Tag Archives: Life after loss

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

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

Moving Beyond Grief: My 12 Week Fitness Program Challenge – I’ve Gained More than I have Lost…

I consider myself to be an idiot savant when it comes to losing weight. How can I not be? I have gained and lost the same 30 pounds more times than I care to admit. I am really good a losing weight. But like most, I become a statistic when it comes to keeping it off. When I have lost this weight, I have done so not on crash diets, rather, the doctor recommended program of Weight Watchers (WW), which is considered to be a relatively healthy program to balance calories with healthy foods. WW is great for losing weight, but I think something gets lost in helping continuing the program to keep it off. Makes sense actually because the program is designed to pay to lose weight – not to keep it off.

The last time I participated in any such program was 2008. Once my entire lifestyle changed when moving to Seattle, I fell into the “statistic” of gaining the weight back. It’s happened before. Why should it surprise me? I swore I’d never do it again, and I haven’t. Like all of the other times, I came to accept my failure as just something that will be with me forever. I’m not meant to be thin and maintain a “perfect” number on the scale without starving myself or fanatically working out to burn calories. I’m good at a lot of things, but this would not be one of them.

When Ed got sick, the last thing I cared about was how I looked. I remember one day he told me how nice I looked and I said “Cancer doesn’t care how I look”. His response was, “that’s fine, but I do, and I think you look beautiful today”. I felt like an asshole (because I was being one), and realized that my husband loved me no matter how I looked – fat, thin, made up or not – it had nothing to do with the physical me. It had to do with the whole me. I also had to learn this hard lesson watching him physically change when he was sick. No matter how sick he looked, I only saw him as my beautiful husband. Even the night before he passed away as he stood in front of the mirror shaving (something I always enjoyed watching him do). He was thin, weak, frail, and a version of himself that I could not ever have imagined him being. But he never looked that way to me, even at that moment, which is one of the last memories I have of him before he passed away. He was my strong, brilliant, beautiful man that I loved with all of my heart. I loved the whole him as a person. After he passed away, I realized how much time of ours I wasted counting calories, foregoing foods and wine that otherwise might have been immensely enjoyed because I was “dieting”. I realized that skipping all of those photo opportunities because I didn’t like the way I looked was something I’d regret because now all I have left are photos of memories of experiences – many missed. I promised I’d never do it again. And I haven’t.

Fast forward though the days, weeks and time that can now be measured in years, that I am learning how to live this new life that I didn’t ask for. When Ed first passed away, I had no appetite whatsoever. I was eating enough to not lose weight, but was not eating healthy at all. As time progressed, I started getting back to “normal”, however, I hated to cook for myself and worse, and I hated eating by myself. That led to foods that were easy to make and mostly packaged, and they had to be easy to eat while sitting on the couch in front of the TV. I wasn’t alone if I was with my Real Housewife bitches 😉 (Thank you for Andy Cohen and this gift). Eventually, as time passed, this caught up with me. I put on a few extra pounds which made me uncomfortable. I was no longer comfortable in my skin, which I actually had finally accepted. I also felt like shit all of the time. Something needed to change, but I would not “diet”. Never again. The definition of insanity is doing something the same way over and over again, expecting a different result. I am not insane. In order to find peace physically, spiritually and mentally, I needed to figure this one out once and for all. And let’s be clear – the answer to how to be physically healthy has never changed. Being physically healthy (which technically I am – low blood pressure, low bad cholesterol, high good cholesterol, good blood sugar levels), really boils down to balancing a checkbook – debits and credits of calories in and out. But what I realized is I needed to figure this out mentally – and not by way of willpower not to eat certain foods. There was more to it, but I didn’t know what that lightbulb was. Clearly, it never was switched on. In fact, I think there was duct tape over it in the “off” position.

