ve been there
And start believin’ that your situation’s unfair
But there’s always scars when you fall that far
This is love callin,’ love callin,’
Out to the broken this is love callin’
This is love callin,’ love callin,’
I am so broken
This is love callin,’ love callin’

After crossing the finish line
As we approached the last stretch, I saw my Mom standing there with Domani. His eyes lit up when he realized that it was Mama running towards him and I got the sweetest smile and wave I've ever gotten. In that moment I thought of all the times I felt like giving up over the past two and half years and all the people, places, and things that have inspired me to continue on. It made me grateful and gave me the last burst of energy I needed.

From that place, the finish line felt so good. The tears that came with it were cleansing. And the hugs from family and friends were very special.

After the race as we were eating some delicious pizza, I noticed the song playing in the restaurant - Don't Stop Believin' by Journey. Immediately, I felt the tears well up again. I have been encountering this song in various places over the past month and it always seems to come at the "right" moment. This time, like the other times, it wasn't just a song - it was a perfectly timed message. You see, not only was it the song that ended Sopranos, a series that Joe and I watched together religiously. Not only was it a song with an infectious, upbeat chorus line and a verse about a boy and a girl united by a singer and some wine. It was also the song that served as my ringtone for whenever Joe called, starting sometime shortly after his diagnosis. Like I said, it wasn't just a song, it was my Joe calling. And it was a perfectly timed message - a message of reassurance and hope - one that will go on and on and on and on.

Sunday, April 22, 2012


This weekend Joe's dad came over and changed out the leaky bathroom faucet. When I say it was leaky I mean it was REALLY leaky. The faucet has had a "quirk" since we bought the house meaning that you could never really turn the cold water all the way off without a steady drip. There was a sweet spot (just slightly before the "off" position) where you could turn it for no drips and Joe and I had quickly adapted to doing just that. For 3 years. It wasn't that attempts weren't made to fix it. In fact, with his dad's help there were several occasions where it would be "fixed" for brief periods of time, but we would always lapse back to our routine of finding the sweet spot where it actually turned off. About two weeks ago when I returned from a trip out of town for work, the faucet had taken a turn for the worse. Now, turning it "off" resulted in a flow just as steady as if it were on. Clearly, it was time for a change.
The old bathroom faucet.

It's been more than four months since Joe passed away, but every time I make some sort of change, especially around the house, I feel a twinge in my heart. In my mind I know that it was just a faucet. I even know that if Joe were still here we STILL would have changed the faucet. I mean, geez, it was REALLY LEAKING. I can even picture Joe saying to me, "Anne, just get the faucet fixed." None of that changes the fact that any disruption to the way things were with Joe tugs at my grieving heart.

Through my interactions with other grieving people, I have come to realize that this is not kooky, but really perfectly normal. It's amazing how people will open up to you when you talk about things like this. It's not uncommon for me to encounter someone who has left a loved ones closet perfectly intact or a stack of mail or magazines untouched. I have plenty of my own examples. In my refrigerator you will find two tiny chocolate bears - one with my name and one with Joe's. They were from Thanksgiving and I just don't have the heart to eat them. At least not yet.

While our bedroom was completely re-done within a week, half of the guest room and a whole room in the basement is still full of his things, awaiting my attention at some point in the future.

I think part of my resistance to going through his things and my emotion over anything in the house that changes stems from a fear that as things change he will be forgotten. It's a fear that somehow, by eating those bears, I will forget about that last Thanksgiving we shared together and how, as I was sitting on our bed and the tears welled up in my eyes, he held my face in his hands and gently stroked my hair. Or how he smiled when my sister Naomi came up from the basement surprising my family after secretly flying home from Idaho the night before. Or how even though he was hardly able to eat anything at all he had turkey and some Boston Creme Pie (a very special dessert to us). Or how he took that precious photo of me sitting on the couch with Naomi.

It's a fear that somehow, by changing that faucet for a new one, I will forget about him giving Domani his first bath in that sink. Or how we would stand there at night with him while he brushed his teeth. Or how it felt when we first saw the bathroom while we were on the house hunt that felt like it would never end.

