*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.
‘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).
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
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.
I asked my 3-year-old daughter Izzy if she wanted to say goodbye to her daddy. Earlier that morning, her father Ian had just passed away from Uveal Melanoma.
At first she hesitated, but then she grabbed my hand and asked to go see him. We entered the room where my husband lay lifeless. Her grip tightened as we approached his hospital bed.
I can still hear her timid, confused, yet so 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 the beach and when we came back Ian’s body was gone. They had taken him to the mortuary while we were out. When Izzy entered the empty room she looked at me in astonishment.
“Where did he go?”
“Up in the sky,” I answered.
“Yes, Izzy. Just like that.”
Children are often the ones left behind in the wake of grief and loss. They are the silent grievers. Depending on their age and their social/emotional development, they might struggle to fully comprehend the permanence of loss or to verbalize the complex feelings and emotions involved in grief.
Their understanding of death largely impacts the way that they grieve. While preschool aged children tend to see death as temporary or reversible (ie. magical thinking), school-aged children understand the finality of loss but still might have many questions or have difficulty processing that such tragedy could happen to them. And while teenagers may cognitively comprehend the magnitude of such a loss, they might lack coping skills or feel isolated from their peers.
Izzy had a lot of questions after Ian died. She asked if we could go visit daddy in the stars. She asked if he was coming back. I told her that he was still with us in spirit, but she didn’t understand why she couldn’t see him and touch him. Even now, almost two years after his death, Izzy still checks in to see if daddy will be coming home — to hold her, to hug her, to tickle her and go swimming with her.
Children’s knowledge of death and the world around them influences their feelings about the loss. For instance, children tend to have a self-centered view of the world, which leads them to believe that they caused their loved one’s death. Such thoughts might trigger feelings of guilt and self-blame, and these feelings impact their behavior. Some children act younger than they are — needing more attention, cuddling, baby talk or might even regress to wetting their beds.
In the months following Ian’s death, Izzy who is usually a fantastic, independent sleeper had to cuddle in bed with me every night. Every bedtime was a battle as she hysterically clung to me and begged for me to sleep with her. She couldn’t tell me why in words, but her actions said everything.
Just like adults, emotional memory and trauma are also stored in our body. So while feelings are driven by conscious thoughts, children might express how an emotion feels literally in their body. For instance, a child complaining about “tummy troubles” might be experiencing anxiety. Children might also experience an emotion and not be able to verbalize it at all, so they act out physically. For instance, anger might be revealed in boisterous play, nightmares, and irritability, among other behaviors.
Izzy was constantly fighting with her brother — wrestling, kicking and hitting him. She would also lose her temper and shout over minor upsets. For me, it was hard to distinguish what was grief and what was normal 3-year-old behavior.
I consulted child grief experts in Denver and they told me that it’s impossible to separate out what is grief vs “normal” developmental behavior and that it actually didn’t matter! Bad behavior needed to be corrected no matter what the root cause. For instance, I wouldn’t excuse her from beating up her brother because daddy died.
So, I ended up reprimanding bad behavior but also provided her with coping tools. We explored breathing exercises, how to shout into a pillow to release anger, or how going into her room to color and enjoy some “me-time” could calm her down.
I also realized that Izzy behaved better when she was able to move her body — when she ran around the playground or played soccer. Just like me needing a workout, she needed a physical release for these intense emotions. I’m still exploring contact sports like Jiu Jitsu as a healthy outlet for Izzy to feel her feelings.
Unprocessed grief and trauma can have long-term effects. Research shows that bereaved children are at an increased risk of disrupted development, mental health issues, and decreased academic performance. And in the midst of such devastation, children’s grief might to be overlooked as parents or other support figures are dealing with their own.
These situations are hard. There is no right or wrong way to navigate them. So, based on my own personal experience and research in the field of grief and loss, I’ve compiled some tips to help support your grieving child (and also take care of yourself).
Let me know if something resonates!
TIP 1: Help Your Child Express his/her Feelings
Children should be encouraged to express their feelings openly or freely. Ask them — how are you feeling? Are you sad? Are you happy? If they are having trouble naming their emotions, you can do this with books and pictures. I love the “Little Unicorn is Angry/Sad/etc.” book series for this.
If verbalizing feelings isn’t working, provide other outlets for expressions such as drawing pictures, building a scrapbook, looking at photo albums or telling stories.
TIP 2: Be Direct
When talking about the death, try to avoid using euphemisms. Kids are extremely literal, so hearing that daddy “went to sleep” or “is resting” might be scary or create fear around bed time.
When Ian died, we told Izzy that he had Cancer. I explained to her that she couldn’t get cancer and that she also didn’t give it to daddy. Cancer made daddy’s body stop working and he died.
This language might come off as abrupt or too harsh for children, but remember that they are trying to process the loss just like we are. The more honest and concrete we can be about the facts, the easier it will be for them to understand and accept the loss.
TIP 3: Stick to Routines
The world becomes a scary and unpredictable place when someone who we love dies. This environment can trigger anxiety, fear and anger as our body and mind respond to perceived threats. Sticking to a routine provides a sense of normalcy by creating safety, comfort and predictability. So if your child attends school, extra curricular activities, or playdates — maintain their normal schedule. Just like adults, children are more than likely craving these types of outlets.
If you are worried that your child is too withdrawn, sad or anxious to return to the schedule, consider lessoning the load and by all means trust your intuition. You know your child best!. But, be aware of our adult projections over the situation. Follow their lead!
I would get so worried when Izzy would breakdown in tears, missing her daddy. But typically within five minute she’d be off playing with her brother without a care or concern in the world!
TIP 4: Give them Closure
For adults, we typically find closure after a loss by attending funeral, memorial service or celebration of life. We often wonder if children should attend or not. The rule of thumb here is to give them the option. If they want to attend, then allow them to. But if they don’t, then there is no need to force it. Although we are probably trying to protect our children from these harsh realities of life, preventing them from attending important rituals or leaving out vital information about the death often creates more questions, more uncertainty — thus more trauma around the loss.
If your child chooses not to go to the funeral or memorial, try to create another ritual or ceremony to create closure. Ideas like planting a tree, sharing stories or releasing balloons with special messages to their loved ones are great options.
I questioned if Izzy and Theo should attend Ian’s Celebration of Life. I honestly wanted that time for myself — so that I could say good bye to my husband free of distraction from my children. So, I decided that I would attend the paddle-out (a traditional Hawaiian tribute to those who have passed on) alone, and my children would attend the reception after. However, I did create a “mock” paddle-out with Izzy and Theo, my brothers and some close friends to provide them with the same type of closure that I needed.
TIP 5: Put your own Grief First
This tip is really hard to put into action, but essential to both your healing, as well as your child’s. It’s easy to feel guilty about taking time for yourself and away from your child when both of you are grieving a loss. But, as the saying goes — you can’t pour from an empty cup.
If I didn’t make space for my grief by attending a yoga class, meditating or walking in nature, I found myself irritable, angry and incapable of serving my children’s needs. I was better able to help Izzy cope with her emotions after I had leaned into mine.
TIP 6: Consult an Expert
The loss of a loved one is overwhelming and all consuming with the range of emotions experienced in grief and the logistics involved in adapting to our new normal. We have little time to process our own grief, so supporting anyone else’s can feel impossible at times. If you find yourself in this situation, get support! Find a child therapist or local non-for-profit that supports bereaved children. Knowing that your children are in expert hands can lighten the weight of carrying other’s grief so that you can focus on yours.
I enrolled Izzy in play therapy for about one year following the loss of my husband. This was a safe space for her to process her emotions through play. The therapist would talk to me after each session and notify me of any “red flags.” Having Izzy’s behavior validated by an expert gave me a sense of comfort and alleviated some of the concern I was carrying regarding Izzy’s grief.
TIP 7: Keep their Memory ALIVE!
Death kills a person. It doesn’t kill a relationship. Talk about your deceased loved one! Share funny stories about them and keep their legacy alive. Teach your child how to connect with their loved one without them being physically around. I love the book “The Invisible String” for this!
The memory of a loved one is all that we have after he/she dies. Keeping these moments alive helps fill the void of their physical absence for both you and your children.
While Theo is still too young (2-years -old) to understand death or verbalize his grief, he already owns his story. He tells me that daddy died and sends “shakas” to him up in the sky before bedtime. I know that as he grows older, he’ll have questions and I’ll answer them as honestly and openly as possible.
Izzy is still processing her father’s death. Just like me, she has good days and bad days. She has outbursts of tears as she longs to give him a hug, but she also giggles as we look at pictures of him together. She talks to me, other grown ups and children about her loss — how daddy died of cancer and how he’s not coming back. Her grief needs to be witnessed, just like mine!
When asked to draw pictures of her family at school, we are still a family of four. I love this because she understands that despite Ian being physically here, the love never dies.
We are always connected by an invisible string of love.
What am I going to do?
The question haunted me. It kept me up at night. My husband had died six months ago. The shock had worn off. Reality was hitting me hard.
I was alone with two kids under three. I had no job, no future plans and no will to do anything more than to get out of bed in the morning and maybe workout later.
My thoughts would spiral — I can’t do this. Why me? This isn’t fair. WTF???
My heart would start racing as I desperately searched for answers. It felt like I was losing control of my own mind and body. I wanted to scream. I wanted my husband ’s hand to hold— to help me calm down and tell me that everything would be ok.
But he wasn’t there. He was gone. And deeper into the spiral I went.
To make it stop, I would curl into a ball in my empty bed, break down in tears and cry.
An emotion that author Claire Bidwell Smith dubbed as (and named her book) “the missing stage of grief.” We experience anxiety after we lose someone special to us for many reasons:
- The intense and varied emotions brought on by grief.
- The threat of your own mortality and the unpredictability of life.
- Logistical issues like managing finances and the deceased’s belongings or estate, etc.
- Supporting other family member’s — comparing grief or feeling pressure to be the “strong one.”
- Unresolved issues or fear of forgetting your person.
- Unprocessed grief.
- Healing from the trauma of losing someone in an instant or having to watch someone slowly die.
Anxiety occurs in relation to a stress — a physiological and psychological response to a real or perceived threat. For people who experienced a loss, that threat is the death of our loved one.
When we’re confronted with a threat, our sympathetic nervous system stimulates the adrenal glands, causing them to release hormones like adrenaline and cortisol as part of our body’s nature fight or fight response. Emotionally, we might feel tense, jumpy, restlessness, irritability and sometimes start anticipating the worst. Physically, we might experience a racing heart, shortness of breath, sleeplessness and headaches, among other symptoms.
After recognizing how anxiety felt in my body, I was able to notice when it came up. Typically this was when:
1.) I had too many stressors — remote learning for the kids, too many commitments with friends, too much work or too many fitness classes to teach.
2.) I had unprocessed grief — if I removed the stressors mentioned above and still felt “off”, this told me that the stress was internal and usually involved grief that I needed to process.
Our knee-jerk reaction to anxiety is to avoid it, to suppress it or to make it go away. But anxiety is our body’s natural alarm system — like a siren trying to warn us that something outside us or within us needs our attention.
For me, this meant listening my body, stopping what I was doing, and asking myself — where is this anxiety coming from? Why am I feeling this way?
If the anxiety was too overwhelming, sometimes I needed to do an intense workout — spinning, running or HIIT — to calm down before I could start investigating the root cause.
During Isabelle’s 5th birthday I noticed that underneath the joy and fun of the festivities, I felt a sense of irritability and restlessness. I was snapping at my boyfriend and parents over nothing! I kept feeling like I was being suffocated. I needed space. The party, the friends, the gifts, the decorations — it just felt like so much and I needed to escape.
The Monday following the celebrations, I went to yoga. I moved my body. I breathed. And in shavasana, I cried. I felt so much sadness release. As I found stillness lying there on my yoga mat, I realized that I hadn’t made any space to grieve Ian’s absence during Izzy’s birthday. While my mind told me that everything was ok, the emotional memory stored in my body told another story.
As soon as I acknowledged my sadness and gave myself room to feel it, the anxiety dissipated.
Like most of our feelings, anxiety is there to tell us something too! If we can notice it, take a pause, and move thru the overwhelm with exercise, mediation or breath, then we can typically find the clarity to understand what’s driving it.
Did this help? Tell us in the comments below or share with a friend who could use this advice.
Want to learn more about how to move thru anxiety and other emotions experienced during the grieving process? Check out our 8-week online course.
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.
September is National Suicide Prevention Month. While organizations and influencers flock to social media to raise awareness about taboo subject that is so misunderstood in our society, it can be a triggering month emotionally for those personal affected by suicide.
In our next community story of loss, Abby Reider shares how suicide has touched her life — by losing her father. Read on and share any questions or thoughts in the comments below.
Tell us about your person. What do you remember about him? What was he like?
My Dad was always a risk-taker – with a confidence and charisma known to test many boundaries, and many more people’s patience. He encouraged me to never stay the course simply because it was safe or easy, but to do the wild, exciting things that tempted me even if I wasn’t sure I could handle it.
Anyone who knew my dad knew him for his witty humor and heart of gold. He almost always had a biting comeback that you had no choice but to laugh at, and had a special talent for helping me see the good or humor in the worst of situations.
As he once told me, there’s a big difference in being a nice person and being a kind person. Anyone can act nice and pleasant. But others are kind, their souls radiate compassion and thoughtfulness, just like my dad. Kindness comes in many forms, but his specialty was building up the people around him, only with the best intentions to watch them succeed.