Through my widow community, I was introduced to Michelle Steinke-Baumgard, who lost her husband in a small plane crash and has detailed her journey since he passed and living her life to its fullest. She found solace in her grief through working out, and since has created a community called OneFitWidow which recently rebranded as OneFitLife. One of the many reasons I enjoy Michelle so very much is her beautiful writing which has the ability to connect deeply in the soul providing validation of many of the feelings I have experienced, not just in losing my spouse, but in her life prior to her losing her spouse – corporate job, stressed, overweight, prioritizing everyone and everything but herself. I was looking at a mirror image of my life. So when a newer program that OneFitLife was offering came across my Facebook feed, I said, “why not”. It was called the “12 Week Fitness Challenge” and it was based upon clean eating, building lean muscle mass and NOT FOCUSING ON THE NUMBER ON THE SCALE. This was different than what I have done in the past as WW programs are all about the scale. Under the WW program, every week you check in on your progress in front of someone else, so you need to be accountable. And when you reach your “goal” weight, you celebrate and then you’re “done”. Over the course of the 12 Week Fitness Challenge I would realize how wrong this approach was, and likely one of the crucks of my prior “failure”.

So I started the 12 week fitness challenge on April 1, 2016. As part of the program, you do have to weigh yourself and take measurements (and no, I am not sharing what those numbers were) because this is one measure of progress, but only one, and checking in on this one measurement takes place one time per month. I was “all in”, which is normal for me when starting anything. I followed every instruction, read every article, did everything that was asked, tracked food intake, did the workouts etc. The first three weeks were considered “detox” from sugars and processed foods with this being a more strict time (or so I thought). At the three week mark, I had a business trip to Chicago, and of course, a certain level of planning had to take place. How could I follow this program but not go back on my promise to not deprive myself of some of the things I love to eat while in Chicago? I was going to “blow it” which now I have come to understand in my mind means “I’m not being perfect so why should I even try”? So I evened my mind out and decided I would do my best, however, my life will never exclude Lou Malnati’s pizza :-). And this is a decision I made. The trip turned out fine, I didn’t go ape shit crazy eating bad foods all week, and I made good choices. Small steps to a better life, which is the actual basis of this particular program. I wouldn’t understand how important this realization was until about a month later.

So month one, or the first four weeks into the program – 1/3 complete, I wasn’t doing too badly. A week away however, threw me off a bit, and while I didn’t fall “off the wagon” while I was away, I did a bit when I returned. I had not been perfect. I was now in the “why bother” mode. It was “here I go again” – I’ve failed, but not completely. I was however still making better eating choices, but I was not really tracking, not working out, and basically getting lazy. In the spirit of “go big or go home”, if I wasn’t going to be perfect, than why bother? I was just failing again.

But then something happened…

My Facebook memory feed started showing my past triathlon pictures. I remembered that feeling of accomplishing these races as something I never thought I would be able to do. It’s not something I can describe but something that connects in your soul. I thought to myself I’d like to have that feeling again. So I looked up what events might be coming to the area, and found one in early August. The negative self-talk started: “You’re not in good enough shape to do this”, “You can’t be ready for this in such a short amount of time” etc. etc. Then a different voice spoke and said, “what if you just go for a bike ride today and see how that feels”? Not perfection. Not training. Just get out on the bike and enjoy the ride. And so I did. It was hard – I couldn’t believe actually how hard it was to ride a short five miles. After all, as a triathlete, I crushed 15 miles in 45 minutes AFTER a ½ mile swim. How could this be? But it still felt great. I was moving again. A shift was happening.

The final light bulb went on one day when I was on yet another bike ride, which was becoming a regular occurrence, along with some attempted running. I’d never get to a triathlon again without this, although I don’t get nearly the enjoyment from running that I get from bike riding. Anyway along this bike ride, I saw a woman on the trail that had a beautiful, natural, healthy looking figure. I said to myself, “I would like to look like that”. In the past, there has been much negative self-talk response that said, “Why bother? You’ve never looked like that and will never look like that. Your body isn’t built that way”. For the first time ever I did not hear this. Instead, the voice in my head talked back to me and said “Well why can’t you”?

The duct tape was now off of the light switch, it was flipped “on”, and the bulb burned brightly. Mentally, I had taken a turn in “getting it”. The failures I’ve experienced have not been physical. It’s because of where the focus has been; how we appear physically to others; what that magic number on the scale should be; being accountable to everyone other than myself.

