My First “Deathversary”

March 28, 2020

This photo was taken just as the sun was rising over the Mokoluas, shortly after Ian took his last breath of air on March 26, 2019. Within minutes of Auntie Kellie and the night nurse leaving his side to sneak in a quick coffee break — Ian left this earth and made his ascent into the stars, sun and sky. He went alone. He went before the kids woke up; before anyone could make a fuss about him leaving. He simply grabbed his surfboard and snuck away to ride the waves of the milky way in a galaxy, a realm, a celestial world that we will never know truly exists until it’s our time … perhaps.

Besides saying our final good byes, it was a rather ordinary day. The kids, other family members and I ate breakfast together. We walked the beach and played in the pool. Friends and I drank beers and went for a boat ride to the Mokoluas. For the most part, we went about our day as usual. The prior months, weeks and days overwhelmed by the pain of watching Ian struggle, the anxiety of determining our uncertain future, and the ultimate fear of him dying was gone. And, in its place was a surreal sense of resolve, peace and love.

I feel that same sensation exactly one year later.

That’s not to say it hasn’t been an extremely tumultuous journey to get here! Over the past 365 days I’ve tried my best to ride the waves of intense, varied emotions — anger, pure rage, sadness, guilt, profound joy — all of it. New experiences (dating and starting a business), reaching milestones without Ian (birthdays, anniversaries), and finding stillness among the chaos to discover my own truths and purpose, have opened the floodgates of feelings for me. And just recently, with the sudden global pandemic, I’ve never grieved more than I have in the past week and a half.

But these past weeks have ironically mirrored the days leading up to Ian’s death one year ago. Being forced to relinquish normalcy made me feel the same sadness over the loss of control, the same fear of uncertainty, and the same anxiety that my life might be very different when Ian was dying. Just as the days of watching Ian struggle and slowly fade away felt more traumatic and painful to me than his actual death, so did the days of leading up to his death anniversary.

I had already been anticipating Ian’s first death anniversary when businesses started closing and social distancing measures were advised. I had planned a 3-day solo trip to Sedona to hike, journal, pamper myself, soak up the sun, and heal. But with concerns over travel and contracting the virus, I cancelled my trip.

Luckily I still had an energy healing session planned in Colorado in hopes to connect with Ian and seek meaning in his loss. But as of last Tuesday, with the new Colorado shelter-in requirements, this plan got cancelled as well. To further complicate matters,Theo fractured his clavicle — landing us in the ER the same day (he is totally fine just in case you are worried).

Basically all of my plans — my idea of what Ian’s death anniversary should “look” like — changed in an instant. It was out of my control. And it took me a day to be pissed off, cry about it, and feel disappointment that things didn’t go as planned. But, ultimately I surrendered.

I took a step back and listened to the universe. I listened to Ian. He told me to stop worrying about grieving his death and instead go live in the now. So I did.

I found stillness, spending one whole day and two whole nights by myself at home. I drank coffee, read, and did yoga on my deck. I talked to my friend Christina who has walked my path before me and soaked up her words of wisdom. And despite beliefs around its validity, I found peace and connection to Ian by speaking with a medium. I went for a long hike. I watched trashy TV. I wrote. I cried and cried and cried some more. But instead of pain and sorrow, the tears felt cleansing. It was an intense day of feeling my emotions, but in doing so, I felt a huge release.

On March 26, 2020 (the day of Ian’s actually death anniversary) I woke up to watch the sunrise, then drove to Winter Park where some of Ian’s ashes remain. I spent time with my family talking stories about daddy, caught up with friends, and indulged in his favorite foods and drinks. Just like the day he died, it felt like a pretty normal day.

The storm had past. The seas were calm.

So why do I share all of this with you?

I share because as tragic and painful as Ian’s death has been, the experience has changed me. I’ve learned so much about myself and my perspective on life, and as I keep leaning into my hard emotions, I’m discovering more. So in sharing, I hope that others in similar situations can find comfort, hope and inspiration to seek out the light during the darkest of times — even though admittedly, it can hurt like hell. But, trust me! It’s worth it.

Anyone who has been through a loss knows that the first year anniversary is really tough. In reflecting on my own experience, here are some takeaways:

1.) The “deathversary” is just a day.

As much as I wanted Ian’s death anniversary to look and feel a certain way, life had other plans. So instead of getting upset that Corona Virus and Theo’s broken clavicle changed my plans, I tried my best to let go of my expectations and make the most of it — resulting in a glorious day of stillness spent by myself. Ian’s death anniversary is a date in time and that date will be what I make of it. Whether we like it or not, life happens in the now. And ultimately, I can grieve, miss Ian, and do my best to heal on any day!

2.) Healing starts from within.

I had planned my trip to Sedona and the energy healing session to find more clarity and meaning around Ian’s loss. And while these activities certainly foster the self-reflection needed to find the significance I was seeking, I discovered that I’m capable deriving the answers all by myself. For me, someone who struggles with stillness, these activities can almost be distractions. I have no doubt that I’ll take my trip to Sedona and try all sorts of different types of healings, but the takeaway here is that all of the answers, meaning and clarity were already there. I just needed stillness to listen and discover them.

3.) Trust in what you need and be open to how you receive it.

Most of my grief this year has been around the loss of the “role” of my husband. I’ve struggled with missing and maintaining my connection to Ian as the enthusiastic, carefree, fun-loving and genuine person he was. Now, I’ve never been very religious or spiritual, but since Ian’s passing I’m definitely more open minded and interested in exploring the metaphysical world. So, when I had the chance to speak with a medium before his death anniversary, I took it. As skeptical as I was going into it and am still processing everything after, it brought me the connection that I had been longing for. Whether I truly believe, whether I’m still questioning all the “hows” — in the moment, “connecting with Ian” is exactly what I needed. The rest is just the rest.

