My Story

*This article was originally written and published for Love What Matters. Read it here. *

“365 days down, forever to go.” These words came from a letter my husband, Ian, wrote to me for our first wedding anniversary. It was June of 2019 when I found it stuffed away in my underwear drawer and re-read it. Ian had passed away just 3 months prior. ‘Forever to go.’ The tears flowed as I realized how I had not only lost my husband, my soulmate, and the father of my two children, but I also lost our beautiful future together.

I lost our forever — our dreams of growing old together, of watching our children reach milestones and seeing them grow up. I lost my identity as Ian’s wife, his partner-in-crime, and in life. I lost my direction and purpose in life — our shared dreams and goals. I lost control over my precious world. I lost confidence in my ability to survive. I lost myself.



Yet, what I’ve discovered in the process of losing everything, is there is so much more in life to be found. My husband’s death has taught me how to search, how to ask the right questions to find meaning in his loss, lessons in life’s hardships, and love in the pain. When I reflect on our journey together — searching for answers and connections to make sense of it all — I can now see everything happened for a reason. So let’s start at the beginning!

I remember passing Ian in the hallway of my freshman dorms and immediately getting butterflies in my stomach. I was magnetized by his surfer body and bronzed skin from playing in the Hawaiian ocean, and enamored by his kindness, his sense of humor, and his carefree, go-with-the-flow attitude. His smile melted my heart and his ability to make me feel like the most intriguing person in the room had me hooked.

If one word could sum up our relationship it was FUN! We loved going on adventures together and feeding off each other’s positive energy and exuberance for life. We made the most out of every moment together and didn’t plan ahead into the future. Marriage? Kids? We didn’t think about it. We lived in the now, a mentality that would serve us during the challenging times to come.



It was 2011, and Ian and I were on a ‘break’ to pursue our careers and personal ambitions apart from each other. I was in graduate school in Pittsburgh and Ian had a hotel job in Beijing, China. Despite the break, we still would check-in from time to time. I was busy working at my internship when I received a call from Ian. I could hear his tears. His fear. His desperation. He had woken up one morning and couldn’t see, so he went to the doctor and they found a tumor in his eye. Cancer!

My heart sank. Ian and I were both 24 and just starting out our lives, but he had been served this massive injustice. He had Uveal Melanoma, a rare cancer that affects approximately 2,000 people a year, most of whom are elderly and near the end of their lives. The odds were okay if the cancer didn’t spread beyond his eye. But if it did… it was fatal. Ian was young. He was strong. We were primed for the fight.

Ian’s original cancer diagnosis was a turning point in our relationship and in our life. We both grew up. We both realized what was truly important. Ian’s career goals of becoming a general manager, his plans of adventuring through Asia, of catching the best waves in Bali — all of it quickly dissipated as he faced his mortality. That’s what happens with a terminal diagnosis. Dreams disappear when survival is at stake. As Ian looked toward his potentially dire fate, he decided instead to focus on the present and make the most of it. This meant proposing to me, getting married, and starting our life together.

People are often surprised to found out I married Ian knowing he had cancer. In fact, 2 weeks before our wedding his doctor told us Ian needed to get his eye removed. Radiation wasn’t working. The tumor was growing. I guess I had faith. I chose the moment over the future. I chose love over fear. And, looking back, I can’t imagine choosing otherwise. Our wedding and honeymoon were the last times Ian saw me from both eyes. With Ian’s eye and tumor removed, we thought things couldn’t get worst. We were in love and had high hopes for the future. But we were wrong.



We were at the beach in San Diego. Ian was chasing our 2-year-old daughter Izzy around in the waves, kicking up sand and grinning from ear to ear. Making Ian a father was the greatest gift I ever gave him. He was loving and playful, but also protective and even stern. He took his fatherly duties seriously and wanted the world for his kids. My pregnancy with Izzy had actually come as a surprise! We both weren’t really ready to be parents. In fact, we weren’t planning on starting a family until I turned 32 — an age Ian will forever be. If it wasn’t for our ‘surprise,’ he never would have become a father.