So in the first 12 Week Fitness Program, here’s what I have gained:

  • The realization that for years, I lost the same 30 pounds over and over in an effort to look good. The weight loss was a goal and destination – not a way to live my life. My brain has now caught up. I can only do this for me and only me. I have to look at myself in the mirror and be happy with what I see. I am responsible to create my own happiness. Me. No one else. And when I do this, I feel great!
  • The comprehension that the people you love see you as you are as a person. The physical doesn’t matter. Love shows you the person in all of their beauty and not just their physical appearance. I believe Ed saw me the same way I saw him; our better halves.
  • I am a perfectionist and it is not a strength; it is a weakness. I continually fall into the trap of if it’s not done perfectly, then I’ve failed. Here’s what I’ve learned. Even doing a little something right is better than doing nothing at all. Not measuring, tracking food, or working out for one day, does not mean failure. It does not mean “why bother”. It just means do it right at some point. Some of the time. But the more you do it right – and not perfectly – the better you’ll feel mentally, which will lead to the physical results. Every day is not perfect. Every hour is not perfect. But make them all good and make them all count.
  • Working out does not have to mean hours of cardio and sweat, or a very structured program. Just get moving and for no reason other than to move. I sit at my desk all day long, and just riding my bike – not for a certain number of miles or any kind of goal other than to get out, enjoy the sunshine and nature and just moving my body is enough. The goal is to move every day – not to burn calories or lose weight.
  • Being a perfect number on the scale has nothing to do with participating in life and being happy. Period. Hard stop. Participate in life every day in every way and only in ways that lead to happiness.

What I have learned over in those past 12 weeks weighs more on me than any loss on the scale. And in the best possible way. I’m participating in the next 12 Weeks Challenge can feel my mind shifting in even greater ways. That’s a story for another time J

Thanks for “reading” 🙂

Wishing you all Strength, Courage Wisdom….Faith, Love and Hope,

Tracey xoxoxo

Tribal Visits…

This past Saturday night, I had the pleasure of attending the annual NW Sarcoma Foundation gala event, Stories from the Vineyard. It’s IMG_0317the foundation’s largest fundraiser of the year, and once again, proved to have very generous supporters and donors from a tight knit community. The “paddle raise” alone garnered $40,000. My guess is that the entire evening raised over $100,000. Shit, my table paid $675 for a cake alone, and we were not the only table to do such a thing 🙂

This year’s event was slightly different for me than last year. Last year, I had an entire table of friends attend with me, and this year, I decided to go alone and just “be” with my Sarcoma tribe, because that is what this group is to me – my tribe of those who understand this disease. For me though, visiting this “tribe” poses its challenges, which I of course let no one see. My carefully placed “mask” hides it all.

This is the annual time when I reconnect with Ed’s doctor, and get to hear updates on the advancements in the t-cell immunotherapy treatments that he is working on. It’s the one night a year I see two of his many nurses who always remember him fondly (no matter how sick he was or how crappy he felt, he was a charmer with the ladies :-)). It’s the moment where he is recognized as a “Sarcoma Angel”…this night his name was projected on a large screen for all to see, along with a list of others. A beautiful song was played in tribute to them, which was beautiful. I did not shed a tear, while you could hear others doing just that. Rightfully so. It’s a night of genuine compassion, stories of survival and passing, hope and sorrow, all in one evening so that we can do better….better research, better care, better awareness and better understanding.

So on this one night of the year, I visit my Sarcoma tribe. I wear my “mask”, smile and not say “fuck you sarcoma”. Although everyone in that room would chant it with me. The weight of the evening stays with me still today, but it is not as heavy as it was last year. Overall, I laugh more and cry less, but this vile disease, I will never understand. I will never accept it. And one night a year, I will visit it, let it visit me, allow myself to go back to an uncertain time, and then I will say goodbye. Until next year….I can only hope there are less people on the “angel” list and more on the “survivor” list.

And now to honor my husband, I will continue sipping my wine. I will watch the Chicago Bears take on the San Diego Chargers. I will smile every time Jay Cutler does something wrong and just think of Ed cursing him…..which makes me smile 🙂 And with that thought, the weight from the weekend lifts….