Cause of Death
I think the hardest part of my Dad’s death was watching him slip away in front of us, slowly but surely. He’d had a rough last couple of years. A job loss that stole part of his identity and passion, escalated to a Bipolar Disorder diagnosis, which led to one failed suicide attempt and an eventually successful one.
As I watched him slip away throughout the years, I felt grief for every part of him we lost, mostly sad and lonely. But after his death my grief took a turn. I became less sad and heartbroken and more confused, rejected, ashamed and angry. I forgot to miss him because I was so hurt that he chose to leave me with no note and no goodbye.
Does Suicide Prevention Month bring up any specific memories, feelings or anything out of the ordinary for you?
September, aka National Suicide Prevention month, serves as a painful reminder of my Dad’s death a year and a half ago, but also as a therapeutic guide through my grief. I have been feeling an odd mixture of angst, anxiety and inspiration with all the talk of suicide prevention on my social media and daily life.
Part of me is hopeful. Maybe the stigma is finally fading and I’ll be able to tell people about how he died without them assuming that something is seriously wrong with me or my family.
Part of me is grateful. People are using their voices to share extremely important, and potentially, life saving resources. I’m proud of people who are going against the grain and trying to start these important conversations with their friends despite suicide being so taboo in our society.
But part of me feels so guilty. I read through the potential warning signs of suicide and steps you can take to save people. Did I do these things for my Dad? Sometimes I don’t think so. If I did, wouldn’t he still be here?
While these feelings are still very present at times, Suicide Prevention Month has also given me the understanding that my dad’s suicide was not his fault nor mine. Mental Health is so deeply stigmatized in our society, he simply didn’t have the help that he needed. The stigma led him to wait to ask for help until he was in a deep depressive and bipolar state. It was essentially too late. He simply didn’t have the energy or resources to control the impulses, intrusive thoughts and despair that took his life.
So in many ways Suicide Prevention Month has given me the resources I needed to make a pivotal milestone in my journey of grief. I am hopeful that others struggling with mental health will be given the support and love that they need and hopefully have a different fate than my dad.
It is crucial to have these conversations with an awareness and sensitivity to how it will affect suicide loss survivors like myself. Be kind and considerate with the people when you bring up those tough conversations, but don’t let that make you shy away from having them. When you have those conversations you’re able to carry on the legacy of your loved one and prove to the world that their life and mental health matters.
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 … )
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!
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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
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!
The recent Black Lives Matter movement woke me up to the inequalities around race and white privilege in our country that still exist today. I’m still taking time to learn, to process and to understand my unique, authentic role in this monumental time that is pivotal, not just for our nation, but for humanity as a whole.
While I find myself afraid to say or do the wrong thing, and not entirely sure about how to support my black friends and family members, I’m reminded that the best way to make a positive change is simply to start.
- To have the uncomfortable conversation.
- To risk looking naive in attempts to understand.
- To DO instead of sit back while others suffer.
As I write, I can clearly see the parallelism that exists between how we as a society address RACE and DEATH — two elephants in the room that no one wants to point out because we just don’t know how!
So let’s educate ourselves.
I invited my sister-in-law Erika Parkinson to share her Black Story for our next community story of loss. Her loss doesn’t revolve around a deceased person, but it affects every element of her daily life. These subtle losses that Erika has experienced — the feelings of being “less than” or never feeling fully safe or secure in public places — represents just some of the shared loss of the black community, from which white privilege is born.
Read her story below.
A Shared Black Story
The first time I realized that the the color of my skin was something that some people wouldn’t like was kindergarten. I was called “blackie.”
“Yes, I am black,” I thought, but I could tell by his tone it wasn’t a compliment.
I remember having conversations with my parents validating my feelings but also reminding me that I am beautiful and worthy of respect.
This moment was the beginning of my journey as a black woman in America.
by Erika Parkinson
Like many black people who live in predominately white communities, I have had to learn to live in world where I am one of the only (if not THE only) black person in the room.
In high school I made the varsity track team as a freshman. I remember one of my classmates telling me “the only reason you’re fast is because black people have an extra bone in their heel.” Clearly I couldn’t just be a gifted runner.
I was an “other” predisposed for athletic pursuits.
At TCU, I was asked what sports team I was on by fellow students. A black student couldn’t have been accepted on academics alone, right?
I was at a semi-formal event when I was told, “You speak so well and articulately.” It was meant as a compliment but how did they expect me to speak? In broken English? And even if I did, does that make me less intelligent?
I can’t tell you the amount of times a person has helped themselves to reaching into my hair without permission and asking, “Do black people wash their hair?”
Ask any person who looks like me if they have been followed while shopping or asked for additional ID when returning an item.
These are what you call microaggressions. “Small” everyday aggressions that lead to a lifetime of frustration and feelings of being less than our white counterparts. Hearing the click of the car doors lock as you walk by, watching adults move their children away from you to protect them and wondering if your skin color is the reason for someone’s behavior or actions.
These are just a few examples of what a black person experiences in the US. Unfortunately, George Floyd experienced the extreme of aggression and racism towards black people. He was not the first black person to be publicly lynched and through the multiple deaths of other black men and women since then, he has not been the last.
Two years ago I married my best friend and love of my life. He is white man from a predominantly white Colorado town. Race had been a rare conversation when we first started dating but has become a more frequent topic in our home due to recent events. For many of my friends and new family members, this is the first time racism in America and its consequences are being discussed outside of an American history class. This is an example of white privilege.
This is the privilege of never having to question if the color of your skin could be a reason why you’re being treated differently from your peers. White privilege is being able to look at human history and never seeing your ancestors enslaved or colonized. It is being able to trace your family history back hundreds of years because your written history is valued and documented.
No, you don’t need to apologize to me or any black person. I’m not telling you my experiences to make you feel sorry for me either. I’m reminding you of black America because instagram has gone from black squares of solidarity back to technicolor vacations and OOTD. Breonna Taylor is no longer trending and calls to action have become the June fad.
My experience isn’t something that disappears because the officers that killed George Floyd were arrested. It is something that black Americans continue to deal with and is not just a “black problem.”
I have had a very good life but it is a life with experiences that my white friends and family have never had and no one should experience. We owe it to ourselves and the next generation to do better but there is only so much that the black community can do on our own.
I ask that white America realizes the privilege your ancestors gave you and stop using it solely for your benefit.
I call my white allies to action.
Use your voice and your privilege to make lasting change in this country for ALL Americans. Educate yourself by watching documentaries, reading books written by black people, and taking a hard long look at your own actions and judgements towards black people.
Even with all that I have experienced and what my ancestors have experienced, I am so proud of my heritage. If I had the opportunity to come back to life as a different race, I wouldn’t. My ancestors have endured — despite hatred, slavery, and systemic racism. That strength runs in my veins and I use my privilege to write down and continue to tell their stories so that they continue to endure.
I speak for myself when I say that I am open and welcome to having a conversation about race and my experiences with it. Please know, however, I am not THE voice (and neither is Beyoncé) for all of black America. Watching every episode of Insecure, listening to Spotify’s Black Lives Matter playlist, and watching Straight Outta Compton isn’t enough. Educate yourself through black literature. Educate your circle of influence. Make lasting change by calling out racism.
I hope this small glimpse into my life helps to open someone’s eyes to the life of a black American.
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:
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.
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!
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.
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!
Father’s Day is just around the corner — a joyous, light-hearted day to recognize Dad for all that he does! But for many of us — those who have lost their father, fathers who have lost a child, or widows who have fatherless children — the day can also bring up pain, resentment, jealously, sadness and a host of other difficult emotions.
In our next community post, Gina tells us about her story of losing her father at a young age to an addiction related accident. She explains some of the complexities involved in losing someone to an addiction and how after 12 years of suppressing her grief, she now is confronting it head on to find new meaning from her loss.
Ironically, this Father’s Day falls on the 12th anniversary of Gina’s Father’s death. Find out how she will honor his legacy by recreating one of her fondest memories of dad and how she is moving through her grief in her story below!
I remember the last time I spoke to my dad on the phone, exactly where I was, what I was wearing, what I was looking at and what he said. He said that he wanted to ‘pull through this,’ and in a tearful manner how he wanted to see his kids grow and see them have kids and be a better father. I ended the call wishing him a Happy Father’s Day. Three days later, he passed away on June 21, 2008, due to complications from a pain killer addiction.
My father was absent most of my life, struggling with mental health and addiction following a bad accident; he would pop in and out overtime. While he was still alive, I felt like I was losing him, slowly to a disease I always questioned why he couldn’t control. My three siblings and I sometimes say that while he physically left this earth in 2008, we felt like we lost him well before then.
When I reminisce of my father I think back to when I was younger, before the accident, when he was ‘normal’ to me. My dad had a lot of love to give; he loved Valentine’s Day and would spoil my mom, my sister, and me with gifts. He was my younger brothers’ role model — owning his own business, working hard and long hours to provide for his family of five. Many people say I took his smile, looking back in photos he had the biggest one when he was with my family.
For over 12 years, I compartmentalized my grief. I packed it up and stored it away for another day, telling other people “oh we weren’t that close,” or “he wasn’t really in my life,” — rationalizing in my mind that as a woman, I was fine because I still had my mom. But even girls need their dads too. And as I grieve, I grieve both my father who died, and the loss that I’ve had even when he was alive.
Today, now more than ever I find myself feeling that loss creep up. Grief is funny like that, it hits you when you least expect it. I think about getting married and not having my father walk me down the aisle and often excusing myself from the table at weddings during father-daughter dances. But, I never thought that even small things like grilling out, maintenance my car or small home improvements would trigger tears and flood of feelings. I recently bought my first house on my own and inherited a lot of home improvement projects. A friend shared with me a YouTube Channel called “Dad how I do” by a man who grew up without a father that teaches people without dads to do home repairs. Things such as unclogging a bathtub drain, fixing a running toilet, putting up a shelf — his videos are full of dad jokes. I checked it out and immediately burst into tears – it is just not the same.
This Father’s Day oddly falls on the 12th year anniversary of my father’s death. This past year I’ve focused on working on the grief I’ve put aside for a rainy day. One way I have focused on working through complicated grief is through movement. Being introduced to moveTHRU has really allowed me to find community in grief – something I’ve never really had. But more than that, it’s allowed my body to release the physically stored aspects of grief. As a therapist myself, it is the biggest outlet I have. Recently I started to tackle some grief work and after spending two hours discussing my loss, I came home to jump on a rented Kaiser stationary bike. It felt so good to sweat it out. Hot Yoga is also great for crying – as I found no one will know if its tears or sweat!
Recently I was in a recovery focused meeting and we were sharing the gifts of our loved ones struggling with addiction have left us. For me, my father hasn’t left me many — but one I can remember is that he taught me how to ride a bike (beyond the Kaiser one). I talked about how vividly I could remember the park and the path I learned to ride on. I haven’t owned a bike in years — so two weeks later I was able to get a used one that otherwise was going to be thrown away! It felt like a ‘God moment’. I made a promise with a friend, who too, has an absent father that this Father’s Day we will go on a bike ride together, to celebrate our dads.
When you experience one loss, death becomes more tangible — more real. You realize that no one is immune and that our loved ones can disappear from our lives in an instant. Even though we deeply understand the fragility of life and the meaningless, unpredictable ways that our loved ones can get ripped away from us, it’s doesn’t mean that it prepares us for more losses to come. It’s hard enough to comprehend losing just one person we love — so how do we make sense of our world when it unjustly takes away TWO?
Brett was just 11 years old when she lost her mother to breast cancer (six years after her diagnosis). Her death made Brett grow up fast. She learned about the certainty of death, it’s unpredictable nature, and the monumental impact it makes on our lives. So, when her father died suddenly when she was 27 years old, Brett couldn’t believe that the “universe would be so cruel to take them both.”
Brett shares her story below.
Nothing about either loss of my parents compares to the other. Drastically different in circumstance, I personally experienced the two on grossly different scales. My mother was originally misdiagnosed. Had she not been, she may still be here today. Six years in and out of hospitals, hospice at home, chemo, radiation, and morphine drips fueled the chaos of the unknown. In a daily warp of an uncertain truth that though no one had answers, no one could predict the good or bad days, and no one knew whether she’d be alive or not after school, I knew for certain that “mommy won’t be here as long as the other mommies” (her words exactly).
Most adults can’t grasp or cope with the fact that we all die one day, but as a child, having to accept that as your truth, as your norm, is quite the awakening. I grew up fast. I had too. Fortunately, my mom guided me as far as she could, leaving me with valuable lessons no mother would imagine teaching such a young girl.
After her death, I grew up with a dad who did his best to ‘mother’ an adolescent female. He was incredible, but clearly unable to offer all the female guidance a growing girl deserves. My greatest challenge was having to figure most things out on my own. My parents raised a strong, independent, warrior type girl, who was far beyond her years in maturity, but life is confusing, especially when she who taught you the lessons has already passed on to the other side. I was previously taught about what I had yet to experience, yet to understand. Growing into those understandings as a reflection of stories she had shared was at times sad, but also encouraging. I had a mother who knew things. All kinds of things and how lucky I was that she guided me, told me the truth about life before it even came to fruition.
