Wednesday, December 9, 2015

The Amazing Grace of Four Years

Four years ago on December 9th we celebrated my husband Joe's life and then laid him to rest in a cemetery just up the road from where he grew up. Many things about that day are a blur, but there are a few that are still as clear as if they had happened yesterday. 

While in the shower that morning I started piecing together in my brain some words that I wanted to say at the service. I had no idea if I would actually keep it together enough to say them, but I figured it was better to be prepared if I ended up deciding to do it. I started writing on the way to the funeral home and continued scribbling words on various scrap papers while I was waiting there to say my final goodbyes. Then, on the way to the church I took my scribbles and wrote everything over so I could actually read it if I found myself staring at a sea of sad, expectant eyes.

I remember every part of reading these words and the combination of numbness and superhuman peace that allowed me to do it.

One thing that stands out to me about Joe is that he lived every day full of life, loving others and doing the things that brought happiness to himself and those around him.

I feel like his diagnosis put these last two years on fast forward, but he certainly didn't miss any opportunity to enjoy his days.

Joe and his dad took Domani to see the Somerset Patriots for his first baseball game and Joe, his mom, and Ross took Domani for his first visit to the beach.

We went trick or treating in the neighborhood with the Franklin Park crew on Domani's first Halloween and Joe celebrated Domani's first Christmas with some new Mets outfits and a Curious George stuffed animal, just like one of Joe's own favorites from childhood.

Joe was the one who made Domani laugh for the first time just by saying "PJs!" We watched Domani's first steps together and got excited when he learned to turn off his own bedroom light at a young age.

Joe was the one sitting with Domani on a blanket outside our house on our son's 7 month birthday, waiting for me to come home from work, just so they could show off Domani's first tooth. (And, I'd just like to point out that our overachieving son, had his 2nd tooth by the next day!)

We watched Domani do the wiggle butt dance on the changing table, shake his butt to the Conan theme song,, and later, climb, run and laugh like a wild man all around the house with his cousins.

We visited Cooperstown, surrounded ourselves with Mets players at the Ritz Carlton in DC, and took Domani to his first game at Citifield.

We enjoyed an amazing family vacation this past July which included Joe and his brother Jimmy spending 4 hours plus on a hunt for a charcoal grill (which, if you didn't know, is necessary for making szalonna...and if you don't know what szalonna is, you will have to ask a Deak!), countless hours splashing in the waves and playing in the sand with Domani and his cousins, me slamming my finger in Joe's car door and him calmly driving me back to the beach house while I freaked out in the back seat, and many hours of eating great food, drinking adult beverages, watching movies, and playing games.

Most importantly, after only about $30 in quarters Joe conquered the crane game and won not only a Mets bear, but also a stuffed Elmo for Domani. It was the perfect family vacation at the perfect time.

We camped out in the basement of our house during Hurricane Irene, saw Greg Dulli once more in concert, and celebrated each special moment like it was a grand occasion.

There was no shortage of love or special moments in Joe's life and it is to those moments that we can cling now.

We will have to teach Domani about his amazing father as he grows, a task that I think will come quite naturally to all of us.

It was Joe who inspired my words on our blog which seemed to catch on like wildfire. A good lesson for today and always:

Hug your loved ones and smile at a stranger. Today only comes once.

I also remember the words from Anne Lamott that I had chosen - we had videotaped my reading of this in advance, knowing it would be difficult for me to read the whole thing during the service.

The passage from Plan B: Further Thoughts on Faith still sits with me and I have returned to it for encouragement many times over the past 4 years:

"But you don’t know whether you’re going to live long enough to slow down, relax, and have fun, and discover the truth of your spiritual identity. You may not be destined to live a long life; you may not have sixty more years to discover and claim your own deepest truth. As Breaker Morant said, you have to live every day as if it’s your last because one of these days, you’re bound to be right.

It might help if I go ahead and tell you what I think is the truth of your spiritual identity…

Actually, I don’t have a clue.