Strength, Courage, Wisdom….Faith, Love and Hope….

Tracey

Sleepless in Seattle…sort of….

No matter who you are, no one can argue with the joy of sleeping in your own bed. Whether it’s a long day of work, a business trip, an overnight-er, or a two week vacation, I don’t know who does not take pleasure and sometimes joy or relief in sleeping in their own bed. It’s comfortable, inviting, and for me, my respite: The place where I can go and feel safe. And when you’ve slept in the same place for many years, the idea of changing that can be an odd thing to consider.

This might not seem like a big deal, but for me, it is….or it was. I never really thought about the notion of sleeping in the entire bed after Ed passed away. Not because I was keeping a spot for him, just because it never dawned on me that the entire bed was mine. I didn’t think about this until my friends were telling me about their purchasing a new, king sized bed. Ed and I realized early on that a queen sized bed would never be big enough for us, so about three months after we moved into our first home together, we bought a kind sized bed. We’d never slept in anything smaller except if we went on vacation and the place we stayed had a smaller bed, but regardless, we always had our respective sides. And in our king sized bed, we had plenty of room to sleep comfortably where touching was optional 🙂 We would joke on occasion that sometimes we felt so far away from each other, we had to wave from our respective sides. So when my friends were telling me the tales of moving to a king sized bed, all I could think was how have you done without for so long? As we talked more about the new king size bed, they each teased each other about one or the other still going to the middle of the bed and taking up all of the space. They further went on to talk about how when one or the other went out of town, they immediately slept in the middle of the bed and it was a luxurious treat. I paused with this notion and just thought to myself, I don’t sleep in the middle of the bed. Why don’t I sleep in the middle of the bed? In fact, I hadn’t even thought about it. The idea never entered my mind. I did however, recall reading Kristine Carlson’s book, Heartbroken Open, where she describes her sadness with the empty side of the bed where her husband Richard, who also had been taken from her much too soon in life, had slept. She goes on to write about her experience the first time she slept on her husband’s side of the bed and how comforting it was to her. When I read this all I could think to myself was, “why would I sleep on Ed’s side of the bed? It’s further from the bathroom”. Ms. Practical I am…

But this notion of sleeping in the middle of the bed just stuck in my head. Thinking about it. For months. I had plenty of room on my own side of the bed. I didn’t think I’d find comfort sleeping on Ed’s side of the bed. This did not seem like a change I needed to make, particularly one that would help catapult me into my new life. Instead I brushed it off and got back to other things. More important changes in life in my efforts to move forward.

I went to Chicago the first two weeks of October; two different trips for different occasions – one pleasure one business. And I paid attention to how I slept in the bed at the hotels I stayed at over the course of these two weeks – there were three different hotels in just one weekend. Did I sleep on one side? Did I sleep in the middle? A natural over analyzer I am. Was I over analyzing the entirety of the situation? Yes, but why? Why is the idea of sleeping in the middle of the bed such a hard concept to wrap my head around, let alone do? Of all of the changes I have considered making, why does this one, small action, seem so difficult?

During my travels, I noticed, that I did in fact, sleep in the middle of the bed. So I told myself, I am going to do this when I get home. I am going to conquer this small, seemingly meaningless action and see how it feels to sleep in the middle of the bed. And so I did it. One night, I just took the plunge. I even got into bed on Ed’s side. And it felt amazing!! I cannot explain it, but there was something so refreshing about it. It was now my space, and maybe there was something comforting about just being in it. This space that was the middle point of where Ed and I shared our nights. This wall that separated our respites on any given evening, while allowing us to share it at the same time. I was in the middle. The bed is no longer divided into individual spaces, rather, I now have what was ours as mine. Every night. As much of or as little of how much I want. I can go back to my space at any time, however, when one takes a step forward, going back is safe but never the same. I don’t think I can go back to my side of the bed. It’s all my side now. This is a small step forward in my new life, and inconsequential to most; huge for me.

They say small steps are the way to go the distance, so I’ll take this one proudly 🙂

Strength, courage, wisdom….faith, love and hope,

Tracey

Who Am I – the Identity Crisis (not mid-life crisis….)

