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A Reason, a Season and a Lifetime

Originally Published May 18, 2014 | By Traceyb

There is a saying that was shared with me about a year ago where someone told me that “people come into your lives for a reason, a season, or a lifetime”. It was interesting to me as I had never heard this before, and it was something I needed to hear in that moment. I was questioning my friendship with someone and sharing this information with a complete stranger; a nurse who was drawing my blood for my annual check-up, which by the way, I hate doing. Another story for another time…

I do not believe in coincidences. I do not believe that people come into our lives by chance, and this interesting piece of information was something that resonated with me in a huge way. I had never been able to rationalize my thinking of “no coincidences in life” and “the greater meaning of connections” and this person put the words out there plain as day. This particular nurse came into my life for that one, singular reason; to inform me of this interesting notion; people don’t come into our lives coincidentally. They are there for a “reason, a season or a lifetime”.

That was her reason. I will never see her again. But the impact she left with me last a lifetime.

On most days, we think we are connecting with people that we think are there for us. But I think most times we are actually meeting people we are supposed to impact. It can be hard to think of this the other way around, meaning; we actually connect with people we are supposed to impact, until it happens once or twice. I was at the airport last month and met these two women while having a beer waiting for my flight. We chatted and the one said to me, “I’m glad I missed my flight. Otherwise I wouldn’t have met you and I’m really glad I did”. The other woman offered to set me up with one of her single male friends in Seattle, to which my response was “no, thank you” But I digress…. I of course was having flight debacles galore this particular day, but perhaps this was the reason for my flight delays; to impact someone else in this case, these women.

There’s also another saying or theory that when you do through a major life change, be it loss or something else, you tend to find out who your real friends are – or are not. I like the idea of thinking that it’s more along the lines or a reason, a season or a lifetime. I’ve come to realize that everyone comes into your life for a reason – be it for your or for them. On most days I often think it’s for me, but I’ve gotten better at thinking maybe it’s for someone else. The woman at the airport, case in point; I impacted her that day. Doesn’t matter that I was having bad travel karma, the reason was I came into her life for a reason that day. That reason, I’ll never know. But it’s those connections that stay around for a while; those for a few days, weeks, months or even years sometimes. Those are our seasons. Until they become lifetimes.

Ed was my lifetime as are the kids. There is no question about that. And there is not further explanation or discussion that needs to take place. I know this. My kids know this, and anyone who knew us, or has read our blog knows this. Since his passing, I tend to see, and actually look for, the deeper meanings in the connections I make with people all of the time. And while often times the “reason, season, lifetime” can’t be seen right away, there are some connections that are clear as day, to me anyway. This is how it looks to me:

  • It’s a group of girls drinking Bloody Mary’s and Mimosas on a Saturday morning, or a different group of girls eating bar food and beers on a Friday night.
  • It’s a friendship that just ended for no apparent reason – the season just ended.
  • It’s a group of women who you have nothing in common with except you’ve all lost husbands. You just “get it” and that’s enough for a lifetime.
  • It’s a 21 year old young person that is seated next to you on a four hour flight that contains the most interesting and inspirational conversation. I know one day I’ll say “I remember her when…”
  • It’s dinner with an old friend where there is endless conversation and laughter and you can’t remember a word of what was said, just that it was great – and it makes you realize it’s time to think about moving forward.

My list is endless…

The reality is, everyone is a reason, most are seasons, and few are lifetimes. But I know who those are. Without question. I am lucky, grateful, privileged and honored to have them, as well as all of the “reasons and seasons” in my life. I learn from each and every one of them. Some just go deeper than others, and some just stand the test of time…and life.

I’ve had a lot of “reason” and “season” people come into my life; and I cherish the “lifetime” ones. They are all characters in my book of life. Some contain a brief sentence; some a page, others a chapter, and few are part of the entire story that is written each and every day.

Today, ask you to think about your “reasons”, “seasons” and “lifetimes”. We all have them. What do they look like to you?

Strength, courage, wisdom…faith, love, hope

It’s all I need to get me through each and every day.

Maui’s Awakening…How One Week Away Woke Me Up

Sunrise at Halekeala 10,000′ elevation above the clouds – image owned by Tracey Yeager Blackburn

February is always a terrible month for me. It marks the anniversary of Ed’s passing on February 3. It’s hard to believe but this year marked four years of his leaving us. Four long years. The first year, I just got through things thinking that after the first year, things will get easier. Joke was on me as I learned that the second year was actually harder than the first, and much too popular belief, this is somewhat normal. The first year you are in a bit of a fog. Disbelief mostly, but as the fog lifts, reality sets in, and that is mostly in year two. They are still gone. Still not here for holidays. Still not here to mow the lawn, fix a leaking faucet, and all of those other things that was “their” job. So February is always a bit tough for me, and this year, I decided to do what I had said I wanted to do the past few years. I went to Maui to forget about my day-to-day. I needed a vacation from myself 🙂

Maui was an incredible trip for so many reasons. I was on a tropical island with two very dear friends and we just had an incredible week. Sun, sand, ocean waves, shopping, dining and exploring the island. I can’t imagine having done this trip without them! I am so thankful to have them there with me at such a challenging time. That itself is incredible, but this trip provided more than just a respite. I actually learned a lot about myself in a very short period of time.