It's a fear that somehow, by sorting through his things and making decisions about what to do with each precious item, I will lose a piece of him. His clothes, his shoes, his books, his medical supplies. There are powerful memories packed into each item. The sneakers he would wear when he went skateboarding. The Mets shirt he wore to many games with me. The sleep pants my Aunt Joan bought for him when he was in the hospital the week of his diagnosis. These are just the items I know I will encounter. I'm sure there are many more, each with their own stories.

I hope I don't disappoint, but this is not going to be a blog post that resolves. (Not a good story format, I know.) At some point in the future, I'm sure it will. I will sort through his things and I will eat those chocolates. But for now, I will just acknowledge that change is hard. Even when it's just changing out a super leaky faucet.

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

On Disgusting Bugs and Not Being Afraid to Ask for Help

I knew it would happen eventually.

It's one of those tasks that was always squarely in the "Joe" column. I would calmly (although once in a while not so calmly) go in to wherever he was and let him know that something needed his urgent attention in another room. Then, he would go in, check it out, and make an assessment of the situation. Sometimes it would require a chair to stand on. Almost always it would require a cup or tissue or some combination thereof. As much as he could, he would make sure the little invader could go on to live a full life OUTSIDE of our home. It was one of those small things I found especially endearing about Joe.

Today the invader was a stink bug. In my opinion, the worst kind. They are creepy looking, big, and worst of all, they can fly. (Did I mention they can fly?) I shudder even now just writing about it. I was watching TV and getting ready to eat my dinner when out of the corner of my eye, I saw him (I just KNOW it was a him) crawling across the floor. I made no commitment to Joe that I would handle these little invaders with the same mercy as he did so with all the rage of my very long day, I took the rolled up newspaper sitting next to me and smooshed it right into that bug. I REALLY made sure it was dead. I left the newspaper on top of it, not wanting to have to throw it away.

And then I called my mother.

Who would have thought that this was a "first" that would get to me? Killing my first bug since my husband passed? Really?

Through my tears, I could barely explain to my mom what had happened, but she could tell I was upset and offered to come over. Normally, I would have refused, vented for a few minutes, and then gone about my night. However, tonight something inside me recognized that I had reached an internal breaking point and just needed some company and help with a few basic tasks around the house.

The first thing she did when she arrived was dispose of the dead stink bug. (In case you are wondering, even though I smooshed it, it did NOT actually stink.) Then, she threw in a load of laundry. Then, she emptied and re-filled the dishwasher. Then, she watched The Biggest Loser with me. Then, she helped me straighten up around the house (the ridiculous cleaning before the cleaning people come which I still don't understand, but feel compelled to do anyway). She gave me some simple, yet profound advice to just take one thing at a time from my to do list. Then, she went home and took the garbage out to the curb on her way. I needed that so badly and right now I'm just glad I didn't let my ego or my own sadness get in the way of having her come over.

There were two more "bug" incidents while she was here - one crawling on the table and one which landed on my shoulder (neither thankfully were the dreaded stink bugs). The good news is that I "handled" both of them just fine on my own. My bug experience tonight might be a good metaphor for my life right now - some days it's actually healthy and productive for me to get through it on my own and other days I just need to flail my arms around and desperately grab the attention of the nearest helper. I just need to remind myself that both approaches are fine in their own time and circumstance - tonight was a flail my arms around kind of night and maybe tomorrow will be different. But even if it's not, I'm thankful for all those who respond to my flailing arms.

Sunday, April 15, 2012

Blue Like Jazz - The Movie

A highlight of my weekend was sneaking away Friday night to go to the late night showing of the movie Blue Like Jazz. Admittedly, one of the reasons I made sure to see it in the theater was because there is something about seeing your own name on the big screen. Yes, that's correct. If you watch closely during the credits you can see my name scrolling through on the right side of the screen. It's not because I was in the movie or helped with sound editing, but because I had the privilege of helping to fund this project when it wasn't going to get made at all. You can see the full story of how Blue Like Jazz came to be funded here so I won't spend time on the details here (although it is pretty amazing). 