I do know you are not what you look like, or how much you weigh, or how you did in school, or whether you start a job next Monday or not. Spirit isn’t what you do, it’s…well, again, I don’t actually know. They probably taught this junior year at Goucher; I should have stuck around. But I know that you feel it best when you’re not doing much – when you’re in nature, when you’re very quiet or, paradoxically, listening to music.

I know you can feel it and hear it in the music you love, in the bass line, in the harmonies, in the silence between notes: in Chopin and Eminem, Emmylou Harris, Neil Young, Bach, whomever. You can close your eyes and feel the divine spark concentrated in you, like a little Dr. Seuss firefly. It flickers with life and relief, like an American in a foreign country who suddenly hears someone speaking English. In the Christian tradition, they say that the soul rejoices in hearing what it already knows. And so you pay attention when that Dr. Seuss creature inside you sits up and strains to hear.

We can see Spirit made visible when people are kind to one another, especially when it’s a really busy person, like you, taking care of a needy, annoying, neurotic person, like you. In fact, that’s often when we see Spirit most brightly. It's magic to see Spirit largely because it's so rare. Mostly, you see the masks and holograms that the culture presents as real. You see how you’re doing in the world’s eyes or your family’s or – worst of all – yours, or in the eyes of people who are doing better than you – much better than you – or worse. But you are not your bank account, or your ambition. You’re not the cold clay lump you leave behind when you die. You’re not your collection of walking personality disorders. You are Spirit, you are love, and even though it is hard to believe sometimes, you are free. You’re here to love, and be loved, freely. If you find out next week that you are terminally ill – and we’re all terminally ill on this bus – what will matter are memories of beauty, that people loved you, and that you loved them."

Those moments were deep and meaningful. But, in what remains one of the most spiritually profound moments of my life, I remember joining my fellow bandmates in the front of the sanctuary to sing the final hymn of the service. We faced the congregation while we sang Amazing Grace. My brother-in-law played one of Joe's guitars and I looked out over the family and friends who had gathered with us in that familiar space for that sacred purpose. In that moment I just knew deep in my being that God's grace was amazing indeed. It was an assurance that has stuck with me. It has not been an easy 4 years and there have been times when I have wanted to just throw in the proverbial towel. But, I can say with confidence that it has been four years full of gentle love when I'm at my most alone, unexpected miracles when I'm overwhelmed with grief, and amazing grace when I'm feeling downright hopeless. For that I am thankful.

Sunday, November 15, 2015

Unexpected Hope

"How is your heart lately?"

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

I knew my response because shit has been building.

Building for quite a long time.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Then, we started driving.

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

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

Sometimes hope comes in the most unexpected places.

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

Thursday, October 22, 2015

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sunday, September 13, 2015

Ya Gotta Believe in DC

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

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

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

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

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

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

Mets win.

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

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

Sunday, August 30, 2015

Getting Ready for School

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

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

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

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

Domani showing off his Stik-ees

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, July 22, 2015

Faded...This I Feel

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sunday, June 21, 2015

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Friday, March 13, 2015

Feliz Cumpleaños

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, March 3, 2015

Surviving Today

Well, I survived today. After the conversation I had with my little guy this morning I have to admit that I wasn't completely sure that I would.

I had just come back into the house from clearing the ice off the car. He was cuddled up with his blankie on the floor next to the dining room table. He seemed sad. 

He needed to get his boots on. He needed to put on his coat. We needed to get to the car. But first, I needed to find out what was wrong.

Me: What's bothering you, buddy?
Him: I'm afraid you're going to die today.

WAIT....WHAT? (Ok, that part was in my head, but REALLY?! My sweet, adorable 4 year old who has already seen enough sadness in his life to last him into adulthood is afraid I'm going to DIE TODAY? Can we please slow down this emotional freight train?)

Instead it was a quick "Psalm 121" moment followed by a deep breath and this...

Me: Come here. I love you so much. And even if something did happen to me you have so many other people who love you and will help take care of you. Aunt Karen and Uncle Chris. Meemaw and Peepaw. And so many other people. I love you and I promise I will be extra careful today.
Him: Ok.

Followed by what could only be described as the biggest hug in the history of hugs. And big, watery eyes from him. And choked back tears from me. 