I loved how I lived life in Maui. Granted, it was vacation, but I think the further away we go away on vacation – and by that I mean actually “check out”, the more we learn about our authentic selves and what makes our souls sing. I used to refer to this being “vacation Tracey”, that in comparison to “work Tracey” which are two different people (note, I hate when anyone refers to themselves in third person vernacular, myself included :-)). Removing myself from my day-to-day and truly disconnecting gave me a good reset and not only showed me, but made me “feel” some things that I now realize are important to me. I think the biggest thing was how in Hawaii, the day is received with gratitude and it is done so by welcoming the sun-rise and honoring sunset daily. When the sunsets in Hawaii, most people stop and bear witness while many blow the conch shell as the sun hits the ocean. Every. Day. Push the pause button to respect the beauty, the nature, and something bigger than ourselves. It is amazingly beautiful and a reminder of how I take this for granted daily, adhering to a tight schedule and letting one day drift into the next. Getting the right balance of “real world” responsibilities so I can live the life of leisure on a tropical island for a week, while striking the chord of what makes us tick internally is not easy. But I remembering how I was in Maui and I want to live more like this. I don’t think I’d actually do well living there full time, but how can I bring a bit more of this balance into life to serve the person I am today? The person that has changed, for the better I hope, in the past four year?

Facing this when leaving Maui proved to be incredibly difficult. The obvious reason of course is living on a tropical island for a week is pretty nice. 80 degrees, sunshine, listening to the soothing sound of the waves in the ocean – you get the picture. What became very clear the day I was leaving, though, was asking myself, “What am I going home to? How am I really living my life”? I had to take a good, long look at that answer, and I didn’t like it. Don’t get me wrong – I have so much gratitude for my life –my home, my children, my dogs, my family and friends, and my job which affords me a great deal. All of it. I genuinely do. But when looking at how I spend my day, I didn’t like what I saw. And that is on me to change and no one else.

I had also pushed away a lot of feelings and things I needed to deal with as the proverbial “I’ll deal with it when I get back from vacation”. Guess what? All of it was waiting for me and pushing it off didn’t make it go away. Dealing with the grief that comes with the realization my husband has been gone for four years and by the way – he’s still not coming back – was merely delayed for a week. It was waiting for me and one lesson I thought I had already known – one cannot side step grief and the feelings that come along with it. We must walk through it, work through it and then and only then will it pass. Kind of like surfing a wave in the ocean. If you get caught in a wave, it has the ability to completely take over. I call this the “spin cycle” as the wave can knock you over in such a way all you do is tumble over and over not knowing which way is up until it’s over and you come up for air. If however you actually dive into the wave directly and sail through it confronting it head on, it’s actually a very smooth and gentle ride. No spinning. No upside down. No fear of not coming up for air. You just sail through it. My traveling friends taught me the beauty of this, amongst many other things during our vacation.

Diving into the wave voids the tumble of the crashing wave itself. Fear and anticipation of the wave paralyzes us from moving forward.

One month later, where does all of this self-awareness take me? How can I shift the sand under my feet? For now, just some small changes really. First, I had to be compassionate with myself allowing the grief that I had pushed away come for a visit. It was brief, but it was allowed. Second, I’ve asked myself what is a small thing I can do each day to keep me as grounded as I was in Maui? I don’t need magnificent sunrises and sunsets to receive the day with gratitude and open possibilities. I have accepted that I won’t get these rays of beauty in Seattle in February or March (some years even April), but I can hang pictures of my moments in Hawaii and go back for just a minute and connect with my own happiness daily. And the last one I’ll share here, but certainly not the last on my list of things I am shifting, is being more flexible with the time in my day. For as long as I can remember, I have been on a schedule. My calendar rules me. In the office by a certain time, out of the office by a certain time – I am a time management freak. I, like most, have a job and responsibilities, which I adhere to daily. I also have a very flexible work environment, and so I am going to take more advantage of it. For the first time I think I am managing my calendar filling in my “want to’s” and then my “have to’s”. This doesn’t mean I am not getting my job done. It just means I am prioritizing things differently. Balance? Maybe, but old habits are hard to break. Time will tell.

All is a work in progress, so before I make any other small changes, I’m going to try to get good at these.  I liked the person I was on vacation. Ed always used to tell me the he really liked “vacation Tracey”. I like feeling relaxed, laid back and just happy. And for the week in Maui, I was. It was a reminder of how I want to be. Every. Day.