My dad was always my hero — I was his girl! But after my mother’s death, he showed grit, a survival instinct that I could only hope to emulate one day. As a small business owner in the emergency service industry, he was working insane hours to provide. My dad remarried shortly after our mom died, it was a rough several years, to say the least. We were pretty much on our own through middle and into high school, but as a teenager, we began to reweave a relationship. I came to understand the challenges of parenting, the challenges my dad faced through his own grieving and post loss survival. I saw him as a human, not just my hero. We became friends, best friends. So losing my Dad suddenly, was far more damaging than how I lost my Mom. A period of anticipatory grief allows for a certain kind of preparation leading up to the point when you get to say goodbye. I always knew my Mom would die. I never thought the Universe would be so cruel to take them both. I never got the chance to say goodbye to my dad.
His death was my worst nightmare come true. It was a shock — like having your legs kicked out from under you. I was angry. I was sad. Confused. Baffled. My world suddenly became chaotic again, but this time, instead of a chaos induced by uncertainty, it was a chaos induced by pain and the absolute certainty — the finality of death. I could physically feel the hurt throughout my body. My challenges were more visceral this time. My body hurt and my heart ached. I couldn’t sleep. I didn’t eat. I drank. I smoked. I did everything I could to self destruct while still maintaining the outward appearance of strength in order to uphold the identity I’d carried for so many years: the strong, responsible one. A warrior.
The greatest challenge after my dad’s death was recreating an identity without him, according to the new normal, and pulling myself out of the greatest darkness I’ve ever known. Each day was a challenge. Finding joy was a challenge. Being me was a challenge. Wanting to live life without him was a challenge.
I coped with my mom’s death while she was still here. She prepared me the best she could and school counselors were a wonderful resource by giving me a chance to momentarily escape the chaos by holding a calm conversation in a controlled environment. I was very loved by my dad, my family, shared growing up with my brother – my dearest friend and closest confident, and felt a sense of purpose. I felt a responsibility to overcome so that my dad and brother could do so also. I relied on girlfriends who supported me and also relied on my faith. Growing up religious – as my mother had taught me – I saw the strength she absorbed from her faith and I followed suite.
After a period of about six months that directly followed my dad’s accident – I call it the fuzzy period because it’s truly just a fog – I began to develop new routines that honored me and my body. After six months of self destruction, overworking, little sleep and unhealthy exercise, I started seeing a therapist, I began to eat regularly, drink less, and I went back to yoga. I began to run and hike again, allowing me to connect with nature. And I returned to my journal, reflecting on my reality as opposed to ignoring or distracting from it. I coped by doing the best I could each day. By taking small steps toward the lifestyle that I knew I wanted and needed to live, but understanding that it wasn’t going to happen overnight, I eventually came to a place of peace.
Fortunately I was surrounded by an infinite amount of love and support from the most beautiful people in the world. My community held me up, allowed me to feel deeply and honored my process without judgment. And it always helps to remember that my dad didn’t spend his life sacrificing and working his ass off so that I could be a victim to my losses. He did it all so we could be happy. And so I chose to be happy, I chose to be a survivor, I chose to find joy in life and appreciate my final moments (because to me, we are consistently living our final moments). That’s what dad would want me to do and I sure wish he’d had more time to do the same.
It’s been 22 years since I lost my mom and seven since losing my dad. I’m 33 years old. Still to this day, I miss them both. I wish I could ask my mom what it’s like to be a mother, what it means to be a woman. I wish I could call my dad to get his opinion, share a funny story or tell him I’m scared, let him save me. It’s like a kaleidoscope of emotions — all interchanging on any given day, at any given moment — mingling and overlapping, bright and beautiful or dark and chaotic. I can’t anticipate how I’ll feel each day, what will come up, how reminders will emerge. I mean, I could just set the kaleidoscope down and NOT feel, but for me, that’s not an option. And so I carry it proud and I let the shades and shapes of my emotions, memories and stories color my world. Each day is a new story, a new feeling. Their deaths will always be real and there will be more deaths to come.
And so I am grateful that I now know how to appreciate moments. I don’t take this life, or the people in it, for granted. These losses have completely morphed the way I see and walk in this world, for the better. I am lucky. Their lives and their deaths have been my greatest teacher, made me who I am proud to be.
We’ve all heard the phrase with every ending comes a new beginning. Right? But did you ever really stop and think about it.
Endings are inevitable.
- We fall in love, all is well, but with time our values and needs change, so we decide to end the relationship.
- We go to primary school, high school, maybe university and beyond, then with graduation, our formal education ends.
- We get land a job. We work hard for however long it takes to become disenchanted, seek something new, or get laid off.
- We get married. We start a family. And with each new role — mother, father, spouse, head-of-household, friend — another past identity evolves or fades away.
Endings are a part of life; and beginnings are inherently dependent upon them. Endings and beginnings can’t exist without the other.
While beginnings are viewed with excitement and vitality, endings are approached with fear and sadness.
Beginnings are viewed as success, yet endings are viewed as failure.
Our society tends to celebrate quantity — how long we stay in a job, survive in a marriage — but fail to even acknowledge quality. (How many “long” relationships do you know that are dysfunctional)?
We equate change with disruption and turmoil. Consistency with peace and stability.
And to top it all off…we qualify ALL OF IT!
Stable = good
Disruption = bad
It’s such a strange phenomenon.
And, like all the other endings we might experience in life, death is by far the most feared. The most taboo. The most avoided. Yet, the only certainty we have in life!
So why we are so afraid of endings?
I don’t have the answers, but I’m committed to asking the questions and changing the conversation around death, end-of-life and our societal fear of “endings”.
In the video below, Natalie Levy of She’s Independent — a women’s empowerment collective — and Life Mastery Consultant Kevin Carton — who helps people discover and live their soul’s purpose — join me for a conversation on the Life-Death-Life Cycle. This cycle explores how the inevitable endings we experience throughout life are merely doors to new beginnings.
Watch the video and leave us any comments or questions to keep the conversation going! I continue posting videos of virtual chats here on the moveTHRU blog. If you would like to follow the conversation live, follow me and moveTHRU on Instagram or sign-up for the moveTHRU newsletter.
xx – Emily
As we mentioned in our last community post on grief & loss, talking about death can be difficult. Sometimes friends or acquaintances don’t want to talk about a deceased loved one because they’re afraid of bringing up sad memories or causing more pain for the person grieving. What they don’t understand (and what we are here to clarify), is that the pain never really goes away — it just changes — and talking about our deceased loved ones keeps their memory alive!
Kathleen Place, who lost her mother when she was just 10-years old, dedicated this past Mother’s Day to writing the following post. She explained…
My mother loved to write about her journey with terminal illness in letters & her journal. When she knew that she was very sick, she wrote all five of her children letters that we could open later in life (like graduations and weddings) reminding us that she will always be with us. I decided to write my story on Mother’s Day, and it felt like I was writing to my mother. Dedicating time to remembering her and going through old photos albums was so special. I feel so lucky to be her daughter and even more lucky to have her as my guardian angel.
Kathleen shares the rest of her story with us below!
My mother passed away from a hard-fought battle with ovarian cancer in 1998 when she just was 41 years old. I was 10 years old at the time, so the biggest challenge for me was understanding how permanent loss was. I also found it extremely difficult to share my feelings. None of my friends had lost a parent and I did not want to be looked at differently — I just wanted to fit in. So instead of talking about what I was going through, I stayed silent and made it appear that I was doing better than I really was.
The challenges I have faced since my mothers passing have evolved over time. It took me years to be ok with and figure out how to communicate my emotions. For a long time, I thought if I shared my imperfections, people would feel sorry for me and look at me differently. It wasn’t until my early twenties that I realized I was only hurting myself by internalizing my emotions. I started to go to therapy, which was one of the single best decisions I have ever made. Over time, I was able to open up to friends & family, which started to create deeper and more meaningful relationships.
At the same time, I started to change the way I viewed working out. I used to be a long-distance runner and while it was a great workout, it was never something that I completely enjoyed. After realizing how much I liked building relationships, I wanted to incorporate that into other aspects of my life, including my workouts. I started to mix it up and began taking fitness classes like dance, spin and yoga classes. I was out of my comfort zone, but I LOVED it. I fell in love with the fact that you can get an amazing workout, do something fun and meet new people. It came into my life at exactly the right time and I am forever grateful for the fitness community.
Losing my mom at such a young age affects me in different ways, at different times up to this day! There are times when I would expect to be sad, but I am not. For example, on my wedding day I thought I was going to miss my mom so much, but instead of being sad, I felt her presence and love more than ever. On the other hand, there are times in everyday life that I find myself yearning for her. Like recently I went to a doctor’s appointment and I remember looking at the chair next to me thinking “wow I wish my mom was here”.
Grief is unpredictable and no matter how long it has been since a death it can and will still affect you. Lately, as I am getting closer to the age my mother passed, I have been thinking a lot about my mothers’ perspective and how hard it must have been for her. Her battle and ultimate death has made me appreciate everything that I have and has made me realize the importance of embracing life while we can.
If you are reading this and have recently endured a loss, please know that we feel you. We share these stories to provide hope and inspiration through living examples — as each person who writes a story here has lived it … and has survived.
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.
Last week I hosted an Instagram LIVE chat with Chloé Pestana on the subject of grief. Chloé and I had met at a New Year’s party in Oahu, just nine months after my husband Ian died. As friends drank champagne and partied around us, Chloé and I found ourselves in a deep conversation about loss and grief. Chloé had lost her three-year-old son Legend just about two years before I lost Ian. Although we were strangers at the time, we were instantly connected through our respective losses. This beautiful stranger, who had lived every mother’s worst nightmare just two years before I lived mine, gave me so much hope and inspiration that we can survive, if not thrive after someone we love dies.
Since the party, Chloé and I kept in touch and in light of the global pandemic, she reached out to see if I’d talk openly with her about our stories of loss and grief. We both agreed that as the whole world grieves the loss of normalcy right now, some tips about coping with grief might really help!!
So we jumped on Instagram LIVE and got real! But, half-way into our conversation, we stumbled over the word coping. Chloé and I both agree that as grief evolves from a place of profound pain into love and gratitude, it doesn’t feel like coping. It feels more like remembering and appreciating your deceased person. You don’t cope with grief, you live with it. But, this evolution takes time, the feelings are always bittersweet, and just like life, it’s unpredictable and varied.
So here are my top tips for living with grief:
Give yourself space.
Grief comes with a lot of intense feelings and emotions (feelings are attached to a thought, while emotions can be experienced subconsciously). As a single-mom, I’ve found it highly difficult, if not impossible to process my feelings and emotions with my children around. I literally have to make physical space to find solitude and stillness to move through my grief. For me, unprocessed emotions feel a lot like anxiety. My chest tightens, my heart starts to race, and frantic thoughts and energy takes over my mind and body. THIS is when I know I need to call the babysitter, make space, and lean into my grief.
I’ve always struggled with naming my feelings and emotions — especially in the months shortly after Ian died. I remember feeling numb and “off”, but struggled to attach any meaning to it. With the simple intention of just “feeling better”, I found that moving my body was the best cure. Research shows that trauma and emotional memory is stored in many places in the body (not just or even primarily, in the brain). So verbalizing our emotions can be really difficult when we’re just FEELING it! Emotion is also energy. It needs a place to go. Exercise is how I found this release.
Listen to your body
Instead of choosing one go-to workout to move through my emotions, I let my body do the deciding. If I felt anxious, I jumped on a spin beak to escape into a dark room filled with loud music. If I felt angry, I grabbed a set of heavy weights and fueled my deep muscle burn with inner rage. If I felt afraid or unsettled, I grounded my feat on a yoga mat for breath-work and intentional flow. Each type of movement addressed a different type of emotion.
Give yourself breaks from being “in it”
When people talk about grief, they often use a wave analogy. Grief comes in waves. Sometimes you choose to ride them and sometimes you don’t. By finding stillness to ride the big waves, I’ve had profound breakthroughs in terms of self-discovery and healing. But, I’ve realized that I need a break — to take a pass on occasion — in order to function day-to-day. As I mentioned previously, grieving takes up space. Sometimes we need a break to go out with girlfriends, play with our kids, and just enjoy sunshine, laughter and being happy!
Share your story
I started the process of sharing my story to raise money for Ian’s cancer treatments on GoFundMe. What I didn’t realize at the time was that this is how I was processing my anticipatory grief. And, after Ian died, I didn’t want to stop . I gained therapeutic value from not only writing the updates, but also receiving feedback from readers expressing how inspired they were, or who simply wanted to send their love and support.
Whether it’s on social media, in a private journal, talking about it with a therapist, or just with a good friend, sharing my story has supported my healing in so many ways. When we share our story we make sense of the insensible. We start to connect dots and draw parallels that we never thought existed. Instead of the victim asking “why me?”, we create our own “why”. While I’ve found inspiration from others’ stories, I know that others are inspired by mine. It’s been a beautiful, empowering, mutually-beneficial experience.
Surround yourself with love and support
Both Chloé and I attribute much of our ability to live with grief to the amazing support systems we have in place. What I’ve found though is that I was very selective of who I included in this sacred safety net. When you are grieving, there is only room for love and support. So surround yourself with people who emanate it! And be weary of sharing your precious energy with those who don’t.
Give yourself permission
I saved this tip for last because to me it’s like the golden rule of grief. Give yourself permission to to feel whatever you need to feel; to do whatever you need to do; to say whatever you need to say; and to just do you! There is no rule book. There is no right or wrong way to grieve. There are no “shoulds”. You are your best guide. Give yourself the permission to be the authority on your own grief journey!