In the car, he still seemed upset so I asked him what made him think about that and he said he didn't know.

When I dropped him off with my Dad before going to work, he once again didn't want to let go from our embrace. We both knew why.

When the fire alarm went off in my building today, I barely threw my coat on before I was out the door. When I saw the car in front of me swerving on the way home, I backed way off until the driver finally pulled over to the side of the road. I'm not sure I've ever been more thankful to walk through the door of my house and hear the familiar " you know where your son is?" while he hides under his blankie.

When I got home tonight and talked with him before bed I told him how happy I was to be home with him and to hear about his day and he quickly told me that he's going to be really sad when I do die. God, I think I have gotten my share of punches in the gut today.

Me: It's natural to be sad when someone dies, but I hope you will be really old and with gray hair when I die.
Him: (laughing and grabbing his chin) Like a Dad with a beard?
Me: Yes, buddy. Like a Dad with a beard.

This kid. This kid and how he teaches me to count my days and love the people around me as best I can.

I try to be as up front with my son as a 4 year old can handle. He has a pretty good B.S. meter for a toddler. I wasn't going to look into his brown eyes (which by the way look just like his Daddy's) and tell him that there's no way I was going to die today, that he was being silly or foolish. He's already had enough life to know that death doesn't only come to those who are old and gray. So I took what he was saying seriously and told him what I knew to be true while also trying to be as reassuring as possible. 

Tonight, we cuddled and said our bedtime prayers and he fell asleep peacefully. Life is hard, but love can help get us through and I'm willing to double down all my love on that little guy.

The truth is that today could have been "my day". It could go that way for any of us. I can't predict that... but what I can predict is that if my little guy is somehow here on this earth without me he is going to have more love around him than he could ever handle. I have no fear when it comes to that.

Monday, February 9, 2015

When The Right Player Comes Along...

When I made the decision to start dating again 8 months after Joe died I was hopeful, a little mortified, and excited at the prospect of someday finding another person with whom I could once again share my life. Just over two years after that I found myself cynical, frustrated, and still feeling very much alone. I had spent plenty of time and effort creating profiles on online dating sites, asking people I knew for introductions to their single friends, and going out on dates. I had invested what seemed like way too much time away from my little guy. There was lots of looking forward to what I thought maybe could possibly be out there a second go around.

It wasn't all miserable, but I was certainly feeling like the love story of my life had already been written and that my best case scenario was going to be something less than the passion and depth I had already known. I reached a low point in December when the 3rd year anniversary of Joe's death came around. The high of qualifying for the Boston Marathon was gone. A casual relationship that had sustained me through my training had fizzled. The daunting holiday season was coming whether I liked it or not and with it all the responsibilities of being the only parent to an expectant toddler. I had resigned myself to hoping for someone to connect with instead of someone to actually be with and I wasn't even able to find that.

So, I was doing the day by day amazing single mom thing and figuring out how to deal with the loneliness. There was Christmas. And New Years. And many days thereafter.

Then, there was a particular Monday in January.

January 26, 2015 to be exact.

The day when the beauty of online dating finally had mercy on me. And there was a connection that actually was SOMETHING. In the most unexpected place. In the middle of a snowstorm.

There was a week of messages and texts and then that Friday there was a first date. He showed up with a pack of Reese's for me and a Minecraft figure for me to give the little guy. We talked all night and texted after we got home. When he told me that he was perfectly fine with the feelings I will always have for Joe and that he respects how he will always be a part of my life, I knew this was something real. When I already wanted to catch up with him again for a drink the next night, I couldn't ignore that something was happening.

After that it was as if our story had been written long before and was only waiting for the right time to be told. All of my waiting finally started to make sense.

He's a Jets fan and if you know anything about my household, we are steadfast Giants fans - like bleeding blue Giants fans. Life is rough in both of those worlds right now, but for some reason that doesn't stop us from mocking each other (go figure). But as I was writing this post, I was reminded of one that I wrote when I first started dating about 2 and a half years ago. It almost bothers me how true it rings to my current situation...