I watched Ian and Izzy playing on the beach that day and felt Theo kicking in my stomach. Life was good. All of a sudden, Ian’s smile changed to worry. His physical therapist, who was treating Ian for lower back pain, had called and told him his MRI showed tumors all over his spine! We rushed to the ER, looking for immediate answers. Hours in the ER turned into days in the hospital filled with scans, more waiting, and serious conversations. We finally found out Ian’s Uveal Melanoma had metastasized to his spine, lungs, and abdomen. Stage IV.

I can still feel Ian’s arms wrapped around me that day. Grasping me tightly as we both sobbed away our future dreams. We held each other as if we were holding on to that one moment in time — the only certainty we had left.



The news of Ian’s metastasis was devastating. Most patients with uveal melanoma survive 6-9 months after the cancer metastasizes and there is no cure. Just one FDA approved drug with a grim success rate of 11% and it was for melanoma, not uveal melanoma. The facts told one story, but Ian and I told another. We were still going to beat this.

For 15 months, Ian and I flew back and forth to MD Anderson, a prestigious cancer center in Houston, to enroll in experimental studies in search of a miracle cure. Some drugs made him deathly ill. On one trip, we couldn’t return home because Ian was shaking violently with the chills, then profusely sweating in between bouts of vomiting and diarrhea.

During this time, we survived by living in the moment. Each doctor’s appointment, each scan, and test result determined our fate. Would Ian live? Did the drug buy us more time? And if not, then what do we try next? The future was too scary… too dark and unknown. So we didn’t go there. We made the most of the time we had and relished every second of it, knowing tomorrow was never guaranteed.



This reality set in for me on New Years Day of 2019. Ian woke me up in a panic, exclaiming he couldn’t move or feel his legs. Another ER visit revealed a massive tumor pressing against his spinal column. If they didn’t operate immediately, he would be paralyzed from the waist down. Ian’s emergency spinal surgery went smoothly, but the doctor had little hope Ian would ever walk again. The news crippled me. I knew if the remainder of Ian’s life was to be in a wheelchair, then he wouldn’t have the will to fight. The cancer would win.

This was just speculation, and Ian would be the first one to point that out. Instead of worrying about Ian’s future recovery, I turned my attention to the now. After two weeks of rehab, Ian walked out of the hospital. Shortly after this incident, Ian told me he wanted to return to his hometown in Hawaii. He was worried he was running out of time. In February of 2019, we packed up the family for a 3-week Hawaiian vacation. In the back of my mind, I knew Ian wouldn’t be coming back.

We made it to Hawaii. As Ian crinkled his toes in the sand, waded in the crystal clear, aquamarine water, ate at his favorite restaurants, and spent time with childhood friends, I could tell how much he was savoring his final moments. He wanted to surf and swim — to enjoy the life he used to — but cancer pain kept getting in the way. Ian went to the hospital in Honolulu for pain management.



‘Ian is dying. There is cancer everywhere! Did no one tell you this?!’ His bedside manner wasn’t great, but the local oncologist’s words were exactly what we needed to hear. Ian was dying.

Ian started hospice in a beautiful beach home that had been donated to our family for this difficult time. The home overlooked the Mokolua’s, a set of twin islands Ian had grown up paddling to and surfing around and later became his place of freedom, peace, and light in a body full of pain.



We celebrated our son Theo’s first birthday on Ian’s second day of hospice. Ian seemed to be doing well, upbeat, and enjoying the party. But the day after, he took a turn. He could barely make out a word. The knot in my stomach grew bigger as I watched my husband slowly fade away.

The 25 days that followed were surreal. The reality my husband was dying hadn’t sunk in. I felt like I was just floating by, not really feeling or processing anything, just numb and going through the motions. I would make Ian breakfast, help him eat, bathe him, guide him to the bathroom, give him medicine, and then take turns with his friends who kept him company by his hospital bed.



Izzy would visit daddy, massaging his hand and giving him kisses. Theo had a harder time, as he tended to accidentally pull at Ian’s tubes or move too spastically for Ian’s fragile state. Izzy would ask me what was wrong with daddy, so I told her:

‘Daddy is sick. He has cancer. Cancer isn’t a cold or something we can catch. We didn’t give Daddy cancer either. None of this is your or my fault. We are trying to make Daddy better, but there is a chance Daddy will die.’