Check out Chloe’s tip on her blog!
Have any tips that have helped you live with grief? Please share them in the comments below!
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!
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!
February 12, 2020
This article was originally published on Scary Mommy. Read the original post here.
I’m a widow. I lost my husband, the father of my two children, to cancer just over 10 months ago. And, while, I miss my late husband, I also crave a new love. I had been feeling guilty about this until my four-year-old daughter admitted that she wanted a “new daddy” too.
It went like this:
Izzy: “Mommy, can we get a new daddy? I miss the old daddy who got sick and died.”
Me: “I miss him too. But daddy will always be in our hearts. We still love him.”
Izzy: “But I want a new one who can talk to me.”
Me: “We can get you a new daddy, but, mommy has to find you one.”
Izzy: “Let’s go buy one!!”
Me (laughing): “Ok, Izzy. Mommy will work on it.”
Izzy misses her daddy. But, she also wants a new one. I miss my partner. But, I also want a new one. We will never forget or stop loving my late husband — Izzy’s father — but we both crave something tangible.
Valentine’s Day is just around the corner and I want someone to hold me — other than my two children. I want someone to console me — other than my parents and friends. I want someone to love me and to share my life with. But when you’re looking for a new parter while grieving the loss of your old one, it makes dating, well … complicated!
Based on my own experiences dating as a widow, I’d like to share some insights shed some light on the complexities of dating after loss and eradicate any judgement — because we are all just trying our best to move forward with life. And, no one should be denied of love. A partner. Or, a new daddy.
So here it goes:
Tip #1: Trust that she knows when “she’s ready” to date
I’ve heard a range of opinions regarding the appropriate timeline to date after a partner dies — “five years”, “one year”, “never”, “once I’m done grieving and moved on.” The answers vary and the reasons entertain. So, I decided that I would be my own judge. Let’s face it, do we ever know when we are “ready” to do anything? And, the grieving never truly ends.
About six months after I lost my husband, I downloaded a dating app. I had been spiraling downward into this depth of loneliness. I needed a distraction — even if it wouldn’t necessarily lead to anything. And it worked! I contently swiped away, messaging prospects and getting excited over potential dates — maybe even a future together! I went on a handful of dates, but what I discovered is that even though I was ready to date, my potential partners were not. My loss made them uncomfortable. Keep reading …
Tip #2: Don’t be afraid to talk about the death
I indicated that I had kids on my dating profile. So during the first date, the topic of their father always came up. When I shared that my children’s father had died and no, we were not divorced, I would get two standard reactions —
1.) Overly dwell on the death, how fragile I probably am, and speculate on my “readiness” to date (DUH, I’m here aren’t I?). Or…
2.) Completely dismiss the fact.
It would go like this…
Me: “My husband actually passed away from cancer about six months ago”
My date: “Oh wow. I’m sorry. So…what else do you like to do?”
Me: Smile awkwardly … pass!
Newsflash! Someone dying is a huge, traumatic, life altering event. If a widow brings this up, TALK TO HER about it. Or, at least a little bit. But DO NOT. I repeat, DO NOT just blaze over it and move on to her interests and hobbies, or what country she wants to travel to next.
Tip #3: Don’t underestimate her ability to love
After about one month on the app, I found someone who I actually liked. Someone who gave me those butterflies in my stomach again and who I could envision a future with. And his feelings seemed to match mine!
But, about three months into our relationship, the phone calls started to drop, we saw each other less frequently, and everything fizzled to an abrupt end. He dumped me.
What happened? I learned that Joe (his name for now) felt like a “placeholder.” Joe knew that I still loved my late husband. We didn’t “end it” by choice. Joe was aware of the void in my heart. And, he thought I was filling it with him. Joe believed that my feelings for him were temporary — just there to alleviate the pain from my loss.
While Joe was wrong, his concerns were valid. When the person you’re dating still loves her dead partner, questions and insecurities will naturally arise. So let’s break this down:
I loved my dead husband and had feelings for Joe at the same time.
My heart has room for both — old love and new.
Neither love diminishes, competes, or replaces the other love.
They are separate, yet they co-exist.
They co-exist in the sense that when we love someone, that love shapes us. A part of us is forever changed. We carry a piece of that person with us — whether the relationship ended by choice or not. We can hold love for one person, and be in love with somebody entirely new.
They are separate in the sense that the sole act of being is now. Being requires breathe, life and exists in the present. Being in love is feeling it in the flesh, having it reciprocated, and tangibly experiencing the magic of our world when we share it with someone else.
February 7, 2020
About six months after my husband Ian died, the loneliness of my world without him really started to sink in. I would begin and end the day alone — waking up and going to sleep in a king size bed that felt so empty and vast without him. His sink in the bathroom vanity was crystal clean, untouched. His clothes (the majority packed up or given away) but, his special keepsakes — his favorite Aloha shirts, Broncos jerseys and wedding suit — just hung in our closet collecting dust.
Ian and I loved cuddling together on our couch to watch movies and shows at night once the kids went to sleep. But after he died, I couldn’t bring myself to sit on it without him there. I didn’t have someone to snuggle with, to laugh with or to figure out the plot twists with. The empty couch was just a reminder my loneliness — like so many things I encountered throughout the day.
Sometimes when I drove in my car I literally reached over to the passenger seat to rest my hand on his. But it wasn’t there. I wanted to call him to ask for his advice, but no voice would answer. I wanted to wrap my arms around him to share my contentment for life and feel a warm body against mine, but all I felt was air. A profound hollowness. Almost one year later, I still feel like this at times.
Loneliness is a feeling often experienced in the grieving process. When someone who we interact with — whether its for infrequent holiday get-togethers, weekly phone calls, or seeing them daily — just disappears from your life, there is nothing but emptiness left in the space they once filled. All of the activities and milestones you shared with that person are just reminders of that person’s absence. Even certain clothing, special songs or favorite restaurants can be reminders that your special person is missing. And this emptiness leaves us feeling so alone.
During a playdate, I expressed some of the struggles I had been experiencing as a newly single-mom. Another single-mom (by divorce) chimed in and said that she totally “got it” and continued to share in my misery. While a lot of our challenges were in fact similar, her divorce was not the same as my husband’s death. “How could she not get this? And, how could she make such a comparison?” I thought to myself. Although she was just trying to level with me and help, it actually had the opposite effect.
This sense of aloneness is not only caused by someone special in our lives dying, but also from the feelings of isolation that arise when we think that no one else understands our situation. People often say “Oh I can’t even imagine what you are going through.” And, it’s true! They probably can’t. Nor, do many people know how to talk about death. Unless you’ve experienced a loss, it’s difficult to fully empathize with someone grieving. When no one seems to understand, it can feel like we don’t belong and that we are truly in this struggle alone.
At the peak of my loneliness, I decided to download a dating app. I needed a distraction — even if it wouldn’t necessarily lead to anything. And it worked! I contently swiped away, messaging prospects and getting excited over potential dates — maybe even a future together! But, after a few months of casual dates that were really just plain bad, and then a three-month-long relationship that came to an abrupt end over a text message (future blog post coming. Stay tuned.), I realized that the only person who could fix my loneliness — was me.
I read this post from Mark Groves (aka @createthelove) and everything clicked. I was looking for all of the answers to my loneliness outside of myself. But, what I needed was to focus the attention within. I needed to identify the thoughts that drove these feelings of disconnectedness — the fear that I would never find love or feel whole again; the illusion that we only get one true love; the discomfort of physically taking up space — alone. These were all thoughts that I was telling myself, which in turn, fed by loneliness!
As I started to identify what thoughts triggered my loneliness, I was able to change my perception of them. I asked myself how I could enjoy being alone? How could I use my alone time to learn something new about me, about my passions, or the world around me? When I felt physically alone, I turned to my fitness communities — moving together on a spin bike or at my barre studio — which reminded me that even though I was alone without my partner, I had an entire community who loved and supported me.
Our loneliness is often what we make of it. Sometimes its hard to separate the stories that we tell ourselves from reality, and when we don’t, they become our reality! Sometimes we just need some space to feel our feelings to recognize what’s really going on inside our minds.
January 27, 2020
When Ian first died, it felt like my entire world was falling apart. The range of emotions that surfaced combined with the fear and anxiety of starting a “new normal” without him left me feeling paralyzed — left me feeling stuck.
Fast-forward to now — almost 10 months since his death. I’ve taken time to process his loss, feel my feelings, explore my core values, and redefine my self-identity and purpose in life. I’ve started a new business, dipped my toes into the dating world, and feel more and more confident as a single-parent in my family of three. I’m turning a corner in my grief journey and moving forward in so many exciting ways, but am now stuck in an entirely new way.
Right now, I’m stuck between past and present.
Between honoring my tragic history that has brought me to this point, and giving myself permission to get excited about this new chapter. This state of limbo that I’m stuck in affects so many aspects of my life.
Relationships with friends and family that Ian fostered in the past, are different without him. I’m navigating how I preserve the bonds that Ian created between the significant people in his life, and figuring out I fit in without him moving forward.
Relationships in terms of dating are far more complex than I imagined. I feel like there is room in my heart for both old and new love, but potential partners don’t necessarily understand that. How do I honor the love in my heart for Ian, without scaring away potential new love?
Redefining myself — transitioning from stay-at-home mom, caretaker to sick husband, to becoming a widow, head-of-household, single mom and entrepreneur — is an exciting, second-chance to make an impact and bring something into the world that I care so much about. But when I think about how I got here, it’s by tragedy. By losing Ian. How do I not feel a sense of guilt about the new story that is unfolding for me?
I’ve written about how tragedies like loss are defining moments. Do we stay stuck in tragedy and let the defining moment define us? Or do we move forward and keep living?
Right now I’m stuck right in the middle of remembering my tragedy and moving forward with my new life ahead. It’s a process and I’m sure I’ll get unstuck and stuck again. For now, I’m exploring what this space feels like and learning how to moveTHRU the stuck.
The feeling of being stuck is a universal theme. Whether we have experienced a loss or not, there are moments in life where we simply feel powerless. We know the necessary steps to achieve our goals — to lose 10 lbs I need to eat healthier, workout more and cut down on alcohol. Yet, despite having all the tools and steps necessary to achieve our aspirations and telling ourselves that we can do it, sometimes we just don’t. And, when we don’t, we beat ourselves up for it.
When we focus on our failures and the associated shame, then we do in fact get stuck. We get stuck in a negative thought cycle that continuously loops, sending the message that we are incapable of making productive change in our life. Powerless. Paralyzed. Stuck.
So how do we break this cycle? We move!
CALM SEAS ARE WHERE YOU’LL FIND PEACE, BUT STORMS ARE WHERE YOU’LL FIND POWER.
January 13, 2020
On January 1, 2019, I woke up groggy and tired, not from the New Year’s celebrations the night before like most 30-year-olds, but from my husband, Ian, tossing and turning from excruciating cancer pain all night. In the early morning I rolled over to ask how he was feeling. He looked at me anxiously and said that he couldn’t feel or move his legs. Instantly alarmed, I jumped out of bed to help him. I bent his knees attempting to swing them around the bedside so that he could stand, but they flopped back down on the mattress like two dead weights. I immediately dialed 911.
An ambulance arrived and Ian was transported to the closest hospital. MRI results showed a tumor compressing against his lower spine and doctors started prepping us for emergency spinal surgery — or Ian would be paralyzed from the waist down. It was a skeleton crew that New Year’s morning and the odds of Ian walking again, even with the tumor removed, were extremely low, but we decided that spinal surgery was our best bet.
I remember bursting into tears when the surgeon delivered the news that the surgery went well … but he didn’t think Ian would be able to walk again. I knew that if Ian couldn’t walk, let alone run, swim, surf and enjoy all of the other activities he loved, then the fight would be over. Cancer would win.
When the nurse informed me that I could visit Ian post-surgery, I cleaned up my red eyes and tried to push my fears aside for the moment. As he laid in the hospital bed, I leaned over to give him a kiss. He looked back at me with his playful smile and said, “Happy New Year, Emily!”
After two weeks of rehab, Ian left the hospital … walking.
If anything this last year has taught me it’s that we never truly know what each day will bring. We live in the unknown. As soon as we accept this fact, instead of fight it, we can just be in the moment and appreciate each day for what it is.
Now, we will not always like what each day brings. And when this occurs — because it will! — we are tasked with turning inward to gain a sense control. By focusing on our reactions to people, places and events; our minds; the voice within; the questions we ask ourselves; the choices we still have, we can experience freedom despite anything life hands us!
This way of thinking is entirely new to me. Before Ian died, I was not required to look inward because my life seemed perfect. It was everything I ever wanted. I was in control. Battling cancer and ultimately losing Ian was my rude awakening.
2019 has been a year of painful lessons. Lessons that have caused profound, beautiful shifts within, but at the cost of losing a human life — the love of my life. My children’s father. A son, a brother and friend to so many. These are lessons that I would unlearn in an instant if I could have him back. But the reality is that I can’t.
These twisted life tradeoffs are in my mind best described by The Verve’s “Bitter Sweet Symphony.” (Listen here if you don’t know what I’m talking about). Not just the lyrics of this song, but the tone, melody and overall mood allude to the overwhelming tragedies that occur throughout life, but once experienced, add more clarity, beauty, love and appreciation to it.