The movie Blue Like Jazz is based on a book by the same name written by Donald Miller. The movie is autobiographical and follows Don (played by Marshall Allman, who most recently appeared as Tommy in my favorite TV show True Blood) through his first year at college. Don, who was raised Baptist in Texas winds up attending Reed College, a progressive and essentially anti-religious school in Portland, Oregon. I hadn't read Blue Like Jazz prior to jumping in and funding the project and in fact I still haven't finished reading it. However, I was moved enough by Miller's book A Million Miles in A Thousand Years: How I Learned to Live a Better Story that I didn't hesitate to support the push to make one of his books into a major motion picture.

From the very beginning of the movie I knew I had made the right decision. By the time it hit the robot civil disobedience scene I was positively giddy. I couldn't stop laughing when the bear stole Don's tallbike, threw it off a bridge, and then gave him the finger. At every turn, there was something that I thought was absolutely wonderful. The movie was the complete package and it nourished my very tired, very dry soul in a powerful way. By the end, my eyes were misty, and I was reminded of all the deep connections I have come to know between my faith and the world around me. Sometimes we find the very thing that we needed at the very time we needed it. It's one of the ways I see God at work and for those moments I am very thankful.

I'm anxious to go again. I feel like there is so much more to soak in so I'm hoping for an opportunity to join some friends and family at the theater again very soon. Plus, I certainly won't complain about getting to see my name up there one more time. It was a lot of fun and a reminder that sometimes I should just follow my gut and jump in.

Friday, April 13, 2012

Eighteen Months

Yesterday was Domani's 18 month "birthday". Needless to say it was an emotional day. In fact, it was the culmination of the hardest week I've had so far. 

Just over a week ago, it would have been Joe's 37th birthday. His niece made him a beautiful birthday card. It says, "I miss you! Happy B-day Uncle Joe. I hate cancer." I couldn't have said it better myself and I can just imagine Joe smiling at the card and giving her a big hug. Joe's birthday was a tough day.

The next day marked 4 months since Joe passed away. It was also opening day for our Mets. Instead of trying to work as I've done on the other "monthiversaries" I decided a vacation day and some opening day tickets were the way to go. The little dude and I enjoyed a sunny, warm day at Citifield accompanied by another die hard Mets fan. The Mets won and when we got home I cried. It was another tough day.

Two days later it was another Mets game and dinner at Mexican Village followed by the lonely Saturday night to which I have grown accustomed. The Mets won. The Mexican food was great. The dinner company was nice. Unfortunately, the lonely Saturday night also included the Easter Bunny putting out Domani's basket and the packing of our bags for Easter morning. Both very hard things to do without Joe. Lots of tears to end another tough day.

And then there was Easter. We woke while it was still dark and drove to Lake Carnegie in Princeton for an Easter sunrise service. We witnessed a beautiful sunrise over the Lake and literally felt the warm glow on our faces. Throughout the day there were Easter Egg hunts and beautiful hymns about death and new life. There were festive balloons in the church sanctuary and great food at every turn. But there were also memories of kayaking on Lake Carnegie with Joe and the stairs where we took the "cousin" Easter picture just the year before. There was an emotional visit to the cemetery and a ham dinner. There was another Mets win (this time a no hitter through 6) and families with two parents enjoying the holiday together. Another tough day.

This week also brought news of the passing of two much-too-young men, news that brought with it vivid reminders of all those in my life who have been lost to cancer over the past several years. In one of my grief support groups this week we talked about the image of a wound that reopens with each new death, bringing all the grief to the surface at once. That's a very real image and has made this past week that much harder.

I am thankful for bright spots though. One very big bright spot is my son who is there with a hug and a gentle "Dada" every time he sees me upset. The little dude and I had a chance to document some quality time together on the day before his big 18 month "birthday". As a reminder that I still have much to be thankful for, I am sharing some of the photos from that shoot with Amy from Tuesday, April 10. We had a wonderful time and I know that in the beach and the Mr. Met somehow Joe was there with us, offering some comfort in the midst of what continues to be a painful physical separation from him.

Cuddling - Mom, son, and the Mr. Met his Dad bought him.

He truly is a beach baby. We had so much fun.
Let's Go Mets!