This is a question I have often asked myself even before Ed passed away. But now I do so with greater urgency. There are days I feel so lost in this that life just gets overwhelming. No longer am I defined by my career – something that defined me for so many years – too many in fact, nor am I defined by being a wife – the role I enjoyed most. So who am I and where do I go from here? Most days I feel as though I am living my old life just without him in it.

When I met Ed, I was very career focused. I wanted to be a VP of Marketing by age 30, and while I don’t think I was going to get there by then, I was well on my way. My meeting him changed that dramatically. I realized there was so much more to me and my life than my career. Love gave me so much more. He gave me his heart and cherished mine. He gave me two children is a non-conventional way. I realized that I was happy to earn a living not let a living earn me. Marrying him and my identity changing from single, career gal, rental apartment on Lake Shore Drive to wife, mother, and suburban home owner was an absolutely defining moment in my life.

Ed’s death forever changed my identity as well. I went from my favorite identity of being his wife and married to now being a widow and not married. Defining and equally life altering? Absolutely. Then why is this such a difficult thing to discuss with others? Let me explain…

I traveled for my job last week. One of the perks of this particular job of mine is the fact that our offices sit just outside of Chicago. A few times a year, I get to go “home” to work and the perk is I get to visit friends and family. It’s this perfect combination of work and vacation; I get the best of both. This particular trip had me meeting some new people that were new to the company due to a recent acquisition. I really enjoy connecting with new people, but the idea of “small talk” where the question I feel the need to avoid most is “are you married”? This used to be a question that I loved. I was so proud of my wonderful marriage, my amazing husband and what was an amazingly happy life. And frankly, I am proud of myself and how I have survived the past 2 ½ years. The things I have overcome, the things I have done to survive. I am proud of it. But that question, “Are you married”? In my new life, that is not something that is answered easily, and not because I have an issue with answering it (although saying the words “I am a widow” is not something I will ever be comfortable saying”, but the aftermath that follows. “No, I am no longer married” and then the explanation that follows, “My husband passed away a 2 ½ years ago”…the holy-shit-I-just-stepped-in-it look on their face and everything else that follows. Basically, I am consoling the person on the other end of the discussion when it’s all said and done; “It’s okay, I’m fine”. “It’s been over two years….I’m fine”. “He had a very rare form of cancer – I’m fine”. “Yes, he was young like me – just shy of his 49th birthday”. “I’m fine”.

Why is this? If I was divorced, this would be glazed over and not given a second thought. But to be a widow? At my age? It is unthinkable and untalkable. Why? The reality is, there are over one million widows out there. And a lot of them are young. Younger than me and older than me. But it doesn’t matter. When you have lost the love of your life, your partner, your better half, it does not matter how old you are, how many years you had together, nothing matters. Your life has been changed and your identity – in one last breath, is altered. And no one is comfortable talking about it because society defines being a widow or widower as something we just don’t talk about. Think about what comes to your mind visually just saying the word “widow”. What is it??? Give it a Google and see what comes up under images. Just for fun 🙂

My being bestowed the identity of a widow is the one I never asked for. I would trade it for anything else. It is the most horrific thing I have experienced to date. But we should make it more awful but not being able to just come out with it?

Because here’s the deal….as much as I don’t want being a widow to define me, it does. It defines me as much as becoming a wife and a parent did. It 100% changed my life, and I am working my hardest to define me for the better because I can assure you, my husband would not have it any other way. He gave me the most wonderful pieces of me in being a wife and a parent. And now his life is making me work to be the best version of myself I can be. I can only hope to be the person he saw me as because he always saw me better than I saw myself.

Here’s the deal. Life is hard. Death is a part of life. And it isn’t always fun to discuss but guess what? It is what it is. We need to change the dialogue on how we talk to widows and widowers. Period.