I’ve made a list of some of the tradeoffs (or takeaways rather) that I’ve personally experienced in the past 365 days — and yes, it’s taken a full year to realize that good can come from tragedy. I’m hoping that by sharing them, you can learn these life lessons without experiencing the tradeoff. Or, at least maybe change your way of thinking about the world.
Because the truth is that we are all battling something. Maybe not cancer. Maybe not losing a loved one. Whatever the hardship might be, if we stop asking “why is this happening to me” and start asking “why is this happening for me” (thank you Mark Groves), we can start to see the silver lining and grow.
Takeaway 1: The pain makes us stronger.
As much as it’s cliche, its just as true. Discomfort promotes growth. Yet, as a survival tactic, our bodies are biologically trained to avoid discomfort. In addition, society teaches us that discomfort, pain, and struggle are bad. So we tend to shy away from anything that is perceived as challenging or hard. We stay in our comfort zone. Content, confident … complacent. Often we don’t know how strong and capable we truly are until life kicks us out of our comfort zone.
When our world is rocked — brutal breakups, tragic deaths, unpredictable layoffs, terminal diagnosis — we are faced with two options*:
1.) Bury ourselves in the rebel
2.) Rebuild something stronger
These are the defining moments. Some of us stay stuck in the pain — buried — allowing the defining moment to define us. Why me? Asks the victim. Some of us stay stuck in this state the rest of our lives — and therein lies an entirely new tragedy.
Survivors ask what now? (nod to Dr. Edith Eger). We embrace the hardship, feel all of the emotions, dig deep within ourselves for strength, and lean on our communities when we can’t find it within. We put one foot in front of the other not because we know where we are going, but because we can! We can keep living! The process itself is painful and hard, and in the thick of it, we might actually feel weaker. But with time we gain the gift of perspective. We look back and see just how far we’ve come and how strong we really are.
When Ian’s cancer first metastasized I often thought about what my life would be like without him — and it terrified me. I couldn’t fully comprehend it and doubted my strength to survive a loss of that magnitude. Ian was my world. But when the nightmare became my reality, I saw two choices — become another tragedy or become something stronger. Looking back on the past year, I’m not just becoming strong…I am.
*Credit to Sheryl Sandberg’s book Option B
Takeaway 2: The heartbreak opens us up to love deeper.
Love. Hate. Excitement. Surprise. Anger. Frustration. Heartbreak opens us up to not only love deeper, but to feel deeper. After losing Ian and learning about grief, how thoughts drive emotions, and how feelings are a product of the mind, heart and body, I can honestly say that I’ve never truly felt like this before (in more ways than one!). I mean that my ability to feel and awareness of my feelings has been intensely heightened.
Before my heart was broken open, I lacked genuine empathy for others’ hardships. I heard their stories and saw the the pain in their eyes, but I didn’t truly feel it. Now, my body literally reacts when I hear of someone else’s struggle. My throat tightens, my breath shortens and the tears start to well up. And when this happens, I don’t disguise my sadness — or whatever feeling I’m experiencing. I embrace it and find so much beauty in the gift that I can finally FEEL what’s happening within.
My friend Amelia sent me a quote something to extent of “We have a tendency to judge our emotions. Love, joy and happiness are good. Sadness, anger and pain are bad. Feelings are just feelings. They all deserve reverence.”
Yes, my heart broke when I lost Ian. It broke it open so that I have more room to feel it all.
BLESS THE THING THAT BROKE YOU DOWN AND CRACKED YOU OPEN BECAUSE THE WORLD NEEDS YOU OPEN.
— REBECCA CAMPBELL
Takeaway 3: The loss helps us see all that we already have.
As I walked down the beach on my recent trip to Hawaii I wondered how Ian must have felt during his final days in his hometown. I imagined him crinkling his toes in the sand, questioning if this would be the last time he felt the beach beneath him. I cried thinking of him watching our kids play in the waves, potentially asking himself which one of his friends would teach them to surf if he wasn’t around to do the job himself. I listened to the wind and the sound of the ocean and recalled Ian lying still in his hospital bed in the back room of the beach house that overlooked the Mokoluas. Where he held on to the last sense the cancer couldn’t rob him of — sound.
Watching a loved one fadeaway is one of the most painful, heartbreaking events I’ve experienced to date. I’ve realized that every breath, every heart beat, every pain-free movement — is truly a gift.
We tend to forget this in the hustle of life. We get comfortable. We get complacent. We start taking our loved ones, our jobs, our cushy lifestyles for granted. We treat people and ourselves unkindly because we are stressed out over the small stuff, when we don’t realize what a privilege it is to simply be alive.
Losing someone opens our eyes to the only certainty in life — death. It blatantly reminds us that nothing is permanent, our time is limited, and to embrace and appreciate all of it!
In the months after Ian’s cancer metastasized, Ian woke up every morning to sit on our back deck that overlooks the Denver skyline. Sometimes he would read or the kids and I would join him for breakfast. But, more often than not, he would just sit there. He would soak up the sun, feeling the warmth permeate his skin, and fully appreciate what a gift it was to see another sunrise.
BE PATIENT TOWARD ALL THAT IS UNSOLVED IN YOUR HEART AND TRY TO LOVE THE QUESTIONS THEMSELVES … LIVE THE QUESTIONS NOW. PERHAPS YOU WILL GRADUALLY, WITHOUT NOTICING IT, LIVE ALONG SOME DISTANT DAY INTO THE ANSWER.
— RAINER MARIA RILKE, “LETTERS TO A YOUNG POET”
Takeaway 4: The questions drive us to live into the answers.
I thought I had all of the answers. Until that one tragic day that I didn’t.
Now, all I have are questions. Lots of questions. And, I’m learning to be ok with that.
This is perhaps my greatest takeaway from the year. Instead of fearing the uncertainty or getting over anxious about rebuilding my life without Ian, I’m seeking the silver lining in discovering this new unknown world. And honestly, I’m at a point where I can say that it’s kind of exciting! (Please note — this is a recent shift! Ask me this six months ago and I would have burst into tears overwhelmed by the bleakness of my loss and new normal.)
There are many people who will try to answer our questions for us. Tell us how we should behave, what we should care about, who and when we should fall in love, and what career path we should take. But what I’ve learned in the last 365 days is that when a storm hits, you need a strong foundation to weather it. The storm forces us to find our inner strength — our power — put one foot in front of the other even though you don’t have a plan, and simply keep asking what now?
In 2020, I plan to be my own guide.
I want to understand my authentic self. I want to trust myself and my intuition. I want to take risks — not mistaking that I need confidence to try new things, but instead courage. Courage to just do it, not because I know that it will work out, but because I believe it will. I want to let go of the future story and instead, let the story write itself.
On January 1, 2020, I woke up groggy and tired, probably from partying my ass off with all of my incredibly friends in Hawaii, like most 30-year-olds do. The sun shined brightly. The sky was blue. And the sea was calm.
If this New Year’s Day was another page in my story that’s unfolding daily, I’d have to say that it’s promising foreshadowing for an amazing year ahead!
December 10, 2019
Please note: This article was originally published on Medium.com. Read below or by clicking here.
When I lost my 32-year-old husband to a Uveal Melanoma eight months ago, my entire world fell apart. I went from being a loving, supportive wife and stay-at-home mom to a 19-month-old and four-year-old, to assuming several new identities including widow, father and head of household. I felt lonely, numb, scared, angry, resentful and totally incompetent trying to navigate this foreign world without my husband — my partner in crime, my best friend and soul mate who I met as a freshman in college when I was 18. We’d been together almost half of my life!
His absence left a profound void not only in my heart, but in every aspect of life — raising my kids alone, being a single 33-year-old, navigating our finances, household handy-work, the various accounts set-up in his name, and the massive list of “to-do’s” when a spouse dies. All of the intense emotions of grief in addition to the anxiety of starting a “new normal” without him, left me feeling paralyzed. I didn’t know how to even start. I was shocked by the trauma of living my worst nightmare to date and totally stuck in grief!
I remember one morning when the profoundness of my feelings left me crying in bed all morning. As a former ballerina and current spin and barre instructor, I decided to go to a yoga sculpt class and just start MOVING. Although my thoughts told me that I was stuck, my body disproved them. While I felt trapped in my mind, I felt a sense of freedom with every burpee, a hint of courage with every rep of a heavy weight, and a glimmer of hope with every drop of sweat fleeing my body. As I laid in shavasana the instructor left us with three words — I AM ENOUGH.
It was all I needed to hear.When we lose someone special in our lives, we feel a range of emotions — sadness, loneliness, despair, emptiness, numbness, fear…the list goes on. The compounded effect of so many feelings in addition to navigating life without that special someone can be overwhelming to the point of feeling helpless. Instead of trying to deal with these emotions we look for ways to escape, numb the pain and fill the void with anything we can get our hands on. For some, it’s retail therapy — shopping until the emptiness in our heart is full. For others it’s over-eating, sex, drugs, alcohol or seeking other pleasures to alleviate the pain. The list of coping strategies goes on and on. But what I’ve found through my own personal grief journey is that exercise — good old sweat therapy — has helped me not only move forward from my husband’s death, but also personally grow and find even more purpose, love and gratitude for my life without him.
Whether we believe that we are capable of moving forward from tragedy or not, the mere act of exercising moves us. Our bodies physiologically change when we workout and no matter how devastated, how paralyzed, or how hopeless our circumstances might feel, our biochemistry has shifted!
By now, we all know that exercise produces endorphins and endorphins make you happy (thank you Elle Woods!). But research goes a step further to reveal how exercise specially benefits victims of trauma — in this case someone special dying. Drawing from this body of evidence and my own personal loss, here’s a closer look at the reasons why moving helps us effectively cope with loss:
1) Grief manifests in our bodies
After my husband Ian died, there were mornings when I woke up and felt totally hungover. I had all the symptoms — headaches, brain fog, fatigue and body aches, but the thing was, I didn’t drink alcohol the night before! I felt this strange sensation in my body and didn’t understand why. So, I started learning more about grief and how it manifests in our bodies, and discovered that what I was experiencing was a full-blown grief hangover!
*Berkeley professor Robert Levenson explains that organs, tissues, skin, muscle and endocrine glands all have peptide receptors on them and can access and store emotional information. This means that emotional memory is stored in many places in the body! — not just or even primarily, in the brain.
Ah-ha! This explained everything! I can’t tell you the amount of times after Ian died where people would ask me how I was feeling and I honestly just couldn’t tell them. I couldn’t name it, but I felt it. I manifested my grief in a physical sense — not a mental one. I talked to a therapist about my feelings, which definitely helped. But, the hangover was still there.
2) Exercise creates a flow state
You know the phrase in the zone? That’s flow! Physchologist Mihály Csíkszentmihályi named this state of being totally absorbed in a a task that results in enjoyment in the process. Flow can be essential to people experiencing grief because joy is at a deficit. When people are deep in grief — feeling the sadness, the loneliness, the hopelessness — it’s hard to recall what it’s like to feel happy or even normal again.
As Psychologist Adam Grant and Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg explain in their book Option B, “people who’ve experienced a loss often only report feeling joy because they are so engaged or absorbed in an activity.” The total engrossment in something — anything else but grief — helps people feel happy.
We can experience flow in a lot of ways. For some it’s cooking, talking to a friend for hours on end, hiking in nature, or for someone like me, it’s working out. In moments where I felt like my world was entirely unraveling and I was too emotionally, I would jump on a spin bike and lose myself in the music and choreography. I would forget about my sadness as I energetically jumped out of the saddle and escaped my loneliness watching the entire room full of bodies move together as one. It was sweat therapy at its best.
But here’s the thing…we need more than flow to truly heal. To me, flow is just the start.
Flow gives us the glimmers of hope — that light, that temporary relief, and belief that our life really isn’t all that bad. It gets us moving! Yet, the existing doubt, lack of self confidence, and fear that’s still lingering — that’s grief. And all the feelings and thoughts driving those emotions needs to be confronted and felt to truly move forward and heal from tragedy.
3) The act of moving helps us heal
As a society, we tend to charge our emotions — sadness, loneliness and anger are bad ; happiness, joy and love are good. But, they are all feelings and they all deserve reverence. Unfortunately, grief brings out a lot of these “bad” emotions, resulting in guilt or shame by the individuals experiencing them. There’s also a fear that if we get too angry we might lose control, or if we get too sad, we might get stuck — so we avoid these feelings all together.
But, bypassing these emotions increases our vulnerability to being overwhelmed by them! Think of it this way, avoiding the intense emotions is just the short-term strategy. Pretending we are ok. Seeking activities — working longer harder, retail therapy — where we don’t have to deal with our sadness. But, the reality is that grief is something we can’t escape. Ever.
*In research by PhD Peter Levine, when the nervous system is stuck in a state of hyperactivity — trying hard to push the difficult feelings aside and live a normal, happy life when you’re world is falling apart — our flight or fight survival response gets caught in a loop. We get stuck. We feel like we are frozen and feelings of anxiety, overwhelm, sadness and guilt become all encompassing. All of our attention is then fixed on negative thought patterns and we get stuck in them. This pattern is hard to break and can lead to depression if not addressed.
So how do we break the cycle?
We simply get moving! Levine explains that in the animal world, after an attack by a predator or any event perceived as stressful, animals will physically shake and then run to naturally recover. They move their bodies! Humans do not have this automatic physical response, making it more likely for us to get stuck in the negative physiological, cognitive and behavioral loops that can create dissociation and a general feeling of powerlessness. When we workout, our bodies, mind and breath come together to fight off negative limiting beliefs and feelings of stuckness. This powerful combination helps us feel more in control, empowered and able to move through our pain.