What are you doing to make every day happy?

Thanks for “listening” J

XOXOXO,

Tracey

 

Sunset in Wailea, Hawaii – image owned by Tracey Yeager Blackburn

Breaking-Up with Facebook…I’ve Survived :-)

A few days ago, I decided that I was going to break-up with or “divorce” myself from Facebook. I won’t completely “disconnect” because there are many memories between Ed and I, as well as other family and friends that are there, but I will work hard to not log on, check my feed, or comment on posts. So far – so good. Here’s the why behind this decision…Facebook is not serving me any longer, and frankly, I don’t like who I am when I share and post certain things, particularly when it’s of a political nature. Frankly, I don’t think I’m smart enough and know enough about many of the issues, and I think many should ask themselves this same question before they start down the path of “keyboard courage” on Facebook or any other form of social media. Social media in general is not a place to be schooled. In fact, it’s where most mis-statements are shared and perpetuated. It’s also not the place for debate. Nothing I post on Facebook will change anyone’s mind. Nothing you post on Facebook will change anyone’s mind. No one will say, “You know what, they are right and I am wrong”. No one’s political view will change because I share an article from the Washington Post with my own added commentary. This is not how I can make a difference. This is not how I can make change. This is not how I can shift sand. In fact, all I am doing is contributing to the problem of the divide in this country. I always like to think I can be part of a solution, and I’m going to try to figure out what that means.

I can say, since “divorcing” Facebook, I have had many more one-on-one conversations with those that I am interested in spending time with. This has so much more of an impact than “liking” a Facebook post. Don’t get me wrong. I love social media. I am just re-evaluating how it can serve me and how I get what I want out of it, and not the other way around.

Some have asked me, “why now”? What finally pushed me over the edge was the incredible news cycle, posts in my Facebook feed and comments related to the fallen Navy SEAL Ryan Owens and his wife, Carryn Owens. I won’t go into the details of why this was the “straw that broke the camel’s back”, but I am sure many can imagine. Let’s just leave it at this – as a widow, I have a very different perspective on how this has unfolded.

Divorcing Facebook has me focused on writing and sharing things that I hope will help and inspire others. I strive to do this with kindness, authenticity, and vulnerability. I think this MIGHT be a better use of my time and maybe even a higher purpose.

Thank you to those who have already subscribed, and are interested in hearing from me. I hope I don’t let you down 🙂

Thanks for reading!

Tracey

P.S. – I can honestly say that not listening to news radio all day long and instead listening to kick ass music has already made a positive difference 🙂

What you don’t know…

Earlier today, I was checking Facebook and noticed a post from my brother-in-law Chris announcing he had gotten engaged. It was a bit surprising to me, but I was overjoyed for him. You see, Chris lost his wife Debbie unexpectedly last year to complications from heart surgery. I attended Chris and Debbie’s wedding almost six years ago. In fact, Ed was his best man. Chris and Debbie shared a love that I have described as “lightning in a bottle”. Their love of each other was so evident just by being in their presence. The way they looked at each other, interacted with each other, and just their simple “being”. It oozed not just love, but a connection that comes around so rarely in life. And when it does, treasure it and cherish it. They did. Ed and I did. And we still do and always will.

No one could have ever predicted that both of Chris and I would have lost the loves of our lives less than five years after that special day that they took their vows. That Chris and I would become members of a club that no one wants to join. A club that I hope to never welcome anyone else into ever.

Very typical of Facebook, I went to post a congratulatory comment and was shocked to read such comments of hatred spewing the most awful of sentiments. These included goodies like “how dare you so soon” to “I’m glad someone so selfish is out of Debbie’s life”. I felt the knife go through my heart. I can’t even imagine how it felt to Chris. For anyone who is not part of the club, I promise you have no idea how hurtful this can be. Hatred on any given day is painful. This type of loathing for someone who has lost the love of their life and has found life and love again, is beyond anything you can comprehend because you have not lived it. You cannot judge. You see what I know that these haters don’t is this; it’s easier to NOT live life than it is to fully live it after loss. Existing after losing your partner is not easy but possible. Its day in and day out, the mundane, the grief, the loneliness. That one can actually do, and while not pleasant, it is do-able. The harder option is putting yourself out there to actually live again. To love again, to be bold, take chances and experience life for all it has to offer. THAT is what is actually downright hard.