She stared back at me with her big brown eyes, still searching for meaning in these answers. As much as she was searching, so was I.



Before Ian died, I wrote him a letter. I wanted to tell him three important things. 1) how much I loved him, 2) how much of an impact he made on my life, and 3) we would be okay. I read it to him one afternoon, and slightly dazed from the morphine he replied, ‘Emily that is so nice of you! Is it my birthday? Did I do something special?’

I laughed and answered, ‘No, Ian. I just want to tell you how much I love you. It’s a love letter!’

‘Oh! Okay,’ he agreed contently. After I said everything I needed to say to Ian, I was ready to let him go. To end his suffering. He deserved a better life than the one he was living.



Ian passed away on March 26, 2019. He left us just as the sun was rising, before the kids and I woke up, and when the night nurse had taken his coffee break. Ian went alone, probably with his surfboard to catch the first waves of the day.

I cried, tears of sadness mixed with relief. Although my worst nightmare had just come true, I felt a strange sense of peace. I asked Izzy if she wanted to say goodbye to her daddy. At first, she hesitated, but then she grabbed my hand and asked to go see him. We entered the room where Ian lay lifeless. Her grip tightened as we approached his hospital bed.

I can still hear her timid, confused and innocent voice as she softly said, ‘Goodbye, Daddy.’ We stood there for a second and then she looked up at me and asked, ‘Can we go?’ I nodded my head and we left. We walked to the beach and when we came back, Ian’s body was gone. They took him to the mortuary to be turned into ashes so he could be spread in the water by the Mokoluas, at the top of Winter Park mountain in Colorado, and in two viles I’m keeping for my children when they are old enough to have them.



When Izzy entered the empty room she looked at me in astonishment. ‘Where did he go?’

‘Up in the sky,’ I answered.

‘Like poof?!’

‘Yes, Izzy. Just like that.’

Every so often, Izzy and I light a candle before bedtime and we stare out into the starry sky. We talk about Daddy and how he’s out there watching over us. How he’s so proud of our family of three and how we are all still connected by the invisible string of love. I’ve learned how to maintain my relationship with Ian, even without him physically here. I ask him questions and seek his guidance, and if I’m still enough to listen, he provides me with the answers.



It’s been almost 2 years since Ian passed away and there are still times I can’t believe this is my life. In the months following his death, I outright refused this reality. I fought it with anger, with anxiety, and with guilt. And, when the overwhelm of my emotions and the reality of my new normal made me feel so hopeless and paralyzed, I turned to fitness to cope. When I moved my body, I could safely feel my feelings— no matter how hard or painful they were — and take back power in a world where I felt ultimately powerless.

6 months after Ian died, I started moveTHRU. moveTHRU connects anyone who has experienced a loss and helps them cope with grief through exercise. It’s an intention-based workout to embrace your emotions instead of suppressing them. It’s a community that supports and empowers one another through grief, and it’s a call-to-action to keep moving forward and loving life, no matter what it throws you! moveTHRU has helped me heal and give meaning to Ian’s death by helping others heal.



Losing Ian has proven to me life is unpredictable. We think we have control, but we don’t. I’ve learned the only way to live is to ultimately surrender to the forces outside us, and bring the focus within. In doing so, we are able to seek the lessons in hardship, recognize the gifts in each moment, and trust everything will work out in ways we never imagined (or even wanted in the first place).

Bella’s Story: Losing my Father to Brain Cancer

Did you know that it’s actually healing to talk about our deceased loved ones? Sharing what made our person so special and reliving our favorite memories of them helps us process our loss and keep their memory alive.

That’s why we invite members of our community to share their stories of loss! When we share we heal and when we read each other’s stories we find inspiration and hope in each other’s journey.

In our next community post, Bella shares the beautiful memories of her father who she describes as “one hell of a man” and how she is coping with her loss…especially during the holidays. Read her story below!

My dad was one hell of a man… and putting him into words is probably one of the most difficult things to write. Because he was SO much more than I could even begin to put into words!

Some of his biggest achievements and accolades included being an Army Ranger, graduating from West Point, he was a neural linguistic programmer with his own business, a world traveler, and a family man.