So as much as exercise fosters a state of flow — an escape to a certain degree — it also provides us with an opportunity to disrupt the negative thought process and really feel the emotions that are brewing just below the surface. It helps us own our emotions so that we feel empowered by our grief, instead of a victim of it. I mean, have you been to a yoga class and cried in shavasana? THAT’s what I’m talking about! The emotions are there, but sometimes we simply need to move our bodies to break through through surface, process our feelings and truly feel them.
4) A workout comes with a kick-ass community of supporters!
One of my favorite quotes from Option B was that “resilience comes from deep within us and from support outside us.” I incorporate this mantra when I teach spin classes, telling clients that when they are feeling weak and lack inner strength, to look to their neighbor for support and inspiration. I remind them that we are never alone because struggle is universal. We are all going through something — inside and outside the fitness studio. And each of us is an example to the other that we can survive…if not thrive.
There is NO WAY that I would surviving, without all of the love and support from family, friends and my fitness community. Losing someone can be terribly isolating and it’s not often that young adults know how to talk about loss — making the experience even more lonely.
After Ian died, I received a bulletin board full of pinned post-it notes containing handwritten love-filled messages from all of the riders at my spin studio! My barre studio set up a meal train for my family and sent me a beautiful picture of the constellations in the sky at the site, date and time of our wedding — a profound reminder that my husband would be with me forever despite his physical absence. Clients who I barely knew besides me screaming at them to go faster on a stationary bike individually reached out to me to share their own stories of loss and support me in my grief.
Although I felt so much pain from the void in my heart from losing Ian, the support I received filled the space of emptiness, making me feel whole. It’s been one of the most profound experiences to feel so much sadness about an event, but also gratitude for the beauty and love that resulted from it as well. The reality that we never are alone because everyone suffers, everyone feels pain, and everyone somehow survives is part of the human experience that unites us all.
5) Exercise mimics life
Since Ian died, exercise has become so much more than burning calories, toning muscles, or increasing blood flow, brain function and longevity of life. For me, fitness has become my way of life. I exercise every day. Every day, whether it’s spin, barre, yoga, HIIT or just going for a run I transform my workout into an opportunity to test my limits. I make a habit of getting uncomfortable. To me, the discomfort is an analogy for life. It’s an analogy for all of the unforeseen events that can occur — children, spouses, parents dying, accidents resulting in total paralysis, homes burning down, school shootings — all the potential trauma that would drastically alter the course of our lives. It’s the realization that there are no certainties in life and when you are truly faced with adversity you have no other choice but to adapt.
To me, fitness is practice for life’s greatest curve balls — these experiences that rattle our world, our notion of safety, comfort and what our life should look like. Exercise — testing the limits to see how heavy you can lift, how fast you can sprint, or how long you can hold a pose — shows us what we are made of. It’s proof of our ability to overcome a challenge, so that we are ready when true adversity occurs.
Tragedy. Trauma. The events that shake us so much to the core that we feel completely broken and like our whole world has fallen apart. With these events comes a choice:
to become a victim of the cards we are dealt
to rebuild to normal, or
to rebuild to something stronger.
There is not a day in the last eight months that I haven’t thought about my husband. I see his mischievous smile in my 20-month old son and his love for the water in my four-year-old daughter who would live in a pool if she could. I miss him. We all miss him. And surviving as a family of three is certainly not the life we would have chosen.
But, even though life chose this path for us, I’m profoundly aware that I still have a choice. After watching my husband lose that choice as the cancer slowly killed him, I realized how grateful I am to have that choice.
I have the choice to allow hardship, struggle and adversity to trap me — to accept the victim mindset and ask why me? — or to survive and ask what now?
My circumstance is not a choice, but I choose joy anyway. I choose to live, to be happy, and to not let this tragedy define me.
Exercise prepares us for this choice. We can give up when it gets too hard, or embrace the challenge and discover what we are truly made and maybe even get stronger.
Every time I finish a workout I’m reminded that movement is a privilege.My choice is a privilege.
My life is a privilege.
So, let’s make the most of it and keep moving!
After my husband Ian died, my entire world fell apart. I went from being a loving, supportive wife who stayed at home to raise her children, to assuming several new roles and identities including widow, father and head of household. I felt lonely raising my kids alone and totally incompetent trying to navigate our finances, household handy-work, and the various internet, gas & electric, insurance and other accounts and bills that had been set up in Ian’s name. I was overwhelmed tackling the “to-do” list of a deceased spouse, not to mention worrying about getting a job so that I could make money after being a stay-at-home mom for four years! The sadness of losing Ian combined with the fear and anxiety of starting a “new normal” left me feeling paralyzed — left me feeling stuck.
When we lose someone special in our lives, we feel a range of emotions — sadness, loneliness, despair, emptiness, numbness, fear…the list goes on. The compounded effect of so many emotions in addition to the navigating life without that special someone can be overwhelming to the point of feeling helpless. We feel stuck because we don’t know how to move forward.
I remember one morning when the profoundness of my feelings left me crying in bed all morning. I decided to go to a yoga sculpt class and just start MOVING. Although my thoughts told me that I was stuck, my body disproved them. While I felt trapped in my mind, I felt a sense of freedom with every burpee, a hint courage with every rep of a heavy weight, and a glimmer of hope with every drop of sweat fleeing my body. As I laid in shavasana the instructor left us with three words — I AM ENOUGH. It was all I needed to hear.
I was no longer stuck, because I had just MOVED. And, although everything outside of me was unraveling, I was reminded that I HAVE ME. Even though I didn’t know all the answers to resolve my external situation — solo-parenting, career, being single again — I realized that all I really needed was inside of me. Through movement and intention I discovered that I AM ENOUGH.
Whether we believe that we are capable of moving forward from tragedy or not, the mere act of exercising moves us. Our bodies physiologically change when we workout and no matter how devastated, how paralyzed, or how hopeless our circumstances might feel, our biochemistry has shifted! We’ve movedTHRU!
October 16, 2019
It was mid-July of 2013 when Ian and I decided to take a spontaneous trip from Miami, Florida down to Key West for the weekend. We endured the four hour drive in the heat, finally settling into our cozy cottage-like suite. Our first day was filled with a snorkeling adventure, day drinking, and a romantic dinner out on the town. Ian had been acting so strange the entire time — like his mind was somewhere else. It must be that big deal at work? I thought to myself.
I walked home reluctantly from dinner that night wanting to go out to the bars and party some more, but Ian insisted that we go back to our room for wine and dessert! Ian was always the laid-back, just go-with-the-flow one, but because he was so insistent my stubborn self let him have his way this time!
Entering the hotel grounds I saw a sprinkling of beautiful flower pedals lit by soft glowing lanterns all over the courtyard. “Look Ian!” I exclaimed, “Someone is having a romantic dinner or something down here. How sweet!” I turned my gaze in the direction that I was walking and started to realize that the flower petals and lanterns were creating a pathway that lead to our room. It literally took me opening up the front door and Ian getting down on one knee to realize what was happening!
He popped the question. We popped champagne. And the rest was history! On the drive back to Miami I couldn’t believe that someone actually wanted to spend the rest of his life with me! It was such a surreal, ecstatic feeling, that to this day might have made me happier that my own wedding day (I’ll admit it!). There was just something so raw, real, vulnerable and in-the-moment that made our engagement so special and totally unforgettable.
It was just last week, October of 2019, when I decided to drive from Naples, Florida over to Miami to visit some friends for an evening, while on vacation with my kids and parents. On the two hour drive across Alligator Alley — a trip that Ian and I made together often when we lived there for two years — I realized how many amazing memories we created there together. I could see us paddle boarding on the crystal blue water laughing as we dodged jellyfish, drinking martinis at Lincoln Road after work (or with my parents in Naples!), and spending countless hours at the beach playing dominoes and drinking beers without a care in the world except that one of us might have to make dinner that night!
I remembered the days following Ian’s proposal when I excitedly broke the news to my girlfriends at Miami City Ballet where I worked for three years. They called an impromptu “work meeting” on the second floor patio to surprise me with a bottle of champagne and celebrate! I was able to visit this same group of special women on my recent trip. We laughed. We cried. We drank too much wine. (Well put Estefania!) And I think we all realized how seemingly strait-forward work relationships can effortlessly evolve into life-long friendships.
Time seems so abstract since Ian’s death. The memories I created four years ago in Miami or as Freshmen in college when we first met, feel like they happened just yesterday. And the experiences that are unfolding now seem so immensely shaped by events that occurred in my past — like foreshadowing in a story.
Last October at this exact same time, Ian and I were running around Spain and Italy together. It was the last experience where Ian was really Ian. We had planned to bring the kids and our parents with us for a full month of European fun, but Ian’s cancer had other plans. We had to shorten our trip to align with his treatment schedule, so off we went just the two of us.
Now, Ian had already taught Izzy how to say Buongiorno in preparation for her Italian debut, so when she learned that she wasn’t coming along anymore, she was disappointed (to say the least). To make up for it, Ian promised to take Izzy to Naples Florida Italy instead. Close enough right??!!
We don’t break promises. Especially promises made by daddy. So, exactly one year later from Ian and my euro-trip, I took Izzy and Theo to Naples Florida Italy with my parents last week. As I watched Izzy cannon-ball into the pool and shimmy her legs through the water like a little mermaid, I could literally see Ian’s proud smile on his face. I could visualize him teaching Theo how to swim — just as he did with Izzy — blowing bubbles in the water and letting him stay below the surface just long enough to make everyone a bit uncomfortable. But hey, that’s how they learn! He would say.
We talked about daddy a lot last week because everything we did (swimming/beach time) was just so “Ian”. When I tucked Izzy into her bed for a nap one afternoon the following conversation took place:
Izzy: “Mommy, can we get a new daddy? I miss the old daddy who got sick and died.”
Me: “I miss him too, Izzy. But you know, daddy will always be in our hearts. We can still love him.”
Izzy: “But I want a new one who can talk to me.”
Me: “We can get you a new daddy, but, mommy has to find you one.”
Izzy: “Let’s go buy one!!”
Me (laughing): “Ok, Izzy. Mommy will work on it.”
Beyond the innocence and humor of this exchange, I just couldn’t believe the timing of it. Izzy misses her daddy. But, she also wants a new one. I miss my partner. But, I also want a new one. It’s not that either of us will ever forget about Ian or stop loving him, but we both crave something tangible — a body that we can hug, play tiger with, or get tickled by; a human to talk to, to laugh with, and to tell us how much he love us. We miss human connection, contact, LOVE. And, up until Izzy so bluntly admitted that she wanted it, I had been feeling guilty that I wanted it too.
When a spouse dies, the widow or widower is often asked if she or he has “moved on.” As Nora McInerney explains in her TED Talk, you don’t really ever “move on”, you just “move forward.” What this means is that you never forget about the special person you lost — even if you fall in love again, remarry, or form a new family. You just make room for move love — old and new.
I’ve recently downloaded a dating app. I’ve even been on a handful of casual dates. It’s uncharted territory to me. It’s scary. It’s certainly not what I envisioned my 33-year-old self doing at this time in my life! … But … it’s what I need right now. I question myself wondering if it’s “too soon”. I worry about what others think. I mean, Ian died not even seven months ago!
So I pause. I do my best to silence the noise — the “shoulds”, the timelines, the uncertainty, the doubt. And I remind myself that matters of the heart are not often solved with reason of the mind.
I’m putting myself “out there” — not only in the foreign world of dating, but also in sharing this personal decision so publicly with you.
And I’ve chosen to share this decision — not to seek sympathy or affirmation for my actions, but to help others in similar situations — whether its from loss of a loved one due to death, or another tragedy like divorce, break-ups, or any event that created that void in their life. No one needs to permission to seek happiness.
Finally, I’m deliberately doing things on my own time — not because I’m 100% confident in my actions, but because I know that my intuition will guide me better than arbitrary timelines or societal expectations concerning grief. TIME IS WHAT YOU MAKE OF IT.
There is no such thing as the “right time” for anything. Besides the standard hours and minutes in a day, time is subjective and unique to each individual. As children we learn to walk and talk at different rates and the same applies to us as adults. Some of us become CEO’s in our 30’s; others it takes a lifetime. Some of us get married right out of college; others find true love later in life. You get the idea.
There is no universal timeline on anything that we do in life — so why try to apply one to how long we “should” grieve? How long it “should” take until we feel happy? How long we “should” wait to start searching for new love?
We feel. We remain open to what the universe sends our way. And, put one foot in front of the other and hope for the best. Some of us do this quickly. Others do it slowly. But, we do it openly, whole-heartedly and on our own time.
I intentionally share a memory about Ian in each of my blog post’s because it is a reminder that even after someone dies, he or she can still have a significant impact on our lives. All of the decisions and actions we make in life are a product of our knowledge to date and past experiences. Thus, Ian will always be with me — shaping my present through our joint past and guiding me into the future.
WHILE WE TRY TO TEACH OUR CHILDREN ALL ABOUT LIFE, OUR CHILDREN TEACH US WHAT LIFE IS ALL ABOUT.
— ANGELA SCHWINDT
September 17, 2019
Like I said in my last post, this rest of the year is full of some big “firsts”. This week, Izzy turns four! Her first birthday without her dad. Although she doesn’t express his absence in words, I know that she feels it. Just as I do. Because grief is like that. Sometimes you don’t need any words, any tears, any clear emotions — your body just feels it.