Here’s what you don’t know that might help you to understand what your condemnation of my brother-in-law feels like:

  • The pain that comes from losing your “person”. Your partner. Your team and often times, your better half. Facing a “new normal” that you didn’t ask for and trying to survive it sometimes one hour at a time, celebrating making it through one fucking day, because that can be an achievement. But make sure you add to that pain by calling him selfish for finding a way and a person to make it through the day with once again at a time when he wasn’t sure he was even going to live let alone love again.
  • While you might have lost someone you love, you cannot compare the loss of your spouse with any other loss. The loneliness that comes from not getting that daily phone call or text, that kiss goodbye in the morning and welcome home in the evening. And most of all, coming home to an empty house on any given occasion. Because you see, after the funeral, you went back to your life of these “normal” activities leaving him to watch and yearn for it to come back, hoping to wake up from this nightmare and just go back to the way it was. Is it so wrong to find that type of happiness of life again? Because according to your Facebook responses to his engagement, how dare he do such a thing. And btw – you know exactly how long it should take him to even think about it, because you know better.
  • How about guilt? The guilt from still being here while they are gone. The hindsight of medical decisions that were made and if they were the right ones. What if he or I had chosen differently? And is it our fault they died? But you see, here’s what I know, and I am sure Chris would agree with me. I would never wish this pain that I carry around every single day trying to figure out life on my worst enemy let alone the love of my life. I’ll take this pain for them because I would never want them to experience it. I’ll let them go because staying and experiencing such heartbreak is way more painful than staying. But go ahead and say hateful things to pile onto this guilt. I can assure you, nothing you can spew on Facebook can make either of us feel guiltier about living life without them questioning all of our life decisions then we already do.
  • And speaking of guilt, how about going on a date? The guilt that comes from “cheating”. And forget about thinking about enjoying yourself on said date. What will everyone think? How can I possibly betray the love of my life? Oh right, they are not here any longer. I fulfilled my vows, but yet I still feel guilt. And other’s opinions add to that guilt. When does that pain go away? Let’s not even go down the path of sex at this point. Again, go ahead and condemn either Chris or myself for loving and feeling again. Nothing you can say is anything we haven’t told ourselves. Haven’t felt the pain of guilt ourselves. Questioned it along the way ourselves. Nothing you can say can make me feel more pain than I already to daily.
  • Our hearts are designed for love and connection, and the beautiful thing that you learn when losing the love of your life is that love never ends. There is room in our hearts to love so very much and in so many different ways. We never not love those we lost. We learn to place new love right alongside our old love. No one is better or stronger than the other. They exist together. This is easier said than done, but once it’s figured out, the depths of our love can transcend just about anything. I truly believe this. I feel badly for those of you who spew hatred at this and think its not possible condemning those who have figured this out. I’m sorry it’s not on your acceptable timeline or done in the way you think matters. Your shallowness shows clearly, and I hope you do not have to learn this lesson in life through a life altering experience such as death.

I think the unkind sentiments share with my brother-in-law today have more to do with those being sad, angry and still grieving the loss of Debbie, and not the fact that Chris has found happiness again. Who would actually wish sadness, pain, loneliness and a life of heartbreak upon another person, especially one that was so loved by someone like Debbie? I have to believe this, and I feel deeply saddened for everyone’s loss. Debbie is a wife, mother, aunt, daughter, cousin, sister, friend etc. etc. Her loss is huge amongst us all and the pain for everyone goes deep. I am compassionate to everyone’s feelings right now, but I will not hesitate to protect Chris. I am one of the few that “gets it” having lost my husband, his brother, a few short years ago.

To Debbie’s daughters – I commend you on how you responded to this publicly on Facebook. Not that my opinion matters, but to share so openly your continued grieving of your mom along with your feelings of how this was shared with you. Your kindness and compassion, while sharing your discontentment of the “how” it was shared was eloquently stated. Others should take pause and learn from you all. I feel so deeply for the loss of your wonderful mother that you all are still experiencing. I wish you all peace in the time ahead.

My final thoughts are as follows….Our choices in this life are our own to make without judgement or criticism from anyone else. Your decisions are yours to make without judgement from anyone else. Before you stop and make judgement upon anyone else’s decisions, take a good hard look in the mirror and make sure you remember this. Act with kindness, love and compassion.

Wishing everyone continued strength, courage, wisdom…faith, love and hope.

Tracey

Looking Back and Aging Gracefully

The only time you should ever look back, is to see how far you've come
Image from http://www.searchquotes.com/viewimage/Only_Look_Back_To_See_How_Far_You’ve_Come/1249/

My 30 year high school reunion is coming up this Saturday. While I was walking the dog — generally my time of reflection every day — I thought to myself, “Wow. A lot has changed in 10 years. How did I get this old”? I got to thinking about my 20 year reunion, which of course was 10 years ago. Where I was in life at that time, and what has changed since? What have I really accomplished in that time?