I admired a lot about my dad – he had this big personality. You could always feel his presence in the room, partly because he wasn’t a small dude, but also due to his spirit. His gift in life was being amazing with people. He could ask you “how are you?” And in an instant he was able to make you feel so seen, and so heard. He was insanely into his biking, and most weekends you could always find him in Deer Creek Canyon taking long rides. Anything that got him closer to the mountains that he had fallen in love with years earlier.

My dad believed wholeheartedly in humans, and supported all of us in the things we wanted to do. Including me, he had three other kids – all with big personalities, and lots of goals to pursue. My oldest brother is teacher, my older sister an oncology nurse, and my younger brother an avid adventurer in Vail. Included in this family is also three grandkids, Daphnie, Tallulah, & Fletcher. I mention all of us because he loved his family SO much. Making sure we got together monthly for a weekend BBQ, spending Black Friday at the mall to people watch, and always taking all of the photos possible.

He owned his own business, as a neural linguistic programmer, where he spent his days helping so many people find new ways to be successful, and rewrite their neural software. The man knew how to make an impact with his words, and his overall presence.

After years of living in Colorado, my dad decided to take his love of the ocean and incorporate it into his life. When I moved to Tampa, he jumped on the opportunity to get closer to the water part of the year. My mom and him would come every other month to enjoy the warmth and continue building my dad’s business. That is unfortunately around the time that he was diagnosed.

It was January 2019 – my dad had been experiencing what he described as “word salad” — he could process the thing in front of him, but wasn’t able to say the word. He then proceeded to check into the hospital, there they discovered a marble size mass in the front lobe of his brain. From there it was all a little bit of a blur, he swiftly made his way back to Denver, where he had an appointment at Sarah Cannon. As much as the situation was difficult, we were blessed with the fact that my sister was a nurse at this particular institute. What we learned from this point on was tough, he had a stage four glioblastoma – brain cancer.

There weren’t a lot of options, and there were choices to be made. The first step in the process was to remove the tumor. Unfortunately with brain tumors, it is extremely difficult to remove the entirety of the mass, it has a growth property that causes the tumor to spider web through the brain.

My dad fought a valiant battle, and on January 4th, 2020 he passed. The brain tumor had entered into his spinal fluid, and it was just too far past to do anything else.

To say that the last twelve months has been easy, is an understatement. Layered onto his death, 2020 has definitely given all of us a huge list of obstacles to overcome. But it really has been more about sharing, and being open about what his death did to me.

Grief in no way easy. I had to really search for a number of tools to support myself when the waves seemed to crash down even harder than usual.

My go to in life was spin, and still is. I love the way that the music makes me feel, and how it connects me back to something that I know my dad really loved to do as well. Especially as we get closer into the holiday season.

My dad always was the first to play holiday music, he loved to drive home the long way so we can see more of the lights that decorated homes and yards, and always put the best hand written notes into his gifts. This year, I plan to do as much of this as possible – for my mom, and to honor my dad’s legacy. I realize that this Christmas will be different, and that even his one year passing will bring up a new set of emotions and challenges to work through.

So I will leave you all with this, a note my dad wrote in his journal back in 2000, one that I look at daily to remind myself that right now, in this world – kindness is everything… and even in the most grief filled moments, we can realign to find the positive in the situation.

“My center is my family, my soul, my friends, my health, myself. It is not work, it is not politics, it is not mean spirited people. Life is about love. Life is about joy. Life is about pain. That which does not kill me, makes me stronger.”

– William Sumner, The Inevitable You

5 Tips to Survive Thanksgiving (while grieving)

Thanksgiving is just days away and anxiety might be setting in as we prepare to see what the festivities will look like this year … during a global pandemic. The stress over getting sick combined with the emotional burnout of wearing masks while we eat with friends, keep an extra six feet away from our closest relatives, or ZOOM call into family dinner is a lot to take in.

But for those of us grieving the loss of a loved one, COVID is just one added layer to an emotionally complex holiday. Thanksgiving can be a painful reminder of our missing loved ones, our changed family dynamics, and a bittersweet combination of the joy in the present and longing for the past when our love one was with us.

