Bereaved on my Child’s Birthday

We celebrated my daughter Isabelle’s fifth birthday last week. I thought I felt much better than I did last year — happy and excited for the festivities, as opposed to our first year without Ian when I wanted nothing to do with celebrations of any kind. In my conscious mind I felt joy and pride over my first-born turning five!

But coming off of my “party high” this week, I’ve felt all the pain just below the surface. And amidst the glee of the celebrations, I now realize that my body was telling me this all along. I felt sensations of irritability, tenseness and at times almost suffocation— yet I pushed these feelings aside to have a good time.

Izzy is part Ian. Her mere biology connects me to him. And while I expected to be and truly felt happy at my daughter’s birthday, how could I also not expect and feel the grief of Ian’s absence?

The truth that I continue to embrace is that we can feel BOTH.

It’s learning how to cope and make space for all of the emotions and feelings coming up at once, and figuring out how to allow people to support me when they do.

Izzy had a wonderful birthday this year! She missed daddy like she always does, but her focus was mainly on what party dress to wear, her sparkly tiara, all of her new toys, her Frozen Elsa cake, and the friends and family who surrounded all of us.

Just like last year, I wrote Izzy a letter so that she has the gift of this snapshot in time in her life. Read last year’s letter here.

And as much as these birthday letters are gifts intended for my children, they are also gifts for me. I feel more grounded, more grateful and more amazed at how much I can learn from these tiny human beings every time I write one.

If you choose to read my letter below, I hope you find a gift in it too!

September 18, 2020 (the year the world ended — I’ll explain to you later … )

Dear Izzy,

Happy Birthday! As of September 18, 2020 (not to be confused with December as you’ve been saying until recently) you are officially FIVE YEARS OLD! I could not be more proud and grateful to have such a kind, intelligent, independent, creative and FUN daughter.

Right now, your main interests are unicorns, Frozen, swimming, playing with your stuffed animals (especially your puppy who has a new name every day like “Watermelon-Lemon or Strawberry-Snowflake”), singing songs you’re learning in school, and coloring. You are an amazing artist! I love watching you color away, noting the beautiful hues of each unique crayon and smiling just enough to give way to the subtle dimple on your left cheek.

You are a special girl Izzy! Not only are you strong from eating so much broccoli, but you’re brave and courageous. We agree that it’s scary to try new things like playing soccer, but you take risks! I noticed this on your first day of Kindergarten when you said good-bye to me with no tears or fuss, and walked strait to the line outside your classroom. You seemed so grown up patiently waiting all by yourself, not knowing any other students or teachers. I was the one crying! And I’m all grown up!

You are also very inquisitive. Just like daddy, you listen with genuine concern, you pick up on subtle details and ask great questions! Remember Izzy — there is no such thing as too many questions (and if I tell you to stop asking it’s just because I’m exhausted). But seriously — keep asking! Keep discovering the WHY — more importantly keep discovering YOUR why.

Tutu calls you a “can-do” kid! And she’s absolutely right. You are game for just about anything and are always anticipating our next adventure — from outrunning rattlesnakes on hikes in the foothills, splashing in the river rapids, visiting the zoo or dinosaur bones at the museum, or simply playing at our favorite park — you know how to be spontaneous and fun.

Sometimes when we are out, we see other families with two parents, or things that remind you of daddy and you have questions. When we were at Chipotle (one of your favorite restaurants) you saw a man standing in Broncos gear and started to tell him about how daddy died. He didn’t respond back and you asked me why. I answered by telling you that people don’t like to talk about death because it makes them sad and uncomfortable. You seemed confused. So I stooped down and looked at you square in the eyes and said:

It’s ok to talk about daddy.

It’s ok to talk about death.

This is your story and I hope that you own it and live it no matter what.

A few days later when we were at the park, you told a little girl your story. You told her that you didn’t have a daddy. She asked you why?

You looked at me with your big brown eyes almost seeking permission to answer her. I nodded; and the two of you proceeded to have an open, honest, raw conversation about cancer and death — topics most “grown-ups” won’t touch.


Izzy, we are not an ordinary Ohana. We are EXTRAordinary! You, me and Theo are a team and we have people like Jamma and Jampa, our babysitter Hailey, mom’s best friend Taylor who’s part of our “crew”, and tons of aunties and uncles from all over the world (even Australia and Canada) who love and support us.

You still ask me when we are going to get a new daddy and if our new daddy will die. These are tough questions — neither of which I can answer with certainty. So I do my best to explain that most people live until they are very old, but that sometimes we aren’t that lucky. Sometimes people get sick, they have accidents, they die much earlier than we would like them to, and there is nothing that you or me can do about it but be grateful for the time that we have here together. .

This is a hard fact to learn and accept — and you see me cry and lose my temper trying to do so. But you are learning that it’s ok to be sad and angry when we are hurt. You’re learning that in order to feel better, it’s ok to take some alone time, to simply “be”, or do something that feeds your soul — like coloring, listening to music, or playing with your stuffed animals and dolls. For me, this is working out!