So back to my original question -Who am I? I’ve decided that I am not defined by one thing at any one time. I’m a lot of different things, and I can be anything I want to be – because I said so…So here’s who I am:

  • I’m a widow. There is no getting around this and there never will be, and when Ed was alive, this list would have started with “I am a wife”. I “own” both and talking about being a widow requires me to “own” it.
  • I’m a parent to two amazing adults who I could not be more privileged to have raised and proud to call my family
  • I’m a daughter and my mom and dad would say I’m the best J
  • I am a doggie mommy to two of the most spoiled pups EVER – and they deserve it
  • I’m a sister and sister-in-law – one brother and his wife and thanks to my husband being the youngest of eight, I have two sisters, five brothers each with their own partners; all of whom I love and appreciate dearly
  • I am an auntie and yes the kind you can come to when your parents are really pissed off, and I’ll tell you it’s okay – they did worse growing up 😉
  • I am a friend who will go to the wall for you, laugh, cry and always be there
  • I am a writer – yep, I said it, and I put it out there – “owning” it. I don’t need to be published to be a writer. I just need to write. Maybe someday all of this gibberish will turn into a book. Maybe I’ll write and post frequently enough that I will be a “real blogger”. Maybe I’ll figure out what my platform and message is, and I’ll be passionate about something. Something that helps someone else.
  • I am a Chicago sports fan – god help me…
  • And finally, I am a career marketer. A storyteller and communicator at heart who has told the stories of software and technology for a very long time, and connected those stories with people who were in need of that particular product or service. And now I work to tell my story and connect it with those it might help in some way.

I kind of like who I am today – even the widow part of me. I’d trade it all in to have him back and not have that title in my list. But alas, it is here to stay and he is gone but is always the best part of me and with me in my heart. Forge ahead I must and improve on all of these parts of who I am, while discovering more and expanding this list even more.

Sending you all strength, courage, wisdom…faith, love and hope.

Tracey

Car Buying and Dating….Good Grief!

I promised myself that this would be a year of change. New Year, New Me, New Space. And while I wasn’t entirely certain of what this meant, I knew it meant trying to move forward in this new life. In my head, I had a list of things I wanted to accomplish this year; not necessarily New Year’s Resolutions, but things I wanted to accomplish for me. Some of these things are necessary items in an effort to take care of my home, some are things I consider a way to simplify my life, and some, just “stuff”. So here’s my list and status of each:

  • Get rid of the rampant mole issue in my backyard – Done (don’t ask how)
  • Update the house with hardwood floors – Done #wood
  • Landscape clean-up – Done – it’s an annual thing anyway, but on the list
  • Replace backyard fence – Done – the old one would not have made it another winter
  • Sell boat – Done
  • Sell Ed’s truck, my car and get one, new vehicle – NOT DONE

When I look back at how much I’ve actually gotten done this year, I feel pretty good. These projects were no small tasks, and I got them done. It’s that last one that’s getting me. Let me explain.

When it came to the boat and the vehicles, Ed and I had many conversations about what I would do after he passed away. We discussed the fact that I would not be able to manage the boat myself. I would need to sell it. Once the boat was gone, I’d no longer need two cars, so I would sell his truck, my car and buy one vehicle for myself. It would be an Acura MDX because my Acura TL has been so good to me (I still love driving it as much as the day I drove it off of the lot). And so with life, plans change. I did not sell the boat immediately, rather, I conquered it. And then I was done. When I did finally make the decision to sell, it was at the right time to the right people. As bittersweet as it was, it was the right step. I felt good about it. Then, I was up to the last item on my list…consolidating vehicles. It was on this list, so the next thing to do. Easier said than done.

Off I went to start car shopping, something I realized I had not done in a very long time. My Acura is a 2004 TL with 102,000 miles and still drives like new. It is the last car I purchased 11 years ago. The Acura MDX was “the plan” that Ed and I had discussed, so I went and test drove one, but I knew that I needed to make sure this was the right car for me. I didn’t feel right selecting something at this price without really doing my due diligence. A lot of people told me to go drive EVERYTHING; it’s all part of the fun of buying a new car. I saw nothing fun about this time consuming process, and once I started, I got a funny feeling that dating, when I even think about it, is going to be a similar experience. I haven’t dated in a longer time since I bought my last car, so I can’t be sure. I think if I compared the Acura “date” with actual dating, I’d say this was “a set-up” – seems like a perfect fit, but almost too perfect. But this one would be there for me whenever I wanted it. No need to commit now.