My first thought naturally was that I have lost my husband. Within this 10 year time period, I went from married to widow, experiencing the worst thing I could have ever imagined. And something I could never have conceived happening 10 years ago. Also, with his loss, is the overall sarcoma cancer experience, becoming a care-taker and everything that went along with this over the course of 18 months. 18 months across 10 years. A short amount of time in context, but probably the most impactful thing that has ever happened in my life. Upon further reflection, I looked at the entire 10 years of what has happened in that time:

  • My children have gone from young adults to slightly more mature adults. They’ll always be kids to me, but they now live alone, have their own relationships and lives. We’ll always be a family, but in 10 years, they have become responsible adults with their own experiences.
  • I have moved across the country embarking on an amazing adventure both professionally and personally. The move to Seattle was one of the most positive things that has taken place in these 10 years. I could not have done it without Ed.
  • Along with the loss of my husband, we also lost our first pet together – Sadie the Rottweiler. She was only 5 when we had to put her down in 2008 – our first experience with sarcoma and loss.
  • In 10 years’ time I have held jobs at three different companies. I am proud to say one of those is one of the most recognizable brand named companies, if not the most recognizable brand named company in the world.
  • My physical self has ebbed and flowed in 10 years, and I can finally accept this. If memory serves, I was my worst physical self I have ever been 10 years ago. In the past 10 years, I achieved a peak of my physical best participating in not one, but two triathlons in 2008 and 2009. Today, I can say that physically, I am not at my best, not at my worst, but my mind and body are connected. I’m not longer at odds or struggle.

I then started to think, “What do I want to look back on in the next 10 years and be proud of”? Not quite a bucket list, but at the 40 year reunion, what will my list look like. Here’s what I think the pages of my story will include:

  • Another move. There is a great chance that I will make another big, physical move to someplace new. Where? I have no idea, but I do know this will happen. And this time, it will be without Ed unfortunately, but he has given me the strength to know I am capable of doing it on my own.
  • My career will shift as it has in 10 years. I am no longer on the corporate ladder, nor do I define myself by my career or “day job”. My slow, corporate decline will likely lead me to something completely new. I have no idea what, but it will be with purpose and combine what I know with what I am good at and passionate about. I still don’t know what that is, but am determined to know in the next 10 years.
  • Become a published author of articles, and most importantly to me, a book. I don’t care about becoming a best seller. I just want to achieve this, and now I have put it out there.
  • There will be marriages, children and family growth. With two kids at the 30ish age, I will likely be called Nana at some point in time J I will also continue to watch my friend’s children grow, get older and blossom into adulthood. This brings me such joy!
  • There will be loss…I now understand this and know this is a reality in the next 10 years. I have learned to be present and have gratitude for today and not think into deeply into this one. Just take each day as it comes.

I’m not sure where 30 years went from what everyone describes as “the best years of our lives”. And I’m not sure those days really were the best. As long as we keep writing exciting pages in our stories of life, we are living the best days of our lives each and every day.

Looking forward to going back in time this Saturday – a little older and a little wiser than my younger self.

Who’s with me?

Tracey

Peeling the Onion….”Invisible Losses”…One Layer at a Time

Last week when I wrote, I was discussing the “waiting room” and the practices of Christina Rasmussen, author of “Second Firsts”. I was very vulnerable admitting not only that I was taking a series of seminars with her called “Coffee with Christina” but also what I was uncovering in the process. This is not something I would have done in my past. While I tend to share a lot, I am also more guarded than most realize. Vulnerability is not my strong suit, however, I have become much better at it since Ed’s passing. Why not? What do I have to lose? The scariest thing in life has already happened to me – the evil cancer called Synovial Sarcoma that he went through and of course, ultimately losing him – and the pain that came along with it. The loss of my better half, the love of my life in this painful way – those are the things you don’t make up. It’s what nightmares are made of. It’s the one I am trying to leave behind.

In doing so, I have had to become more vulnerable and honest with myself. This is harder than you think, but the reality is, it is one of the most powerful and healing things one can do. So this week, in the “Coffee with Christina” program, we had to focus on a few things, but mostly on something called a “Grief Cleanse”. At first glance on this I thought, I have been really honest in my grieving the loss of Ed. I genuinely understand it, work with it and through it, and let myself feel how I want to feel about it at any given moment. It can’t be forgotten about or “moved on” from. I can move forward in life the best way I know how, but “moving on” is not something I will ever do. The “Grief Cleanse” however, is about going back to those “invisible losses” that seem smaller in nature. The ones that we might have dismissed as a “part of life”. Job losses, the ending of friendships, anything you can think of that might not have been properly acknowledged as loss. It’s amazing how we as a society do this, and I am thankful to be understanding this more and more, as I truly feel this is very important in forwarding my life in a happy and healthy way.

So right after I wrote about “the waiting room”, I had to go to Chicago for work. I was really leaving the waiting room for an entire week. I’ve travelled since Ed passed, certainly, but this time I was a bit more anxious about the trip. Skip had been sick and by this point was fine, but he gave me quite the scare – enough to have a lot of emotions from when Ed was sick come rushing back without my even realizing it (that is an entirely different blog post). Off I went to Chicago, and the week was fine – work hard, play hard as I jam pack my schedule to make sure I can see my family and friends, and I never get everyone in. Chicago is and always will be home – a source of comfort for me, but this trip felt different. And through my “grief cleanse” I think I’ve figured out why.