There are nights where you still ask me to light a candle for daddy, so we strike a match and sit down on the floor beside your window and look out into the starry night sky. We both make wishes involving daddy, but sometimes you wish for things like being able to fly through clouds and see the rainbows like the unicorns! I tell you that daddy is definitely smiling at your request.

And therein lies the lesson that you teach me daily my sweet Isabelle. It’s that among all of the tears, the shouting into pillows and the longing for our daddy to be here with us, that we can still seek rainbows and unicorns. We can still find magic in whatever devastation life throws our way.

Thank you for helping me believe and see the magic, Izzy.

I love you to the moon, the stars, up to daddy, and back!

Ugga Mugga

– Mom

Back-to-School Tips for Widowed Moms

The first day of school looked different for us and likely the rest of the world this year. Izzy sat beside me tuning into virtual classrooms all morning long. I guided her along while Theo and our babysitter played outside, and tried my best to tackle my never ending to-do list during “snack time” and “recess”.

It was messy. It was hard. It was far from what I would have envisioned her first day of Kindergarten to look like. But we made it work.

Izzy finished her first day of virtual learning saying, “mommy, I love school!”

And while her words warmed my heart, the narrative that played out in my mind was more like, “I can’t do this!”


As a widow, any ounce of freedom from my children requires someone else stepping in. My husband, their father — the person who assumed half of the household, parenting, and financial responsibilities — is no longer around.

I often feel like half of a person left with double the work!

Whether it’s sneaking away to run errands; finding one hour to pay bills, fill out paperwork, manage various household items; to focus on getting moveTHRU up and running; to exercise; to just sit in silence for a few hours — I need someone else to watch the kids! So, I rely on family and friends to step in, or I hire help.

But sometimes it feels like I’m gone a lot, and when this happens the mom guilt hits me hard.

  • Is getting in a workout in really necessary?
  • Is making time for myself to work, heal, go on a hike, read, and just be alone too much to ask when my kids need me too?
  • Am I being selfish?
  • I mean, I lost my husband, but they lost their dad. They don’t have anyone else! I am literally their world!

The thoughts continue to circulate, feeding my anxiety and leaving me paralyzed, powerless, and then just really sad.


When school finished yesterday, I literally sat at my desk frozen — the apprehension of the this uncertain, new reality taking over me. School was going to be my kids safe haven. School felt NORMAL. It was a place I could leave my kids — free of mom-guilt — where they could run around, play and learn, like NORMAL children with living fathers do. To have this one constant — another shred of normalcy taken away from us — just plain sucks.

But it is what it is. So, what is a young widow and single-parent of two young children to do ?


After some tears, an aggressive workout, and lots of venting, I’m realizing that navigating the school-year is going to be a lot like navigating my new normal after losing Ian — it’s going to require a lot of SURRENDER and GRACE.

Now, I know I’m not the only widow or single-parent struggling to balance it all, so let’s break this down.

SURRENDER

I talked about surrender in my last post on dating as a widow — but, to recap — it’s the idea of letting go of preconceived ideas about how our life “should” be and instead, allowing each day to unfold. In terms of school, it’s recognizing that even though I have both kids enrolled in “in-person” learning, there will be times that they have to be at home (with me) learning from their computer — for reasons that are beyond my control (ie. a global pandemic!)

Surrender helps us define what is within our control — and more importantly — what is not. There are certain events in life that we cannot change. They are what they are. And once we accept this fact, we are able to see what we can control to move forward.

School might stay open, but it will likely close at some point. Either way, it’s out of my control! So I’m trying to shift my focus to what I can control:

  • My childcare needs
  • My teaching schedule
  • My work load
  • My “free” time for friends, significant others and myself
  • My mindset, expectations and how I prioritize my time

This is where grace comes into play.

GRACE

Giving grace is being kind enough to ourselves to recognize that we can’t do it all. I repeat – WE CAN’T DO IT ALL! (I’m still repeating this because I struggle with this concept! )

It’s acknowledging that we are going through a lot (whether you’ve lost someone or not because we are all struggling with something) AND giving ourselves permission to go through it in whatever way works for us. This means letting go of judgments, of expectations, of the “shoulds” in order to get it all done.

For me, this meant realizing that I can’t pull-off a pre-launch for my moveTHRU course next week; I can’t teach more spin and barre classes outside of school hours; and that I can’t talk one-on-one to every person who reaches out to me on social media for advice. It’s not that I don’t want to — it’s just not possible given the constraints of my reality.

Yet on the flip side, I also realize that if I don’t give myself the time I need to fill my cup — to do work that fulfills my purpose; to lead killer spin classes the set my soul on fire; to exercise in order to move through my emotions and feelings; and to find peace to heal — then I become angry, bitter and resentful about my world, and even worse…my kids.

There is just one of me.

There are two of them.

We both have needs and desires that must be met.

These are facts. I cannot change this.

So I’m waving my flag in surrender and giving myself grace to focus on managing the variables that are within my control, in hopes to create the best cased scenario for everyone.

I want DO it all and BE all, but I’m letting go — little by little — to create enough space to just think about all of these moving pieces and figure out which ones to prioritize, to let go of, and to pursue.