This week's Go On episode was about starting to date again, a topic I've been mulling over in my own life since July or so in one way or another. Ryan's monologue at the end captured my current conclusion perfectly. I still don't understand how this show ALWAYS does that (and with sports imagery to boot), but I'm thankful it does.

Here's the monologue: "This has been a great Thanksgiving for half of us - the half whose team won. For the other half it's time for some brutal honesty. There are six weeks left in the NFL season. Physicists tell us that objects that suck for 11 weeks tend to remain sucking so it's time to think about rebuilding and you never know how long that's going to take. The right player could come along tomorrow and change everything. In the meantime, you gotta take care of the people you've got...they may not be the ones you choose, but they're your team.

It may have taken way longer than I thought it would, but the right player came along. The timing was what it was supposed to be for both of us even if we wished it could have been different. And in only two weeks he has changed things pretty dramatically in my life for the better.

I have so few words to explain how it feels. Except for maybe stealing them from others...

copyright © 2010 Vintage Trouble Music

I was lost and alone in the shadows
Dark in my mind
My heart was trampled in the battle
Love left me blind
Then you came around and found me, baby
You took my hand
And made me stand like the man I am again
I was shattered into pieces
Torn to the bone
And nothing mattered. No reason
To come from under my stone
Then like the sun you fell over me, baby
You hit my eyes
And made me rise and fly and shine again
I’d ‘bout given up on it all
Every single little hope and dream
Then you heard it and answered my call
When you lifted me
Lifted me over the wall

Monday, January 19, 2015


Five years ago this was the week that changed my life. I put Domani to sleep last night and talked with him about that MLK Day 5 years ago when his dad and I found out he was on the way. I told him how nine months after that he was born and how incredibly happy I am to have him in my life. Without prompting, we both looked up towards the picture that hangs framed above his bed.

He told me that he loves it because it's beautiful. I told him I love it because it has all three of us in it - me, his daddy, and him - to which he responded, "that is why I think it's beautiful". 

Some day I will tell him the story of the rest of the week. About how two days later I got an unbelievable call from Joe that he was in the emergency room and and how two days after that we listened in a fog to news about his stage 4 cancer. This week in January will never quite be the same for me. I will always remember.

I realized last night though as I was reading through Anne Lamott's newest book, Small Victories, that this remembering is a helpful thing for my spirit. Not only does it help me keep close those parts of Joe which I know are important to carry with me, but it is helpful for my well being to remember the ways that I have been brought through difficult circumstances.

In her book, Lamott talks about the death of her best friend Pammy (also to cancer). The following passages struck me because they are so close to my own experience:

"All those years I fell for the great palace lie that grief should be gotten over as quickly and as privately as possible. But what I've discovered since is that the lifelong fear of grief keeps us in a barren, isolated place and that only grieving can heal grief; the passage of time will lessen the acuteness but time alone, without the direct experience of grief will not heal it...I'm pretty sure that only by experiencing that ocean of sadness in a naked and immediate way do we come to be healed - which is to say, we come to experience life with a real sense of presence and spaciousness and peace."

"I felt very lonely. I thought maybe I wouldn't feel so bad if I didn't have such big pieces of Pammy still inside me, but then I thought, I want those pieces in me for the rest of my life, whatever it costs me."

I do want to remember. And to feel. It's how we truly live. 

My 34-year-old husband was diagnosed with cancer the same week we found out we were pregnant with our first child and WE GOT THROUGH THAT WEEK. Not only did we get through it, but we lived some fabulous moments together in the time that followed and today, 5 years later, I have an a amazing kid cuddling up with me on this MLK Day. An abundance of memories and an abundance of now.

Friday, January 2, 2015

Getting So Much Better All The Time

There is a moment that probably summarizes my year better than anything I could come up with here. It's the Beatles cover that The Afghan Whigs used to close out their song Lost In The Woods during this year's tour.

I still get chills when I listen to the end of the live version of this song. It's just 100% true about my place in this world right now. Even when I feel like things are spiraling out of control. Even when I feel alone. Even when I feel like life has dealt me the shittiest hand possible. I have to admit it's getting better. It's getting better all the time. And for me, Greg Dulli brings it home in a way that no one else could.