My first trip back to Chicago was a short four months after Ed passed away. I was still so numb, as everything about being alone was so new. I had to travel back because my 93 year old grandmother – “The Nana”- was not doing well. Frankly, she decided she had had enough and was ready to go. She stopped taking her medication. Stubborn as she was, she was going to go out on her own terms. As sad as it was to say goodbye, I understood and respected it. I cherished a few moments with her at the end, and shared them at her funeral, but her loss was so overshadowed with the loss of Ed that I never really grieved her death. I miss her, but she was 93 years old. She lived a long life seeing her children grow, her grandchildren grow, and her great grandchildren leading full lives. She went out on her terms. I miss her, but I know she is with Ed and he is taking good care of her. She adored him – absolutely adored him, and he adored her right back. I cannot help but to smile when I think of them together. But her passing is not where my grief cleanse comes into play.

Subsequent trips to Chicago (and other places) came several months later. This is now nine months post loss of Ed. Life has been moving along, each day I heal more, and I even get some glimpse of achievement and happiness. By this time, I have mastered my boat, mowing my lawn, purchasing the leaf blower that makes puts the neighborhood in envy, and am no longer squeamish when shoveling a dead bird or rabbit from the yard. When I travel, I am incredibly happy and here’s why – I am taking a vacation from my grief. I genuinely leave my waiting room and leave grief behind for a short time. And that’s always how it is. Great – I start to acknowledge it – honesty with myself.

But today, I was thinking about when I came home from this trip. I’m always happy to get here because “there’s no place like home”. My comforts, my dogs, just the niceties of home. But why did this trip feel different? Because I’m no longer taking a vacation from my acute grief. I’m now starting to uncover the other layers of invisible grief that I have not acknowledged. And I realized on of them today.

Every plane ride home from Chicago, I cry. When my grandmother passed away, I acknowledged this as the week of her loss on top of Ed’s loss just catching up to me. It had been a very long, emotional week going through this again so soon. And so I cried – a lot. Subsequent trips, I did the same thing, but not as intensely. And I just chalked that up to having such a wonderful time with my closest of family and friends, and how much I miss them that I was just sad to leave. Later, I realized I was sad to be returning to my grief, and even later, I realized, I’m living a sort of “second life” in Chicago. Not sure how healthy that is, but I understand it. After this last trip, I cried again on the plane ride back. But I couldn’t understand why. I didn’t feel like I was on vacation from my grief. I had actually told a friend of mine that I really didn’t feel comfortable in my own skin that week. When I looked into the mirror I didn’t recognize myself. I now understand why. I cry on the plane ride home because every time I return, I am grieving the loss of my old life. My life in Chicago. My old life before I met Ed, and of course the 10 years we lived life together as a family. Raising the kids. A life of happy memories of our family, building bonds with lifelong friends, creating holiday traditions and everything that life was supposed to be. It was not supposed to be cut short after only thirteen years together. He was not supposed to go at age 48. I have always recognized the loss of him, and the loss of “us” as a married couple. I have not acknowledged the loss of “me”. And now I do.

After Ed passed away, I was asked quite a bit (still asked), “Are you moving back”? My answer is always, “never say never, but no – I don’t think so”. After seven years in Seattle, I am quite content here. I’m not sure if Seattle will be forever for me. If I honestly had to respond I would say no. At some point, I have to figure out where life is best for me. Chicago will always be home as well Seattle, in two very different ways. Home is where the heart is, and for now and always, mine will reside in both places – any perhaps someplace else in the future.

With a clear head and a calm heart….XOXOXO,

Tracey

Life After Loss – the “waiting room”

I have been taking steps to try to really move forward with life after the loss of Ed. And while I am doing “okay” I think I can do better. Really live again, not just go through the motions. So I am participating in a program called “Coffee with Christina” which was started by Christina Rasmussen author of “Second Firsts”.  She has created this community of people who are all trying to find the same things as me; life after loss. We have “homework” which helps get introspection on things, and as part of this, sharing this information with someone is key. It gets you to be vulnerable and in my opinion, really “own” it. I thought of several people who I could share this with, and while I shared privately with the “coffee” community, I also thought to myself – GO BIG OR GO HOME. So here it is. Very raw and vulnerable, and not something I would generally share so openly.