I had my doubts about the MDX so I went and test drove it again. I really, really liked it, but wasn’t sure. The MDX I’ll compare to “the nice guy” – reliable, always-going-to-be-there-never-going-to-let-me-down, a solid choice. An absolutely good looking car with a great personality. I have a few friends who own one, and rave about. So I started finding reasons why this was not the right choice; little nits that really don’t make a difference. But when I’m about to spend this much money, I need to be sure. I drove a few, comparable SUVs and this was the best of the ones I drove without doubt. But I stopped to ask myself, “What do I really want and need in a car”? I realized that after driving Ed’s truck for the past three years, I have become very accustomed to this vehicle and what it offers; amazing power, the ability to drive through anything, haul anything, and the a certain feeling of safety and security. Should the zombie apocalypse hit my geographical area, this truck will be what saves me.

Could I have changed so much in the past three years that I am no longer a luxury vehicle personality but have converted to a truck kind of gal? Perhaps. I decided that what I wanted and needed in a vehicle was a cross between the luxuries my Acura offers, and the durability, stability and power my truck offered.

I turned to the Interwebs for my research and found what I thought to be the perfect fit – A Jeep Grand Cherokee Limited. From a dating comparison, I’m going to guess this is what on-line dating would be like; lots of pictures, good background information, positive reviews etc. etc. From what I found on-line about this vehicle, it seemed this would provide me with the creature comforts and luxuries I was looking for in a car, all with a decent amount of towing capacity (which I likely would never use), a good amount of cargo space for the dogs (my primary reason for needing a larger SUV), and four wheel drive allowing me to drive through just about any terrain. So I went and test drove it. I loved it! So good looking and smooth on the road…and then I went home and did more Google searches, and the vulnerabilities were uncovered – known for transmission issues and oil issues. I had to remind myself I owned a Dodge Durango that suffered from both. And I’d never own one again. This was like an old boyfriend trying to get me back saying “I’ve changed, really, I have”. Or it was the Don Draper of cars; handsome and rugged, with all kinds of vulnerabilities under the hood that would come out after the honeymoon was over – about 25,000 miles into ownership? I keep trying to tell myself one thing or another to convince myself that this car would be different. It has changed, and is improved. Lots of people own these with no problems. Why won’t it be like this for me? This car also has a great warranty so if something does go wrong, it’s covered. But I know better, and had many, many friends tell me that this was probably not the way to go. Ultimately, I’d be disappointed. And I know they are right. So I moved one, but I still think about this one.

It was suggested by a friend, that if I was really that interested in the Jeep, I should check out the Toyota 4Runner. This would be a lot of truck, a good balance of car – but probably not all of the creature comforts and looks of the Jeep, but very, very reliable. This was not a car that was in my view, so I’d compare this to “a blind date” – new, unfamiliar (although before I met Ed, I did have a Toyota Celica which I loved), and not something I would have thought would be a good fit. I had nothing to lose at this point, so I went on “my date” with the 4Runner. I was pleasantly surprised. I was highly impressed with the cargo space for the dogs. And the best part? The back window on the lift goes down so they can stick their head out 🙂 The creature comforts were definitely there, although certainly not as luxurious as the Acura of Jeep. This was definitely more truck than car, but stuck the right balance. I agreed to come back with Ed’s truck to get an idea of what they would give me for a trade – something that both of the other dealerships fell slightly short on, and I took more than personally. Agreeing to this next “date” felt kind of like a big deal. It felt this this could be “the one”. A bit too real.

A few days later, I went back I went to the Toyota dealership in Ed’s truck, having a hard time believing that this could be the last time I actually sat behind the wheel of his truck. If everything went right, I would be coming home with a new, Toyota 4Runner. I wasn’t overly excited about this as it was very emotional for me. Parting with Ed’s truck was a big deal to me. And while I realize it’s only a car, and it’s just a physical thing, it still hit me fairly hard. This was going to be a big change, and once I did it, there was no going back. Was I making the right decision? Did I feel good about this? Is it the right time? Do I need to do this now? What was my rush? What did my gut tell me? None of these questions were ones I could easily answer, yet, no one could answer them for me. I told myself just to see what happened. I was not committing to anything. I could walk away at any time. The deal just might not be right.