"I have to admit it's getting better. It's getting better all the time. I have to admit it's getting better. It's getting better all the time. I have to admit it's getting better. It's getting better all the time. I have to admit it's getting better. It's getting better since you've been mine. Getting so much better all the time." This ending comes into my brain during hard moments. It sits in my soul and lets hope find a path in through the darkest corners.

This year has been packed full. There have been beautiful mountain moments and dark valleys. There have been many days that have been over before I felt like they even began. Here are some glimpses into 2014 in a rough order of occurrence.

- At the beginning of the year, on a day when I was wading through a difficult heartbreak that was unknown to almost everyone, a friend shared a quote on my Facebook page that came at the perfect time: "It's not what's happening to you now or what has happened in your past that determines who you become. Rather, it's your decisions about what to focus on, what things mean to you, and what you're going to do about them that will determine your ultimate destiny." It was from Anthony Robbins and like many random interludes over the course of my year, it got me through.

- In February, we won an affiliation vote among the membership of Camden Council 10 and welcomed them as the newest members of CWA in New Jersey. This was a huge bright spot for me at work as it was a pleasure to work with the leadership of Council 10 and to welcome 1,500 union members in Camden County into CWA.

- A much needed trip to Miami with a good friend allowed us to escape the Northeast snow in early March. I once again ran the half marathon there and Domani and I took in a Mets Spring Training game.
Dinner in South Beach while everyone else was in snowy NJ
- There was the 40 bags in 40 days Lenten discipline which brought organization to my home and sanity to my soul. During Lent, I was able to "create space" both literally and figuratively.

- There were many priceless moments with Domani. One of my favorites was in his Sunday School class. He was asked by his teachers to name some things that are important to him for an art project. They pulled me aside afterwards and recounted to me in part, what he said: "my mommy and my daddy are important to me. My daddy died and he is in heaven, but he is important to me." The finished art project also included God, Buzz Lightyear, Superman, Toy Story, and his cousin Catherine.

- At the first regular season Mets game of the season, I happened to share the elevator to my seat with Mr. Met. It wasn't much of a season for my Mets, but for that first game of the season...Day made.

- In April, I made my first trip of the year to Chicago, this time for the Labor Notes Conference. It was a great chance to spend time with old and new friends, brainstorm strategies, and get in a run in one of my favorite places - the trail along Lake Michigan. Oh, and of course a selfie at The Bean with my friend, Julia!

- This year, the Afghan Whigs came out with a new album and it was fabulous. I listened to it the first time via livestream in my office in mid-March and by the time the official release date rolled around on April 15th I already knew all of the songs. My copy arrived from Subpop a few days before the 15th and I was thrilled beyond belief. The only thing missing from the first official listening party was Joe. It still makes me a little crazy that every time I think I know which song would be his favorite, I change my mind, but I guess that just means our guys have put together another great album.

- This year we lost a heartbreaking union organizing campaign in Olean, NY where I had been working intensively with committee members for over a year. It still stings and I'm anxious for the time to be right for another effort there, but I carry with me plenty of inspiration from the workers on that campaign.
One committee member testified at a hearing during the day,
went home and made all of these cookies, and then dropped them
off to us before she went in for her shift the next morning so we
would have them during the final day of testimony. A-MAZING.

- The Afghan Whigs. Live.  For me, it started with a three show whirlwind in May and ended with 7 more shows throughout the fall. Brooklyn. Boston. Baltimore. Chicago. Orlando. Washington DC. Philly. NYC. Back to Brooklyn. Salt Lake City. Not only did I get to see plenty of my friends from "The Congregation", but I also got to see shows with my cousin Alyssa, Joe's cousin Tony, and my sister Naomi. In Baltimore, Malinda, Sheila, Melissa, and I took in the show from the front row of the tiny Ottobar and were treated to an encore of Bulletproof/Summer's Kiss/Faded. The NYC date featured Charles Bradley as the opener. The second Brooklyn date included Usher as a surprise guest, Greg Dulli singing Every Little Thing She Does Is Magic in the crowd, and a bonus encore. It was an amazing year of music and fun with friends.
The Afghan Whigs with special guest Usher at MHOW in Brooklyn
- In early June, I accompanied a bank worker to Brazil as part of a campaign I am working on. This was my second trip to Brazil and it was an incredibly memorable and productive trip. We were able to make lots of important connections and share stories about what was going on among workers in the U.S. in their attempts to organize and improve conditions.  While I was there I was even able to meet up with a fellow Afghan Whigs fan who I had only known through Facebook before. I'm so thankful for the hospitality shown to us in our travels and for the opportunity to do work that includes global solidarity.