Coffee with Christina – week 1 – the waiting room

I have been doing a lot of thinking about the waiting room and acknowledgment of past losses to understand why I am here. It’s taken me all week to come up with this:

For my past losses – I have a lot – my parents divorced when I was young, I was some-what bullied as a kid, rejected by men so I was happy to have attention from anyone which led to some bad choices until I met my husband, and job lay-offs, which is a different kind of rejection. I have to agree that these were probably never acknowledged as “loss” until my husband passed away in 2013. During a session in a bereavement group I participated in, we went back and did an exercise similar to this charting out different losses at different times in our lives. This did in fact made me open my eyes up to the fact that these were easily “pushed aside” in a “get over it and on with it” way, particularly with young love and jobs – there are plenty of others out there. Of course until the loss of my husband who is and always will be the love of my life. But my past experiences, including the loss of my husband, are what make me who I am today. So I don’t begrudge them. With one of my first heartbreaks with a “man” I knowingly had to break it off with him because at some point I realized, I didn’t need someone else to make me as unhappy as I was. I could this by myself, and I’d probably be happier. And I also realized that I will never feel the same way about this “man” with anyone else; I will feel different and it will be better. And I was right. I’m glad I was able to figure this out as it severed me well.

I have been thinking about what my waiting room looks like and why. It’s fairly simple and what Christina describes; big comfy couch, big screen TV, warm blankets in the winter and open windows in the summer. I am here because this is a place where I can go numb, isolate and just not think – I think and work all day long. My mind never shuts off, and sitting in front of the TV allows me to turn off my mind. I need that. I remember the first time I had felt the need to retreat there and the first time I understood why; it was my comfort after my husband passed away. I remember the first time I left it thanks to a post on Christina’s Second Firsts page, and I now know I can leave and come back anytime I want to do so.

But here’s the “aha” I had this morning while walking my dogs – a time where the clarity of my thinking is best because I am out in nature with no distractions – I do not retreat to the waiting room because of the loss of my husband any longer. One of the reasons I joined this group is because I knew that I could no longer “blame” every ounce of unhappiness I have on his death. There was more going on here keeping me in the waiting room. Going back through the past losses, I think I realize what it is. When my father left, my mother was left no choice to be a single mother of two children. We went without a lot and the common phrase I had to accept was “we can’t afford it” – a phrase that still makes me cringe. My mother had the help and support of her parents, my grandparents, who I was very close with, particularly my grandmother. My grandmother always used to instill in me that when I grew up, I must be able to take care of myself independently and financially. And so I did. I went to college, got my degree and have always been exceptional at my job. I have always done well financially, and thinking back to my childhood thoughts, I never wanted to be “rich”. I wanted to be “comfortable” (feeling of my waiting room) financially. This edict from my grandmother did me very well. I have always been able to be the breadwinner of the family and I emphasize “needed” because there was a time when my husband was the sole breadwinner running his own business. I am thankful for my ability to do so, because where I worked when he got sick with Synovial Sarcoma, I had the best insurance and more importantly the ability to take whatever time off I needed. After he passed away I took a year of leave and then ultimately resigned (I did have another job however – how could I possibly just NOT have a job, right?). I’m thankful for my education, my work ethic, and my ability to earn a living and keep in the lifestyle I have created for myself and my family. I am so fortunate that I have not had to make financial decisions based upon my husband’s passing away. I know there are so many widows out there who don’t have this same choice. I can’t even imagine it.

So here’s my “aha” – I am in my waiting room because I am in a routine of going to work, earning a good living, and being comfortable. I believe Christina refers to this as the “roommate”. My roommate requires that I have financial stability regardless of my happiness. I need to go to work and be financially independent. And one of my biggest fears is not being able to do this, particularly now that I am alone. I fear losing my house, not having health insurance, getting sick and not having anyone to take care of me. The year I spent not working, I didn’t worry about finances as I knew I had enough in the bank to be fine. More than fine, but that’s something I’ll never admit. It was the very first time I was thinking about taking care of myself. Healing from my grief and from being a caregiver to my husband. Putting myself first is not something with which I am familiar, and now it’s all I have to concern myself with. The “stuck” of my waiting room is from my bad relationship with money and fear of financial stability if I followed my passions and not my routine.

My husband and I used to have a very funny joke between us. We agreed that I had the ability to be two very different people; “work Tracey” – hard core, Type A, get it done and “vacation Tracey” – relaxed, go with the flow and downright fun. We both agreed that we like “vacation Tracey” better. I do acknowledge that “work Tracey” came in very handy when managing doctors, hospitals, clinical trials, research etc. Weeks before he passed away, we were talking about the future – my future without him. We had always talked about my potentially going to law school. I had been home taking care of him for a few months at this point, which was my sole job. I said to him, “maybe I’ll go to law school”. His response was, “no. not now. You just mellowed out”. In my care taking of him, I had gotten much closer to “vacation Tracey” who is in my opinion a much better version of myself. Before he passed away I told him that I wanted to be the person that he saw me as, because he always saw me as a better person that I saw myself. I want to get out of the waiting room and be THAT person. That will require hard work and change of my routine – and getting a little uncomfortable and vulnerable.

Thank you for listening.

New Year, New Me, New Space….