And so the journey continues…


For anyone reading this who is in a similar situation, I SEE YOU. I FEEL YOU. This is really effing hard! But you are doing great!

Trust that whatever you are doing, whatever you are feeling is just right for YOU. There is no right or wrong way to do this! (I’ll take my own advice here too).

And if you have any suggestions on how to mange it all without losing your mind, drop them in the comments below!

xx,

Emily

A Mother’s Loss

Death can be a difficult subject to talk about. It’s painful, unpleasant, emotional and hard. No one likes unhappy endings or tragic good-byes.

But, when death becomes a part of your life, it’s a hard subject to avoid. Loss changes us. In the beginning it certainly makes life more unpleasant, causes constant emotional turmoil and significant pain, but with time, the grief experience evolves. We find gratitude, meaning and love for our loss. We never “get over it.” We adapt.

We carry our loss.

While others find it difficult or awkward to ask us about our loss (which we excuse because they are just trying to be supportive and polite), we secretly want people to ask us about our special dead person — to help us remember him or honor her life.

Talking about death.

Sharing our stories of loss.

Connecting with others who share our stories.

Helps us heal!

That’s why we’re sharing stories of loss from members of the moveTHRU community so that we can collectively honor our loved ones and move through grief together. Loss can feel lonely, but you are not alone in your grief.

In honor of National Bereaved Mother’s (May 3) and Mother’s Day (May 13), we are sharing a story about a childless mother from our friend Lindsey.

Lindsey lost her unborn baby at 38 weeks. She went through labor and delivery, but when she returned home from the hospital, she didn’t have her baby.

She was a mom with no child to bring home.

Sometimes we forget that loss can occur before life. And that loss is just as painful as losing someone in the flesh. Read Lindsey’s story below to find out how she endured this tragedy to find more meaning in life and eventually got back to enjoying Mother’s Day!


Lindsey and her husband see their baby Everlee for the first and last time.


September 17, 2018 was one of the hardest, but sweetest moments in our life — the moment we saw our daughter Everlee for the first and last time. She was 6lbs 8oz and as our first born, Everlee made us parents.

My pregnancy was uneventful and healthy. We were nervous and excited to become parents and preparing as most parents do — the nursery set up and car seat installed. I was 38 weeks pregnant and thinking we could have her at any moment. Then, one Saturday, I told my husband that I hadn’t felt her kick lately.

During the hospital tour weeks earlier, I vividly remembered the nurse telling us that if we didn’t feel the baby move, to come in. So, we went into the hospital that night. But, we didn’t expect to hear the silence. The nurse looked for the heartbeat and then said she would have the on-call doctor there within minutes. I looked at my husband concerned but thought it would all be ok. When the doctor came in he confirmed that Everlee did not have a heartbeat.

I was in shock. How could I have just been to the doctor and everything checked out perfectly?

Two days later I gave birth to our first child. An autopsy showed that Everlee had an umbilical cord accident. Her cord had “kinked” and acutely cut off her blood and oxygen.

Our bodies are so amazing and the process of growing life is so complex, how could something so small like a “kink” take it all away?

After losing Everlee I was in disbelief. Coming home as a “mom” and recovering like all mom’s do, but not having a baby to hold is something I don’t wish on anyone. For several months I was numb, just going through the motions. We had so much love and support around us, but that didn’t take away the pain. I couldn’t make sense of WHY this would happen. The hardest part for me was trying to overcome the devastation.

Being in some of my old friend groups that all had kids or were expecting children was very difficult — actually suffocating to be around. They didn’t understand the pain I felt and of course couldn’t relate no matter how hard they tried.

The way I overcame my heavy grief was to connect to others who had lost children. I found comfort relating to others who had walked the same hard road. I also MOVED my body. It was my therapy and the only way to clear my mind. I had to start off by just walking, but then I progressed into yoga, cycle and running. I could feel the weight of the grief lift as I exercised. As I MOVED I felt like I could start to take on the day.

I met Emily through Rush Cycle and was able to attend the moveTHRU workouts. This helped me see there were others out there needing movement to express all the emotions that come with grief and loss. It was like a great therapy session with the added benefit of exercise.

The loss of my daughter impacts me every day. When people want me to overcome grief or “move on” I know she will always be with me! I am a different person because of her. I think about her every day.

So much of her story has so much light!

I have been able to see how precious life is.

I have been able to relate to others on a deeper level who grieve.

I have become more spiritual and able put things in perspective.

Everlee has taught me so much. She’s given me purpose, strength, the ability to be vulnerable and helped me grow.

Although some days are easier than others, I wish that I had her here and I could hold her close. I wish that I could experience all the “first” parent moments with her and watch her grow up into a beautiful girl inside and out. I feel like I’ve lost out on these moments with her.

Mother’s Day always brings out these “what if’s”. My arms ache more on Mother’s Day wishing I could have her — a living child — here. But in the end, she has taught me so much and given me so many gifts. I am forever grateful for her. She has allowed me to celebrate Mother’s Day…even though it may not look like it on the outside.