4.) Intense emotions need space to be felt.

I didn’t know how I was going to feel around Ian’s first death anniversary. But, I knew that I would need space. And, even though all of my plans around getting that necessary space fell through, I still made it a priority. I needed a break from the kids and my routine. I needed solitude. I needed stillness. And I felt my way through all of the pain and sadness to find the meaning I had been seeking.

5.) Grief is actually love.

When I told my friend Christina that I was actually surprised to be feeling love and gratitude the day before the deathversary, she helped me realize that grief is actually love. The pain, sadness, fear, anxiety, etc. are feelings elicited from the trauma of death. Once I worked through these emotions and really honed in on just my loss — what was left was love and gratitude. Love for the intense emotions felt between two human beings, and gratitude for the memories and all that he has left.

My first deathversary was tough. Weeks of emotional turmoil amplified by a global pandemic made it even harder. But, I’m grateful for it. The universe forced me to stop. To surrender. To let go of distractions and focus within. So I listened and it opened my eyes to the symmetry between my grief for Ian and the grief we’re experiencing globally. And, if there is meaning that comes from such tragedy, perhaps it’s for me to share these lessons with the world!

Letter to Theo

March 5, 2020

I got the idea to write my kids a letter for each of their birthdays after reading Nora McInerny’s book No Happy Endings. Just like Izzy’s letter, I want Theo to get a glimpse of his life right now so that one day he can look back an understand how his past experiences have shaped him into the person he has become. I’ve also had so much guilt about Theo’s first years of life because so much of my energy has been devoted to Ian’s illness and ultimate death. I’ve had to focus on loving myself — showing up for myself, before I could show up for others. So this letter allows me to process my emotions and heal.

I also just want Theo to know how much I love him and how much he matters. I want him to know how much he reminds me of his father and how grateful I am that through him (and Izzy too) I will always be connected to Ian.

So here it goes …

Dear Theo (age 2),

On Monday, March 2, 2020, we celebrated your second birthday with family, friends and Wo-Wo (your name for any dog you encounter). Watching you enter your second year of life filled me with so much joy, love and gratitude for being your mom. Yet, despite the happy occasion, I couldn’t help but feel some heaviness in my heart too. You see, your dad died of cancer shorty after your first birthday and this time of year reminds me of his final days of life — which were really sad and hard for me. I also just wish that he was here to celebrate with us! He would be so proud of you, Theo!

I see so much of your father in you. Just like daddy you observe and listen. You can fly under the radar or instantly turn into the life of the party with a flash of your suave, but goofy smile and killer dance moves. Even though you don’t say much, you bring comfort to those around you with your snuggles and hugs. Daddy was really good at that too. He was always very easy to talk to and made everyone feel validated and loved. When I ask daddy’s friends about him they call him a “rascal” — a word I use to describe you all the time! I also see the way you charm the ladies with your smile and stares — I’m pretty sure you got that from your daddy too!

Sometimes I feel like I’m failing your father because you’ve taken to walking around in Izzy’s dress shoes and putting on my makeup. But, that’s just what it’s like growing up with girls! I’m trying my best to teach you how to swim, kick a soccer ball, and play catch. You absolutely love balls and are fearless when it comes to the water — daddy would be impressed! I miss your daddy and wish that he could be here to teach you to surf and do all of his favorite things, but I promise I’ll do my best to fill his role, and when I can’t I’ll ask friends and family to help out.

The truth is, Theo, you and daddy were only on this planet for a very short time together. I don’t think you will remember much about him and I have no idea what it will be like to grow up without your biological father. But instead of making assumptions and imposing my concerns about what your future holds, I trust that you will figure it out. I trust that loving you will be enough. I trust that I am enough. And I trust that you will write a beautiful story from what most people might label a tragic beginning.

You know why? You have an uncanny ability to turn any negative situation into something good. When sadness and devastation weighed heavily upon everyone during your daddy’s final days of life, you bobbled around the beach house, eating anything you could get you hands on, and lightened the mood with your goofy grins and giggles. You reminded everyone that even though we were losing daddy, we still had so much to smile about. You taught us that we can still find joy even in the darkest of moments. Thank you for this important lesson Theo.

Even though you and your daddy only knew each other for one year, I’m confident that you will get to know him more and more with time. His friends, family and I will keep his memory alive — we will tell you his embarrassing stories, look at funny pictures of him, and do all of his favorite activities like surfing, golfing and camping with you. There will be moments as you grow up where you’ll miss daddy — when you’ll feel angry that your friends have a father and you don’t; when you’ll want to ask him the important life questions and he won’t be there to answer. During these times I hope that you experience your emotions — get mad, get upset and express yourself freely. It’s not fair. I get it! So let’s talk about it — or or maybe scream, yell dance or go for a walk. We will get through this together. As I tell Izzy, the three of us are a team.

Finally Theo, with time I truly believe that you will realize that daddy is always with us. You will get to know your father every morning when you wake up and feel him in the sunrise; when we visit his hometown of Kailua and final resting place near the Mokoluas; and when you look into the mirror at your own reflection and see your daddy staring back. Because the truth is Theo that you carry a piece of your father inside of you. As you start discovering who you are, you will also discover your dad.

It’s been a rough start. But there’s something about your devilish smirk and gleam in your eye that gives me confidence that everything will be alright…if not, even brighter.

Love you to daddy in the moon and back!

Mama