- This year there were also four wonderful weeks of World Cup soccer games. Domani and I had fun cheering for USA and Brazil and watching as many games as we could. Domani perfected his "I Believe" chant and enjoyed munching on goodies whenever we went out to watch a game. He always impressed anyone around us with his attention to the game and cheering.
Cheering for Brazil with Domani
- While there were plenty of tough things about work this year, I was able to help on an organizing campaign with an amazing group of 60 workers from Planned Parenthood in upstate New York who fought hard to win their Union with CWA. They worked with us all summer and on September 25th won union representation in an overwhelming vote.

- Over the summer, I became an aunt again. My sister and her husband had their second girl on the 4th of July, beautiful little Courtney. There was something amazing about seeing my son get to hold her and the huge smile that came across his face every time he did. Priceless.

- On August 9, I finally defeated my nemesis - the 5k - and achieved a new PR after trying for almost a year. In August in Asbury Park, I beat my previous time by 8 seconds, running a 23:21. One month later I beat that time by running a 22:25 at the Pier House 5k in Long Branch and by the time I braved the snow to run the annual Turkey Trot in Princeton I had it down to 22:11. Perhaps in 2015, I can break into the land of 21 minutes.
5k in Long Branch on Labor Day - 22:25
- There was a truly special vacation in Sandbridge, Virginia with my family. We watched the sunrise, went out to eat together, biked around the Island, played in the ocean and built sand castles, took some gorgeous family photos, played some games, and just enjoyed each other's company for a week. I also got in some great training runs and some much needed reflection time at night overlooking the ocean.
One of my dad's sunrise photos from vacation.
With my sister Naomi before our family photo shoot

- A Greg Dulli quote at just the right moment in September served as a reminder of all that is actually important. "I want to enjoy my life, enjoy my friends, enjoy my experience, because the inevitable waits for us all. And you can either sit around in fear waiting for it, or you can take it on with all you got." With that, I realized that I had been spending my year taking it on and, even more importantly, that I didn't want to let up.

- RIOT FEST! It was just what I needed when I needed it. A September weekend in Chicago with great friends and kick ass music. I found inspiration, release, and more fun than I thought possible. 
From one of 3 runs along Lake Michigan
- Sometimes there are days like April 17th, October 7th, and December 4th which for no predictable reason are the worst days imaginable. On those days I am thankful for the ability to run, the magic of random shuffle on my playlist, and people who jump in however they are needed, perhaps by posting things on my FB timeline like "There is not enough holy water to cleanse this cursed, satan spawn Tuesday. Only wine can cleanse this beast." Some days these are the only things that get me through.

- I dreamed big this year, making two separate attempts to qualify for the Boston Marathon. This meant two intense training cycles and plenty of races to test out my progress along the way. I spent more of my year in training than not. On my first try, the New Jersey Marathon, I improved my time by 12 minutes and became a sub-4 marathoner (3:55:16).
My second attempt came after an aggressive training regimen which included 6 days a week of running and ended at the Philadelphia Marathon on November 23. I knocked another 22 minutes off my time and qualified for Boston with a 3:33:22. I still can hardly believe that is my marathon time and I start to tear up anytime I think about what I've done. There's no way to summarize the "I'm Shipping Up to Boston" feeling except to read the whole thing. It probably goes without saying that it was a high point of the year for me.