Two years ago today, the Baltimore Ravens played the San Francisco 49ers in Superbowl 47. All I remember through the haze was that the power went out during the game. I think the Ravens won, but I couldn’t tell you with certainty. I couldn’t tell you a lot from that day, except it was the day Ed passed away. Superbowl Sunday. We were both football lovers, and I suppose there is some irony in the fact that he passed on this particular day. I wasn’t sure I’d ever be able to watch a Superbowl again. My husband would never have wanted that for me; he would never want me removing anything from my life that made me happy. Football makes me happy, and last year, the Seattle Seahawks won the Superbowl, removing the sting of that one year anniversary through distraction and excitement. This year, the Seattle Seahawks played again, in probably what will go down in the most historic Superbowl in history. Unfortunately, the Seahawks lost the game, but the excitement was there. The happiness of them making it to the “show” was still there. Spending the day with “framily” – friends that have become family – cheering on the home team, making great memories was there. The Seahawks lost this time around, but the stinger of the anniversary was kindly distracted by the love of football and all of the fun that goes along with it. Football is something that Ed and I shared and enjoyed together. It is a happy memory for me and a way for me to try and add a happy space to this day. I can honor my husband by still having that love of the game and thoroughly enjoying it…and I do every football season and will continue to do so.

I often try to describe put into words how life has felt over these past two year, and as I reflect on this day, the two year anniversary of Ed’s passing, I think back to our wedding for such an analogy so that others might understand.

When Ed and I got married, the reverend who officiated our ceremony did I a wonderful job of bringing both the Catholic and Jewish rituals together, and Ed was excited to “break the glass” as part of the Jewish tradition. He thought it was just kind of cool, and I never really knew the meaning behind this ritual until our ceremony as it was about to happen. Reverend Jim stated to Ed, me and our friends and family that surrounded us, “the breaking of this glass represents what would happen if this marriage broke. The shattered shards of glass cannot be put back together again no matter how hard you try. This is why we cherish marriage and treat it gently, so as not to shatter the glass”. Okay, I paraphrased a bit here, but you get where I’m headed.

On this day two years ago my heart shattered. At precisely 11AM PT, I watched my husband take his last breath. It was the most painful, yet peaceful moment I have ever experienced. The pain and devastation that comes from the true heartbreak that followed is nothing I could have ever imagined. Anyone who has experienced the loss of a loved one understands this, yet we all know that it is not the same for any two people. We just “get” it. The moment Ed took his last breath was the day my heart shattered into those un-repairable shards of glass. Life, nor my heart will ever be the same. It will mend and be scarred, but it will never be the same.

Life looks different to me now. Like a kaleidoscope, at each turn the view is different, some views better than others, but always different including how I view the passing of time. My year now tends to start on Feb. 3, the day Ed died. Memories correspond back to before Ed was sick, after he was diagnosed, during treatment, during which specific treatment, hospital visits, and of course, after he passed away. Superbowl Sunday is definitely on that calendar; perhaps a holiday of sorts.

Looking back to my last “calendar year”, 2014 was what I describe as a complacent, “level setting” year for me; recovery in the off-season? Maybe and here’s how I think of it. I often described life after loss like being a weeble toy that wobbles back and forth trying to steady itself. I felt like this often, and 2014 was the time in which I stopped wobbling so fiercely. I went back to work, got into a routine and just got back to a resemblance of life. What I realized was I was living my old life but Ed just wasn’t there. Now that we are two years since Ed has passed, the wobbling might have steadied, but I have also realized that last year was spent getting back to “center”. And that’s okay, but now, I do feel as though it’s time to live happily and healthily – present, honest, vulnerable and true to myself – even if I don’t completely know what that means.

So with the start of my year, I have promised myself that in 2015, I will continue to grow and live again. Create a life that is mine; the life I knew as ours is never coming back. It can’t. He’s never coming back. And I know this. I have always known this but I don’t know if I have really lived it. I am embarking on doing things that I want to do for me, and I hope to uncover my passion in life and make a difference in others. Part of this including creating a new blog site just for me, and if you’re reading, you’re already here. This is a place where I can expand upon my writing, connecting with others, and just putting things out there. New Year, New Me, New Space – small steps to living life…at least the path that I am on right now. That could change tomorrow. And that would be okay. It’s all up to me now.

So on this day, please raise a glass in honor of my beautiful, amazing husband, Ed. Remember him, talk about him, share stories about him. This is how we keep his memory alive. And if you’ve never met him, ask me to tell you all about him. Sharing him and the positive memories of our life together is my greatest honor.

By the way – Go Seahawks. Thank you for not only giving me and all of the 12s some great football this year, and a championship team to be proud of, but for also delivering some fun, excitement and happiness to balance out the sorrow that I feel on this day. As a native Chicagoan though, I’m oh-too- familiar with the phrase, “there’s always next year” J

Strength, Courage, Wisdom….Faith, Love and Hope – it’s all I need to get me through every day.

XOXOXO,

Tracey