We asked our Community Manager Abby, who lost her father almost two years ago, to share her top tips for surviving Thanksgiving while grieving. Take a look!

Have more? Tell us in the comments!

1) Make space for your grief.

There are triggers everywhere during Thanksgiving. Maybe it’s the empty chair at the end of the table where he used to sit or that someone forgot to make our person’s signature pie this year. Whatever the trigger may be, it is helpful to make space for grief and anticipate that we might feel big emotions. Make a plan for coping with potential triggers to make it easier to manage in the moment.

For example, mine is taking my dog for a walk around the block or taking space in my room to tune-out the overwhelm as I tune-in to my favorite podcast.

2) Keep an old tradition (or start a new one!)

Keep your loved one’s memory alive by carrying on their favorite tradition.  Carrying on legacies that that my Dad left behind, such as running the Turkey Trot 5k that he did every year, helps me feel close to him and appreciate the memories we made when he was still here.

If it’s too triggering to carry on a tradition without them, that’s okay too. We know that the traditions just don’t feel the same without them. My dad and I shared a love of Christmas music and we would always start listening too early in the year. I’ve found it hard to listen to Christmas music at all since he’s been gone. So maybe you start a new tradition, one that signifies new beginnings and  honors their life.

Both are a good fit. Do what feels right for you and remember there is no right or wrong way to grieve. Trust in your process.

3) Say yes to help.

Support is key during the holidays. Take some of the weight off your shoulders and accept when friends want to help you shop for groceries, meal prep or take the lead on organizing gatherings (even if they’re e-gatherings this year). My mom has been my role model for surrendering to her grief when it’s needed, she doesn’t let her pride get in the way of family members wanting to do things for her during the holidays. Last Christmas, my grandma wrapped all my mom’s gifts so she could visit my Dad’s grave alone. You could see the weight lifted off her shoulders by just that little piece of support.

It is also super helpful to surround yourself with others who “get it” and might not be so merry too. Venting can be therapeutic — especially with people who truly understand your pain points and frustration.

4) Don’t feel guilty if you just can’t.

Give yourself permission to excuse yourself from gatherings or anything else you don’t want to commit to when you find yourself feeling overwhelmed or anxious. Last year I got overwhelmed by pretty much everything during the holidays, I felt guilty when I wasn’t thinking or talking about my dad but when we did talk about him I got extremely testy and sad. My survival tactic was taking lots and lots of space from the commotion, either in my room or on a walk around the block.

Covid isn’t the only reason you might need social distance this year!

5) MOVE your body!

Exercise isn’t just about burning calories from eating too much on Thanksgiving – it’s about processing big feelings and emotions too! When I get sad about my dad’s absence during big events, I do a barre class to stay grounded. When I get angry about losing him at such a young age, I go to a cycling class and spin the anger away. And when I feel guilty, like I should have done more to prevent his suicide, I blast music through my headphones and run as far as I can.

Take a moment and get away to do your favorite yoga flow, for a run or walk the dog around the block.


Hi, I’m Abby! I’m the Community Manager for moveTHRU.  I was a Junior at the University of Denver when I lost my Dad to suicide. You can read my story of loss here. Through fitness and moveTHRU, I’ve found my safe space to talk about death without fear of being a “downer,” learned how to cope with my grief, and most importantly moveTHRU and process the loss of my dad. Grief can be very isolating, but it doesn’t have to be. As the Community Manager, I hope to expand the reach of moveTHRU so that more people can have access to the moveTHRU resources and support that I wish I had from the very beginning of my grief journey.

 

FEAR: Let’s Talk About Death

I can still feel Ian’s arms wrapped around me, grasping me tightly — almost desperately. The tears stream down both of our faces as the doctor’s news settles in. We hold each other as if we are holding on to this one moment in time — the only certainty we have left.

Ian’s terminal cancer diagnosis propels us into the world of the unknown — where tomorrow is never guaranteed and each milestone, each good-bye, each “I love you”, could be your last.

Death is imminent.

I fear for my husband’s life. Will he make it? Will he live to see Theo turn one?

I fear for my life. How will I survive without him? How will I raise a two young children by myself?

My mind wanders. I fear for my future without him.