He kept insisting on going in the water.
Eventually I caved and took his shoes and socks off to let him.

He was thrilled when he found some sticks for play.

Whenever there is a railing, he must use it. Made for some cute pics though.

This is when it became obvious that he was DONE with the photos.


Wednesday, April 4, 2012

I Must Be In A Good Place Now

My relationship with my husband had a soundtrack. Most of it was the amazing music to which he introduced me, including everything Greg Dulli. It was the hard-driving, sexually charged album "Gentlemen" by The Afghan Whigs, one of his all time favorite albums, which I'm guessing would have surprised a lot of people who thought they knew Joe. It was the Gutter Twins cover of "Live With Me" by Massive Attack, which debuted right around the time when Joe and I first started talking about doing just that. Thrown in for good measure, it included a few sappy songs of my choosing like "I Love You Always Forever" by Donna Lewis which I used to sing at him while we were in the car together in college and "I Will Be Here For You" by Steven Curtis Chapman to which we walked down the "aisle" on our wedding day.

It's funny how "our soundtrack" comes creeping back in at random times. On January 5th, one month after Joe passed I walked into a clothing store and after being inside for about a minute that damn Donna Lewis song came blaring through the speakers. At a bar with Joe's brother the jukebox only had one Afghan Whigs song and of course it was "Debonair" from "Gentlemen". Today as I was driving from Ithaca to Elmira I heard the Gutter Twins song in shuffle mode on my iPhone and then thought of the Steven Curtis Chapman song. That, of course, made me want to pull up the slideshow I had set to that song on our anniversary the year he was diagnosed and since you are now on this musical journey with me... Here is the video I made for him on our 2nd wedding anniversary using "I Will Be Here For You".

Today, on what would have been his 37th birthday, Joe introduced a new song to our soundtrack. Amazing that he can still do that, but he did. Shortly after Domani was born Joe created a playlist on his iPad which he used to put the little guy to sleep. The playlist includes The Beach Boys, Wilco, Hope Sandoval, Jose Gonzalez and the Twilight Singers (to name a few - you can find the full list at the end of this blog). From a very early age Domani has been listening to these songs and I have been letting them go on in the background not paying much attention. Until today.

Domani was finally calming down a bit in my arms and we were listening to the playlist on shuffle. On came a song that I'm sure I never paid attention to before: "I Must Be in a Good Place Now" by Vetiver. It was beautiful and the words were even more touching. Somehow I could picture Joe singing it to the two of us and it warmed my heart on what was a very difficult day. Somehow he knew we needed that song added to our soundtrack.

Here are the lyrics to "I Must Be in a Good Place Now":
Wild apple trees blooming all around
I must be in a good place now
Sunshine coming through
Rainbow colored sky
Paints pretty pictures in my mind

Oh what a good day to go fishing
And catch the sunset in the hills
Dream of my yesterdays and tomorrow
And hope that you'll be with me still.

Saw a butterfly and I named it after you
Your name has such a pleasant sound
Love is all around and all I see is you
I must be in a good place now
I must be in a good place now.

Today I'm thankful for the gift of music that my Joe has given me. Domani will learn to appreciate lots of good music as he grows, thanks in large part to his father. And we will have a special image of our Joe "smiling next to us" with "love all around" for many years to come.

The playlist Joe titled "Domani" has 17 songs and runs 52 minutes:
Our Prayer by The Beach Boys
My Darling by Wilco
And Your Dream Comes True by The Beach Boys
Surfer Girl by The Beach Boys
In My Room by The Beach Boys
California Stars by Billy Bragg & Wilco
Sun it Rises by Fleet Foxes
White Winter Hymnal by Fleet Foxes
Sparkly by Hope Sandoval and The Warm Inventions
Clear Day by Hope Sandoval and The Warm Inventions
Heartbeats by Jose Gonzalez
Crosses by Jose Gonzalez
From the Morning by Nick Drake
New Slang by The Shins
Summertime by The Twilight Singers
I Must Be in a Good Place Now by Vetiver
We're Going to Be Friends by The White Stripes

I'm planning on finding some comfort falling asleep to those songs tonight.