So, as we reach this milestone, I’m taking a page from Nora McInerney’s book No Happy Endings and writing her a letter (like Nora did with her children). Because Izzy might not remember everything about Ian and the significance of his loss until later in life, I want to create a snapshot of her world right now.
I want Izzy to know how much Ian loved his little tiger princess and how much joy she brought to his life! I want to relive some of my favorite memories of the two of them while they are still fresh in my mind. I also want to give Izzy a glimpse of her loss seeing it as she does now — because this narrative will only evolve as she gets older.
I want Izzy to understand how much I love her, but that I can’t always be there for her physically while I navigate this new normal. I want her to know how that much I learned from her — from the day that she was born, through the day that Ian died, until now.
I plan to write a letter to both Izzy and Theo every birthday — creating these snapshots in time and telling them how much they matter. I don’t know when I will give actually them their letters, but I have a feeling I’ll just know.
For now, I’m sharing my first letter to Izzy with you — because sometimes the greatest lessons we learn are from the little ones looking up at us.
Dear Izzy (age 4),
This Wednesday, September 18 of 2019, you will be four years old. For being on this planet only four orbits around the sun, you have been through quite a lot. You’ve experienced more than most pre-schoolers, most people my age (33), and even older than that have handled! Because just six months ago, your dad died. You might not be able understand what this exactly means, but for now, this is what I think you gather.
Daddy was sick for a very long time. He had a disease called Cancer. Cancer is not like a cold or a sickness that most people get. And you can’t catch it from germs when we don’t wash our hands. Cancer is different. It’s really bad. It made daddy’s body weak so that he wasn’t able to play tiger with you, swim, run or even get out of bed sometimes — even though he REALLY wanted to!
I remember one weekend in December of 2018 that daddy was really sick. He could barely get out of bed, but he was so excited to take you to see the ballet The Nutcracker. We had been the year before and daddy and me watched you in awe as your eyes lit up with wonder and excitement seeing dancing snowflakes, a growing Christmas tree, and a magical sleigh ride fill the stage. You literally danced out of your seat, throwing your arms ecstatically into the air to the beat of the music and pointing to all of the new things you saw onstage. Dad and I exchanged worried glances thinking that you were distracting other audience members from the show. But, everyone reassured us that they were just as enamored with your childish charm and total engrossment as we were.
Izzy, your zest and enthusiasm for the Nutcracker (and many other things) gave daddy strength and hope in a body full of pain and mind full of doubt. He barely hobbled into the theater for the performance that day. But the pain and discomfort was worth it, because you made him smile. You gave him the light — the purpose — he needed to keep fighting when he could have quit.
Did you know that you are an amazing caretaker, Izzy? Although you’ve told me that you want to become a Noodle Maker when you grow up — you should consider becoming a doctor or a nurse too! You would lie in bed with daddy reading stories together, giggling as he tickled you, and giving him snuggles to bring him comfort. During daddy’s final days of life, you weren’t afraid of him when got really thin and walked around with tubes coming in and out of his body. At the time you were only three, but you showed more love, compassion, fearlessness and empathy than some grownups I know. You held his hand, told him how much you loved him, and gave him gentle kisses on his cheek. Daddy lived for these moments. Even though he couldn’t say much as the cancer got stronger, I could see his eyes light up and a soft grin spread across his face whenever he heard your voice or knew that you were near. Thank you for giving daddy that joy!
On the morning that daddy died, I told you that the cancer made daddy’s body stop working and that he wouldn’t be able to walk, talk and see you anymore. I asked if you wanted to say good-bye to him. You looked at me confused and shook your head “no”. So I followed your lead and we went outside to eat breakfast outside on the picnic table overlooking water and the Mokoluas.
Moments later you changed your mind and told me that you wanted to see daddy. So, we went into his room and stood by his bed — his body finally resting in peace, but lifeless. You touched his hand and said, “good-bye daddy. I love you.” Then you looked up at me — so puzzled, so innocent, and so untouched by the magnitude of the loss right in front of you. The loss that would so vastly alter the storyline to your entire life ahead.
When the mortuary took daddy’s body away and everything in the room was cleared out, you asked me where he went. I explained that daddy wasn’t coming back and that he was going to the stars, the sun and the sky. “Like POOF?!?,” you asked in disbelief. Yeah kind of, I thought to myself. I reassured you that daddy might not be able to touch us or talk to us, but that he would be in our hearts — like in the book The Invisible String.
Every night shortly after daddy died while we were still living in Hawaii, we would light a candle after sunset and go outside to look up at the stars to say goodnight to him. You slept in my bed for two months and you had a lot of questions — Can we FaceTime daddy? Can we go visit him? I told you that we couldn’t and felt badly because I was failing to help you understand the permanence of daddy’s death. So, I told you that he turned into an angel — even though we couldn’t see him, he was always there.
Now that we are back in our house in Arvada, you are sleeping in your own big girl bed and have less questions about daddy. I try to talk about him with you and Theo as much as possible. I like to relive all of our favorite memories together — like how we all used to sit out on the deck eating breakfast in the mornings or licking popsicles in the afternoon sun; or, when he would tackle and tickle you in the basement playing tiger; when the two of you sat on the shower floor, criss-crossed apple sauce playing with your miniature princess dolls as the water trickled down your bare bodies (daddy made a little princess imitation that made you giggle with delight); when you both geared up in LeBron James or Broncos gear to watch the big game together; when he taught you how to hold your breath under water to swim, jump off the diving board, and swing your first putter; when you would bake together; when you would dress up in sparkly dresses and ask daddy to dance with you in the living room; and when you would curl up in his lap making him feel like the luckiest guy in the world.
Izzy, you changed your father. On the day that you were born, there was an obvious shift in daddy’s view on life — and in mine. We both cried and laughed at the medical student in the room who was sobbing hysterically after witnessing her first labor. She described it as “the most beautiful thing she ever saw!” We fell in love with you immediately, but Ian was smitten. You made us grow up. You made us understand that life is about something bigger than ourselves. You made us fall deeper in love with each other knowing that we were now a family, which meant sacrifice, responsibility and SO MUCH LOVE to go around.
Four years later to this day and you are a pre-schooler who picks out her own outfits, puts on her light-up Paw Patrol sneakers without any help, and doesn’t pronounce her “s’s” at the beginning of her words. Daddy and Uncle Harry would ask you to say “SPOON-tang” and just burst into hysterics as you repeated the word back to them innocently (omit the s here guys….). 🙂
We still eat breakfast watching the sunrise, host crazy dance parties, play tiger tackle and tickle, and we miss daddy. We don’t always talk about it. But, we feel it. The void in heart. The knot in our stomach. The love that we will always hold.
I feel guilty because I can’t always be there for you, Izzy. Right now mommy needs time and space to heal. I miss daddy a lot and sometimes I need to go to yoga, see friends or get work done to feel better and provide for you in other ways. But I know that we are a team — you, me and Theo! And, we are going to do just fine. Because you know something else, Izzy?
You have SO MANY PEOPLE WHO LOVE YOU! Jamma, Jampa, GJ, Tutu, and all of your aunties and uncles from Colorado, to California, to Hawaii, to Canada and beyond. These people will tell you stories about daddy and teach you how to do cool things that daddy did — like surf, golf, play cribbage and talk your way out of trouble. You know why they will do these things for you Izzy? Because they love daddy too! And, we have our invisible string that connects us all through LOVE. So you, nor I, nor Theo will ever be alone.
So Izzy, in just four years you have taught me so much about life, love and to be honest with you, PATIENCE (you are very strong-willed like your daddy and me!) Happy birthday Izzy! You’ve made a world of impact on me and so many others.
I love you.
PS. Don’t eat too much cake and ice cream today. You will get a tummy ache and daddy will get mad at me for giving you too much sugar!
TIME HEALS ALL WOUNDS
September 4, 2019
It was a beautiful, sunny morning in my childhood home of Durango, CO. My parents, the kids and I had driven down for the Labor Day weekend to see close friends, play in the river, and to simply enjoy our old stomping grounds together. I threw on my running shoes to go for a run up the nature trail, which takes you up the side of a mesa that overlooks the entire downtown and provides awesome views of the mountains. I had grown up walking and running this trail and was eager to take my solo run down memory lane several years later. Just out the door, my right foot started to feel slightly numb and weak. I soon found myself face down on the concrete!! With some fresh road rash on my knee, hip and elbow that matched the scratches on my iPhone, I hastily looked around to make sure no one saw my flop on flat asphalt and kept running. Further up the trail I started to smile at the symbolism behind my fall.
The weakness in my right foot was a result of an injury that occurred on March 2, 2018, after four hours of pushing during Theo’s labor. I had pinched a nerve that prevented me from being able to flex my foot — “dropped foot” — affecting my ability to walk, drive, or do anything besides hobble around for about eight weeks. With a toddler, a newborn, and a sick husband, I felt like I was going crazy. But, couldn’t do anything about it. I needed to stop moving. I needed to heal.
My dropped foot now functions, but it’s still not entirely healed. I’ve gone to physical therapy and workout daily, but it still feels slightly weaker and wobblier than my left foot. During my morning run, it was a not so gentle reminder that healing takes time.
During the rest of my run, I smiled at this reminder because just a week ago I wrote a passage that I chose NOT to share because it was basically a giant rant on my life. In it I wrote, whoever said “healing takes time” is full of CRAP, because I feel like everything is getting worse! And it’s true. Sometimes I truly feel that I’m regressing in my grief journey because this reality is just too hard to comprehend at times.
But the truth is that Ian has only been gone for five months. And this first year is going to be difficult. It’s going to be another seven months of “firsts” without him — and there are some BIG ones coming … Izzy’s birthday, his birthday, Christmas, the list goes on. Even visiting Durango this weekend was emotional because just last June, Ian was here with us completing our family vacation with four.
Ian loved Durango. We had visited during our college days on several occasions, including the notorious Snow Down Festival where Ian dressed up in a crazy costume that included a long-haired purple wig and got kicked out of a local bar trying to line-dance with our friends. When he wasn’t getting into trouble, he enjoyed floating down the river (even though his tube deflated halfway through!), tried fly fishing (for a hot second), ate delicious Mexican food, and got a glimpse of my childhood growing up — just as I do whenever I visit Kailua.
Ian wanted to visit Durango last summer on our bucket list road trip to San Diego. So, we made it our first stop. I look back at the pictures from that trip and viscerally feel that he should be here with us now. It was just one year ago. Everything else here feels the same — the places, the people, the experiences. But there is an obvious void; a major missing piece. And, that piece is Ian.
It makes sense that these experiences will all feel intensely different this year. It’s the first year since I was 18 years old that Ian is not in my life. So that absence, that void will be all the more profound. And while right now, in the midst of this journey, it might feel like my grief is getting worse — I remind myself to take a step back (or pound my face into the concrete!) and remember that:
Grief is not linear and that healing takes time. Instead of sprinting out the door to finish my grief, be gentle. Take it slowly. Heal.
These reminders (subtle or not) come in several forms.
When someone dies it’s not uncommon to look for meaning in seemingly insignificant events —like falling on your face on a flat, smoothly paved road.
Or, listening to the lyrics of a song that speaks to you so clearly as if the dead special person in your life is literally talking to you. Guiding you.
These signs can also take place in nature — like the juxtaposition of rainbows in sites of immense tragedy.
They can also come in the form of a childhood friend, who has drowned in the same sorrow just three years before you and has resurfaced stronger, more full of light, and readier for all that life has to offer. Her radiance, confidence and and wisdom is living proof that yes, the wound will always be there. But with time, it metamorphoses into something entirely new…like love.
Sometimes we need our hearts to break — to be cracked entirely open — to see that the universe offers us so many answers. If we look at these signs through a different lens and really listen to them, they can guide us. They can tell us if we are on track; if we need to slow down and heal; if we need to stop second guessing our feelings and follow our intuition. Because when we are cracked totally open, our heart takes the lead and the rest just follows suit.
I’m so grateful for these beautiful (sometimes painful) signs the universe has offered me over this Labor Day weekend.
I HOPE YOU FIND A LOVE THAT’S TRUE
SO THE MORNING LIGHT CAN SHINE ON YOU
I HOPE YOU FIND WHAT YOUR LOOKING FOR
SO YOUR HEART IS WARM FOREVER MORE
— “SHINE”, BENJAMIN FRANCIS LEFTWICH (KYGO REMIX)
August 23, 2019
Ever since Ian passed away nearly five months ago, I’ve been working hard to keep my mind and heart open — to listen to what the universe has to say and allow it to guide me. This morning, it spoke so clearly.
My body naturally woke up at 5:30am so I had time to drink coffee and scroll through Instagram (like most social media addicts do first thing in the morning!) before my 6:15am yoga sculpt class. I stumbled across the post below from Mark Groves (@createthelove) about self-love that sparked my intention for today and the rest of this post.
Later in class, the instructor asked us to think back 10 years ago and identify something that we had wanted then, and had now achieved in the present. The emotions inside of me immediately started to stir…
Ten years ago was 2009. I had just graduated college and Ian and I had decided to take a break while I went to grad school and he went to China to kickoff his hotel career. While I had outwardly agreed to take this “mutual” break, inside my heart was broken. I loved Ian and wanted him in my life so badly. Why couldn’t we make it work long-distance? I had no interest in dating anyone else, so why break up? I wanted him.