Days turn into weeks, weeks turn into months, months turn into a year. Ian is still alive. It’s been 15 months since his cancer metastasized. He’s beat the odds, but his time is running short.



I can still see the hospice nurse’s heartbroken look as she makes eye contact with me. I know what’s coming and I can feel her proceeding with caution — fearing my reaction. She starts to cry as the words leave her mouth. I wrap my arms around her; lifelessly comforting her as the air is sucked out of my lungs.

Ian will pass tonight. Ian will die.

For a second the room feels like it’s spinning, but then a new sensation takes over.

It’s relief. It’s calm. It’s peaceful.

I no longer fear my husband’s death. I’m ready. I’m ready to surrender — to stop the suffering, the fighting, the uncertainty and guessing. It’s his time.

Ian passes away in the early hours the next morning.

Days turn into weeks, weeks turn into months, months turn into a year. I feel numb, disconnected, then angry, and sad. The fear returns — but in a whole new way.

I fear this new life without my husband.

I fear for my children’s life.

I fear for mine.

I fear that I’m not strong enough to do this by myself.

I fear for my heart — that if I open it up it will break again.

I fear that there is no going back — no return to “normal.”

I fear my own grief — it’s power to trap me or transform me.

I fear what other’s think about my grief — how I’m handling my loss.

I fear for my children’s grief — for their life without their father.

I fear that this is all too much.

I fear that I can’t survive.

I fear that I’m losing him.


I feared Ian’s death, and now that my worst fear became my reality — I find myself fearing my new normal without him. But what I’ve learned (and grief expert David Kessler puts so well) is that fear doesn’t prevent death. Fear only prevents us from living!

Luckily, Ian knew this secret all along because in the month’s leading up to his ultimate death, he chose life. Death was already certain for him — so why fear it? He chose life and made the most of it.

Same with my hospice nurse experience. Once she told me that Ian would die that night, all of the worrying, the waiting, the guessing, the speculation — the anxiety — was gone. It just was. Ian was going to die. So what could I do with the remaining time I had left with him?


Death is the ultimate change, the ultimate end. It is a change we think we can’t understand and an ending we think we can’t survive. But although the change happens whether we want it to or not, we can find freedom in accepting it., and in understanding it as a prelude to something else. – David Kessler


We fear death. We fear for the day that we will die. We fear for the day that our loved one’s will die. We fear for what our lives will be like in the aftermath of such a loss.

We fear death in an anticipatory sense — like in the case of Ian’s terminal illness — or even right now, as the whole world fears the potential risk of COVID-19.

We fear death both for its finiteness, but also for the unknown aftermath. What happens after someone dies? — for both the person dying, as well as their survivor.

Yet, much of our fear surrounding death is attributed to how we perceive it.


Fear is an emotional response induced by a real or perceived threat. – Psychology Today


Fear is valid — it’s a response — meaning, we don’t always consciously control it. Yet, what intrigues me about this definition is also the word “perceived”.

Yes, death is an ending. A painful ending. An ending to someone’s life. A life we don’t want to and can’t imagine living without. The threat is real — no one wants to say goodbye to someone they love, or feel the hurt of loss.

But the threat of death is merely a fact of life. Our perception of death is what makes us truly fear it.

Kessler explains that the way our society views and even talks about death — he lost the fight to cancer, heart failure, he left us to soon (ie. Like abandonment), she didn’t make it — adds an element of choice to the experience of loss. Like if he tried harder, we would still be here — he would have beat it!

Death is not a choice. In fact, death is a certainty! It’s not something that we can opt-out of or defeat. Death, just like birth, is another phase of life. Yet, society positions death as the ultimate enemy. Something to be feared, conquered and destroyed.

So if a loved one dies we — death wins. We lose.

This perspective does a major disservice to anyone facing a terminal illness or for survivors of a loss.

For those facing death, it ignites fear. If shifts the focus to fighting a battle that cannot be won (in some cases, not all); instead of focusing on how to live more in the remaining time left. For survivors of loss, it sets us up for regrets and blame — for getting stuck in all the should haves, would haves, could haves; for finding a doctor, a person, or higher power to blame; or for asking “why me?” as we try to make sense of the loss when most of the time it’s senseless. It’s an uncontrollable outcome of life.