- Some of the most exciting work I've done this year has been alongside the organizers of NJ Communities United. I was reminded of just one piece of that work when this article came out right before Christmas looking back on "The Year in Activism" and highlighting an action put together by NJCU in Irvington, NJ. The action was a memorable one - with its homemade Wells Fargo stagecoach and the coming together of homeowners, bank workers, the labor movement, and community leaders - but indicative of the consistent, kick ass organizing work being done year round by the organizers and members of NJCU. 
Protest arts and crafts!
- Domani and I visited my sister Naomi for a week that included Halloween. Naomi and I got to catch an Afghan Whigs show in Salt Lake City and we were able to all do some trick or treating together, something that I don't think we have ever been able to do. Getting away to Idaho and getting to see my sister was a highlight of the year. We just don't get to spend enough time together and Domani loved being with her. 
Running in Idaho was wonderful - from 13.5 miles on Halloween

Halloween fun with Aunt Naomi, the gnome
- At the peak of my Philly marathon training I ran the Trenton Half Marathon as a final test of my progress and achieved a nearly 5-minute PR. With a 1:39:19,  I placed 3rd in my age group and 12th among all women. There was no feeling like crossing that finish line knowing I had run an amazing race AND was strong enough to keep going, with energy in the tank to push forward to Philly.
Running back into NJ, listening to Bruce
- This has been my first year as a member of the Raritan Valley Road Runners and I have enjoyed getting to know other runners through the club. One of the most fun runs I was able to make it out for was the 9:10:11am run on 12/13/14. A little nerdy? Yes. Any chance I was going to miss that one? No way. I plan on running even more with the team next year as I've registered with USATF and started signing up for some races to run for RVRR.

- In December, Joe's friend Sam sold his car which wouldn't normally be a thing of note except that it used to be Joe's and for that reason carried with it plenty of memories and emotion. Domani and I were able to take one last ride in the car before it was sold which was special and the story of the sale certainly left me thinking that there were some cosmic forces at play. The guy who bought it lives a block away from where Joe grew up.

- This marked my first Christmas tending to all the Christmas Eve and Christmas morning duties alone. It was just me and Domani in the house and all went just fine. It wasn't easy, but it was time for us to find our own Christmas rhythm and I think we have done that. I had a relaxing evening and we had a special morning together.
Christmas morning selfie
- I ended 2014 and ushered in 2015 by running a 5k with my friend Malinda in Philly. I was happy to spend the night with a fellow mother runner and to run with midnight fireworks going off all around us. It wasn't my best 5k (the two gin and tonics I had before the race *may* have had something to do with that!) but it was a lot of fun. I'm not particularly excited about 2015, but I do believe "it's getting better all the time" so there were smiles after the race and there is still a smile now.
Post-race Happy New Year selfie
I used to hear about new music from Joe. Anything new that I have started listening to since he died has come through suggestions of my fellow Afghan Whigs fans or has been an artist I have heard at a show. In December, Joe's friend Rita introduced me to Vintage Trouble and I haven't been able to stop listening to them. Their song "Not Alright By Me" grabbed me from the first time I heard it and has inspired me into this New Year.

At my lowest points in 2014, I have struggled with wanting to just check out from feeling and being and doing life in all its difficulty. I've wanted to just skate by. The part that grips me most in this song as I move into 2015 is that which reminds me to keep feeling:

"Pull on the rope that lifts the sun back to the sky
Hold a hand. Cry on a shoulder.
Listen in the wind and open up your eyes.
And feel again.
Feel again."

So beautiful. So necessary. Let it be.

copyright © 2010 Vintage Trouble Music

Something hit me deep
On my sunset walk through the streets
I could see and hear
But I couldn’t feel or breathe
From tuning out this static world
I’ve lost the sense of peace
And that’s not alright by me
The LA Times and Channel 5
And New York Magazine
They stain my soul
And I know you know what I mean
They tear apart the hopeful heart
Til it doesn’t bleed or dream
And that’s not alright by me
Pull on the rope that lifts the sun back to the sky
Hold a hand. Cry on a shoulder.
Listen in the wind and open up your eyes.
And feel again.
Feel again.
Where the roads cross
And time stands still
I’m frozen in my tracks
Against my will
The streetlight is dimming
And it won’t shine again until
I say “It’s not alright by me”
Not alright by me
Not alright by me
Not alright by me
Not alright by me