But, the truth was that I did need time to date other people — other people being MYSELF! And, Ian felt that too. It’s not that we didn’t want to be with each other, we just needed time to love ourselves as unique individuals, separate from our other half. To grow. To develop. To figure out who we really were apart.
So I did. I took an unforgettable trip to Greece with my mom, earned my graduate degree from Carnegie Mellon University, moved to Miami Beach to work with the world-renowned Miami City Ballet, took drawing classes, dance classes, ran my first half-marathon and explored all that mattered to ME! I dove in to all of the activities, interests and passions that often get pushed aside when we devote too much of ourselves to a relationship. And you know what? Everything worked out. Five years later Ian and I were happily married — two independent, self-confident individuals whose mutual respect, sacrifice, and vulnerability culminated in a passionate, boundless love for one another.
So fast forward to this morning in yoga sculpt…
Ten years ago I wanted Ian. Five months ago, I had him. Now, I don’t. As my breath shortens and my eyes start to well up, I pause. Yes, Ian is no longer physically with me. But, I still have our LOVE. I have loved and have been loved and it takes self-love to make that happen.
Right now I feel a void in my heart reminiscent of the void I felt during our break ten years ago. I’m lonely. And, I’m sad. I had that type of love that Mark wrote about in the post above. That messy love that is so hard to come by and involves owning your bull shit, being vulnerable, communicating constantly, sacrificing your wants and desires, and sometimes putting somebody else first. I did that for Ian. And, he did that for me. We loved. I will always have that love. And, that love is a gift that I will treasure forever.
When Ian got really sick, we made a bucket list of experiences to do together. We crossed off most of them — family road trip to San Diego and a trip to Italy and Spain — but unfortunately we didn’t get to all of them.
Tonight, I’m going to see Kygo in concert. I’m crossing this experience off of our list. I’ve been listing to Kygo’s music nonstop to get pumped up for this experience and have now trained Izzy to love the following song “Shine.” I tell her that it reminds me of daddy. And I tell myself that this is Ian speaking to me in the lyrics below…
I hope you find a love that’s true
So the morning light can shine on you
I hope you find what you’re looking for
So your heart is warm forever more
-“Shine”, Benjamin Francis Leftwich (Kygo Remix)
(Click here to listen to the song. Seriously, do it!)
To me, this is Ian reminding me that I will find love again. And when I do find a second love it won’t take anything away from my first love with Ian. But for now, I’m devoted to self-love.
So, if you are already in love, hug that special someone tightly and kiss them with compassion and gratitude — because together you’ve created a bond that is so hard to come by. And, if you have not found that person or are struggling in a current relationship, maybe shift the focus within to loving yourself. Let your light SHINE!
LEAVE THE PAST BEHIND
JUST WALK AWAY
WHEN IT’S OVER
AND MY HEART BREAKS
AND THE CRACKS BEGIN TO SHOW
— “CRACKS” BY FLUX PAVILION
August 14, 2019
As the gooey yellow yoke infiltrated the glistening egg white, the lyrics from Flux Pavilion’s “Cracks” played over and over in my head. I looked at the pathetic egg and then totally lost it. The streaming tears, the shortness of breath, the intense feeling of loneliness and vulnerability that had been building up inside of me over the past week. It wasn’t about the damn egg yoke cracking. It was that Ian always fried his eggs to perfection and he wasn’t here to do it. Not only was he not here to fry my eggs, but also just to crack jokes at my poor cooking skills.
I immediately shared my grief on Instagram and thought to myself, “WTF are you doing Emily? No one wants to hear this!” I didn’t care. I posted anyways and luckily friends came to my side offering me readings on healing and grief and lunar justifications for my intense emotional reaction, but most importantly, they just offered me love.
Maybe my sudden wave of grief was triggered by the oncoming full moon, but more likely, it was an event that occurred just days prior that solidified Ian’s absence. Before I share this story please note that our house is BIG. It was too big when we bought it for the four of us, so with Ian gone, it feels even more ominous and empty.
I had been up late reading and talking to a friend in an ironically similar situation as me on the phone, when I heard a loud banging at my front door, followed by the door bell ringing repeatedly. My heart came to a halt. I was paralyzed. The thought of someone trying to break into my home — let alone just a stranger standing outside my front door at 11:30pm at night — shook me to the core. I couldn’t even get out of bed to look outside the window for fear that I might be about to experience one of my worst nightmares.
I called my next door neighbor who has a security system (yes, I’m getting one too now), to see what was going on. Their surveillance videos showed five teenagers messing around in the backyard and then doorbell ditching. Innocent fun, but to me it was sheer panic for five minutes that felt more like an hour. Without Ian there to help me laugh it off — let’s face it Ian and I both pulled pranks like this as teens — I felt vulnerable. Without Ian there to hug and hold me, I felt alone. And this feeling of loneliness caused by some innocent fun had been building over the last five days — all for it to implode as I broke the god damn egg yoke!
Ian had a way of putting a spin on any negative situation. I would rant. Then he would share his point of view. I would think, have my “ah-ha” moment, and immediately felt better. He could always talk me down if I was upset about the next door neighbor’s dog yapping loudly before the sun rose, the constant work place dramas and inefficiencies that of course I KNEW how to solve (don’t we all?), or my disappointment when I didn’t get the perfect cut and color after spending hundreds of dollars (and time) at the hair salon. Ian did not sweat the small stuff — even before his cancer diagnosis. He sought the best in life and squashed the BS. He was too busing laughing, living and loving every second of life. And when life handed him a terminal cancer diagnosis, he said “bring it on!”
So, my hard shell had cracked and my raw emotions were oozing all of the place. After I dried my tears, ate my less than satisfactory mashed-up fried egg (yes I took my fork and smashed that darn thing — it was the grief! #sorrynotsorry.) — I asked myself, what would Ian do?
Yes, this new normal is different. Yes, I’m alone. Yes, I’m a single mom who did NOT ask to be one (my apologies to any divorced single moms or dads raising kids, but this is different). Yes, I have no real job. And yes, I’m going to complain, cry, get angry, and feel what I need to feel. Embracing my emotions and letting the tears flow cleanses me. It allows me to recognize HOW MUCH I miss Ian and how significant our love was.
Ian’s friend Amelia sent me this passage during my cracked-yoke crisis (thank you Instagram and Amelia!!). Not sure where she got it, but it resonated:
That love [Ian and my love] goes somewhere. Some of it transforms into other emotions like sadness and grief. And we judge our emotions so harshly — sadness and anger are bad, joy and love are good. But they’re all emotions. They all deserve reverence.
So I feel. I process. I smash eggs. And then, I’m more capable of embracing Ian’s approach, which probably plays out something like this.
Yes, this is an entirely new beginning for me. It’s strange and scary because its new, but it’s also fresh start. It’s a second chance to really do something greater — something bigger than just me and my two kids. It’s an opportunity to make a real impact — connecting my experience, my struggle, and my pain to a larger narrative. I don’t know what that narrative is quite yet. But, I’m exploring and I’m open. And when that broader storyline begins to unfold, you better bet I’ll be ready to kick the shit out of it! So, bring it on.
THIS POST IS THE FIRST IN A SERIES ABOUT GRATITUDE. THERE IS NO DENYING THE UTMOST TRAGEDY IN LOSING MY HUSBAND IAN, BUT HIS DEATH IS A CONSTANT REMINDER TO BE GRATEFUL FOR ALL THAT HE HAS LEFT. POSTS IN THIS SERIES CELEBRATE THE EXPERIENCES, THE LESSONS, THE PLACES, THE THINGS, AND MOST IMPORTANTLY THE PEOPLE WHO IAN BROUGHT INTO MY LIFE AND WHO I HOLD JUST A BIT CLOSER NOW THAT HE IS GONE.
“A WOMAN IS LIKE A TEA BAG. YOU NEVER KNOW HOW STRONG SHE IS UNTIL SHE GETS IN HOT WATER.”
— ELEANOR ROOSEVELT
July 18, 2019
Since Ian’s passing, I’ve found myself revisiting the times when we wondered about our futures together. How would this whole cancer thing play out? With a terminal diagnosis it’s easy to ask yourself why?, but harder — more profound, more unsettling — to ask when? Every doctor’s visit, scan and new experimental treatment leaves you hoping that you might be that lucky one who defeats the odds. I mean, why not? The numbers don’t mean everything, right? Everything is uncertain.
I wrote the following passage on November 30, 2018, one month before the New Year, and probably during some of the last times when Ian was really “Ian”. I had no idea what the future held — what would happen on January 1, 2019, when Ian would wake up paralyzed from the waste down from a tumor pressing on his spine, or that he would die just four months later…
WE ARE ALL A LITTLE WEIRD, AND LIFE IS A LITTLE WEIRD, AND WHEN WE FIND SOMEONE WHOSE WEIRDNESS IS COMPATIBLE WITH OURS, WE JOIN UP WITH THEM IN MUTUAL WEIRDNESS AND CALL IT LOVE.
– DR. SEUSS
Ian’s best friend, Harry, read the profound words of Dr. Seuss from above at our wedding on July 4, 2014. Ian and I never took ourselves too seriously, so we thought the reading was perfect. His weirdness matched mine and the rest was history. Today, on what would be our five year anniversary, these words take on a whole new meaning. Everything is just a little bit weird right now.
People have asked me if I knew that Ian had cancer when I married him. I did. In fact, just weeks before our wedding we found out that Ian’s eye needed to be removed to get to the tumor at the primary site. At the time, we thought this was the worst it would get. Even with his cancer diagnosis — his 1 in 20 chance of it metastasizing — we never thought that “we” would be over less than five years later.
Others who attended our wedding have told me that they were always a bit unsure or fearful of what Ian’s medical news would mean for our future together. Some have said that the uncertainty is partially what made our ceremony so precious and even bittersweet. Ian and I walked down the aisle that day with no uncertainty or expectations of what the future might hold; just love in our hearts for one another and the belief that it would all work out — because in that exact moment we had each other. Nothing else mattered.
Five years later from the day Ian and I exchanged our vows, I’m sitting on a dock overlooking a pristine, motionless lake in Maine taking time to myself to write this post. All I can hear are the birds chirping, the hum of far-off boats, and my parents chasing Izzy and Theo around in the background. I’m on a family vacation. Finding these moments of silence are rare and golden. Yet, these tranquil times of solitude — when the kids nap and you have a second to clean the house, get work done, sleep, scour through social media, or watch a quick TV show — are when I miss Ian the most. I miss him more in these subtle moments than I do on a milestone day like today, our anniversary.
When Ian took long-term disability in November 2017 he was able to stay home with the kids and me daily. During our kid-free breaks, he would persuade me to stop cleaning, working, shuffling around, and instead just slow down, sit with him on our deck to chat, read or just soak up the silence together. Sometimes I resisted. Let’s face it. We are busy! But, in looking back, those are the moments that mattered.
Having your mate, your partner, your “one”, is having someone to just be with. Someone to dangle your legs over their lap with a sigh of relief as you finally relax for the day; someone to complain about work, the kids, or the bad driver who cut you off in traffic to; someone to curl up next to on the couch and watch Game of Thrones or Handmaid’s Tale and talk about how epic, disappointing, or plain messed up the show is; someone to drink wine and play cribbage with all night; and someone to fall asleep next to, feeling comforted by their breath, their body warmth, their closeness, and then wake up to the next morning with renewed reassurance that that your “one and only” is still there by your side to just be with you always. That’s what I miss about Ian. My king-size bed feels vast. My house — large and empty. But I’m using the memories and the eternal love to help fill the space.
My wedding band and engagement ring remind me of the two of the happiest days of my life — our wedding day and the day that Ian proposed. Ian was not much of a planner or a romancer, so the fact that he surprised me in Key West, Florida with a magical proposal — dim-lit lanterns, flower pedals, champagne, the works — gave me butterflies in my stomach for weeks after. I was so surprised and humbled that Ian wanted to spend the rest of his life with me. We had no idea what life had in store for us, but it didn’t matter because we had each other.
I’m still wearing my two rings — as well as Ian’s Koa wood wedding band on a macrame bracelet that I had made in Hawaii — because it feels unnatural to take them off. Wearing them is somewhat of a fallacy I guess because I’m technically not married, but removing them seems like too deliberate of a choice that I’m just not ready to make. It’s funny how these subtle nuances make such a massive impact when you lose someone.
I’ve even visited support groups on the subject. Some widows took their rings off right away because the reminder weighed too heavy on their hearts. Others had jewelers turn them into earrings, bracelets, or melded together, etc.. And, some just left them in a jewelry box. Yet the common theme when they finally decided to make whatever choice they made was that it just felt right. I’m trusting my heart, that when the time is right I’ll just know.
So today, July 4th, 2019, on what would be Ian and my five year anniversary, I watch my ring sparkle in the morning sunlight and it reminds me of the magical relationship we had. And even though Ian isn’t here to celebrate our five years with me in person today, we chose July 4th for our wedding date deliberately. Not only did we get the venue half-price for celebrating on a weekday over a weekend date, but we also knew that we would always be surrounded by friends and family, and would be guaranteed a great party on such joyous national holiday. We knew that fireworks would fill the darkness of night with light, excitement and splendor — reminding me again that although life is weird, it has a funny way of working out.
Happy anniversary, Ian. I’ll be thinking of you as I watch the fireworks tonight!