Once we accept that somethings just are, that there are no choices to make, no winners or losers, and that life will unfold in a meaningful way despite the meaningless nature of such tragedies — it takes away the element of fear.


Now, I think it’s important to point out that I never would have considered this perspective or written these words before Ian died. But, the experience of his death and the grief that has followed has taught me how to surrender. To let go of control. To stop fighting and accept the gifts and challenges that each day brings me. I’m still learning, but this mindset is honestly my survival mechanism for navigating life without him. (I even dedicate an entire module on Surrender in my new moveTHRU Grief course — it’s that powerful!)

So if you are facing a terminal diagnosis, supporting someone who is, or have lost someone and are wallowing in the darkest depths of grief asking yourself what just happened to my life? — please remember that your fear is valid!

My advice is to lean into your fear — FEEL IT! My safe place for experiencing emotions is through movement — yoga, hiking, or jumping on a spin bike.

Then once you’ve felt it, challenge it. Ask yourself:

  • What are you truly afraid of?
  • What is the threat?
  • Is the threat real or perceived? (It can be a combination of both!)
  • How much control do I have over this threat?
  • And most importantly, is this fear potentially limiting me from experiencing life fully?

Fear isn’t about avoiding death. It’s is about missing out on life.


Thank you to my late husband Ian who inspired me to live fearlessly even though there are days I’m scared shitless of my new life without him, and to his mom Leslie who sent me David Kessler’s book Finding Meaning – The Sixth Stage of Grief. It’s helping me make sense of the senseless.

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

Dating As A Widow (Continued)

This quote sums up what being in a new, stable, and loving relationship is like for me now… as a widow.

I’ve been practicing the act of surrender a lot since my late husband Ian died — letting go of what I thought my life should be; and embracing what it’s becoming.

I’ve done this in many areas of my life, but most recently in my romantic one. I’ve been seeing Taylor Ames since the world ended in March and it has been an emotional journey for me. I wrote about dating as a widow before and thought I had the answers, but this experience has brought forth so many questions — as well as new insights and revelations about myself, my evolving definition of love, and what type of person I desire and need as a partner.

Why?

Because this time my relationship is not coming from a place of loneliness; from a need to fill a void, feel whole or complete; or from past-patterns I picked up from falling in love when I was an 18-year old college freshmen.

Source: @createthelove

This time, my relationship is coming from a place of a choice — a deliberate decision that is supported by my body, my mind and my heart being in total alignment (ie. not just choosing with my heart in decisions of love — but with them ALL).

I’m embracing what this relationship is becoming…

But it’s not as easy as I thought.

A new relationship means opening up my life and sharing all that I hold sacred in it — present, future and PAST — with someone new.

I feel it …

  • When Izzy runs and and jumps into Taylor’s arms when he enters a room.
  • When Theo and him “bro” out over how much food they can eat or playing ball together.
  • When the kids wrestle on the floor with him, just like they did with their biological father Ian who is no longer here physically to touch them, hold them, and do what Taylor has the privilege to do with them here on earth.

And it hurts.

Yet at the same time it feels right. It feels like love. It feels like hope. It feels like a new normal.

I like my new normal a lot. But allowing it to materialize while still holding so much love in my heart for my late husband — the father of my children, my soulmate and best friend — is hard.

It’s a balancing act of letting go and holding on; of creating sacred space to honor both old and new love; and allowing myself the time and space to process the complex emotions and feelings involved.

I’m far from mastering this, but I’m committed to taking it one day at a time and letting go bit by bit as I figure it all out! 🙂


If you’ve read this far you might be thinking that I need more time to heal. Maybe it’s too soon for a serious relationship?

If you feel that way I do think that you are partially right. I do need time to heal. But healing is a journey in itself and I’m not sure when that finish line will come…or if it even exists.

I also love this quote from @Yung_Pueblo that Taylor shared with me.

I have so many thoughts about dating, love and relationships that I want to share with you (and will in due time). Finding love for a second time and figuring out how this all materializes is part of my grief journey — which is why I’m opening my heart up to you.

I hope that this post resonates with anyone who has lost an old love and is open to letting in the new! And if you have any insights, questions or tips for me please leave them in the comments below.

For now, here’s to embracing what our life is becoming…whether we envisioned it this way or not!

xx,

Emily

4 Tips to Find Freedom in Grief on July 4th

Milestones are tricky when it comes to grief and loss. We tend to “prepare” for the big ones like death-anniversaries, major holidays like Christmas, or your deceased person’s birthday, by anticipating that the day might be emotionally challenging. But, what I’ve found after more than 15 months since my husband Ian’s death is that the more subtle ones tend sneak up on us — presenting an equal struggle or even more of one because they catch us off guard!

We are approaching July 4th, which for most people might be categorized as a “smaller holiday” — a subtle milestone. But for me, it’s also my wedding anniversary with Ian. This Saturday, July 4, 2020, would have marked six years as a married couple.

I don’t know how I’ll be feeling on that day, but what I do know is that I’ll give myself space to welcome whatever comes up and feel it. My grief journey has taught me to embrace the pain as a sign of eternal love — the invisible string that keeps us connected. This Saturday, I plan to visit our wedding venue up on Lookout Mountain and explore the surrounding natural scenery with my two kiddos to remember the day;

How dapper Ian looked in his designer suit. (He got very fancy after living at the Raffles Beijing Hotel for 3 years! 😉 )

His delicious smile that made me fall in love with him.

The way his eyes locked on mine walking down the aisle.

The electricity in the air from the rain storm that had just passed and from energy that everyone who attended our wedding experienced collectively that day.

Love bursting from within us like fireworks.

And while there will be no fireworks to light up the night this year due to the pandemic, I’ll never let go of the spark that connected our souls here on earth and our spirits into eternity.


I revisited my blog post from my first wedding anniversary without Ian. At the time I still wore my wedding rings, in addition to his wedding band, which I had turned into a bracelet. I was still holding on to my old identity — loving wife to Ian and mother to his kids. It’s been a painful, yet profound process to shed these identities and I’ve taken my time to move forward in a way that feels organic and true to me.

I’ve learned that while I’m no longer Ian’s wife, that does’t diminish my love for him; and while our family is missing its father-figure, that doesn’t make us any less whole.

I’ve learned that pain is the greatest catalyst for self-discovery and growth — and this theme comes up time and time again. Which leads me to my last lesson —

That there is always a lesson!

Every life experience — as tragic, unfair, and hopeless as it may seem — can teach us something new. And this awakening is pure magic.

Sometimes it’s difficult to see these lessons when you’re in the thick of pain and struggle — so if you are, I offer the advice to give yourself grace, give yourself time, focus on doing the next right thing and most importantly give yourself permission to feel whatever you feel.

And for these sneaky holidays like July 4th, here a few tips I’ve picked up from my personal grief journey:


TIP 1:

If you make social plans, remember that you have every right to bail last minute. Sometimes we don’t know how we are going to feel right up until the moment we are “in it”, so give friends or family members a heads up.


TIP 2:

If you’re not comfortable with cancelling, then just don’t commit! Reserve the right to join the party last minute or late. Remember — you do what’s right for you!


TIP 3:

Remind yourself that this one special day is literally just another day. Consider making space to grieve a couple days before a holiday or milestone if you feel like something might come up. This way you can be in more control of your emotions and enjoy the special day as you envision.


TIP 4:

Holidays bring family and friends together. So when our loved one isn’t around to attend the party, it certainly deepens the void. As you see their warm embraces and hear their laughter, it will intensity your loss. Remember to:

  • Take a deep breathe.
  • Feel the pain.
  • Remind yourself that pain is love.
  • And that love is just as alive as the people surrounding you.

If you have experienced the loss of a loved one, you know that not one day passes without thinking about our deceased person. Milestones or holidays don’t change that. They can trigger our emotions, but we have the power to prepare to lean into our grief, save it for another day, or feel whatever come up in the moment. You have the freedom and power and to choose whatever path is right for you!

So this July 4th — a day to honor our nation’s freedom and independence —, I invite you to celebrate your loved one; celebrate the freedom and power of creating your own unique journey; and celebrate the lessons — the magical transformations that unfold when we fully embrace struggle and feel it all!