And then the joy of the real “courting” began – the negotiations. Kind of speed dating maybe? Let’s really see how serious we both are about this whole “relationship”.

I gave the keys to the truck to my sales person so she could give it to her manager to determine what they would give me on the trade in. Of course while they were doing this, we could go for another test drive. Not a bad idea as I really did need to make sure this was the right car for me. This was also the start of those dreaded words you really think is a myth in the car buying business, but learned that in fact is not. The dreaded words “let me go talk to my manager”. And so it began.

We came back from the test drive and “the manager” came out. He was everything you’d picture – fast talking, number shuffling, appreciative of your being there and what-needs-to-be-done-to-move-the-inventory kind of guy. He seemed nice enough, and this is his job – move cars off the lot. I can’t fault him for this, but it also didn’t give me a great feeling. So we went through the whole process that I had really hoped was not how car buying really was. He came out with a decent number on the new car – a number I told him to meet. But then he naturally, stereotypically mistook me for someone who didn’t know what I was doing – and low-balled me on the trade. I of course took this personally and was going to nicely let him know this was not how we were going to roll. He played the “let me go talk to my manager and see what I can do” and came back with “well, I got you this, but my manager is not happy about it”. He proceeded to scribble a bunch of numbers very quickly trying to mask the massive “screw you” price on my trade. So I paused. I said “give me your pen”. I proceeded to write down the number I wanted for my truck. Period. Hard Stop. He then played the “let me go talk to my manager” card again, and came back with a better number, and include the proverbial “my manager doesn’t even know I went up to this and he’s going to be pissed”. Seriously? Do I look like I fell off a turnip truck? Good grief. So I informed him that I appreciated everything he had done, but that number wasn’t going to do it. I asked for me keys back to the truck (yet another tactic to keep you there – keep the keys so you can’t leave) and I left. Walked out of the deal right then and there. I was mildly disappointed, but it was fine. I do not have to sell my truck or my car or anything else. There is no one and nothing pushing me to do this but me and this crazy list of things I want to accomplish this year. The earth will not stop turning if I don’t get this last item checked off of my list this year. But what does this mean for my goals for moving forward?

Surprise, surprise – guess who called the next day with a better offer on my truck? It was the sales manager of course – predicable. The deal was just about done. All he had to do was find me the color I wanted because they didn’t have it in stock. He was going to call me back in 30 minutes as that was all it would take for him to track it down. I had a lot of confused feelings at this point. What a tumultuous ride I feel like I had been on, yet I wasn’t entirely excited about what was supposed to happen next. All of those same questions kept coming back to me, and I still couldn’t answer them. I reached out to a friend to help me sort this out, and she did. I felt much better about the idea of parting with Ed’s truck and getting this new car. Felt better, but not excited.

The sales manager never called back. For real – he never called back. It’s that date that said he had a great time and he’ll call and never does. Should I call him? Is he really not interested? What the heck happened? I thought it went so well. God help me if this is really how dating goes.

For a moment, I was relieved. I wasn’t going to pursue it further because something still didn’t feel right about it. Maybe I was playing hard to get. Maybe I just decided I didn’t want to deal with it any longer. Trying to spend this much money shouldn’t be this hard, and I should be really excited about a new car. So I paused. Reflected on the whole thing and what I learned was this – I very successfully negotiated a great car deal. I was incredibly afraid of the process because of all of the dread that comes with buying a new car. All proved true with this experience, yet I got through it. I conquered it. I wasn’t the one that didn’t close the deal. I also realized that I do need to let go of the truck. While I don’t have to do so, there is no reason for me not to do so. If not now, then when? And why not now? What is really stopping me? The zombie apocalypse is actually not coming 🙂

My head is clear and my heart is calm. When I am ready to buy a new car and part with the truck, I will do so. Not a moment sooner.

Btw – the Toyota dealership just called to say my color will be in next week if I am still interested. They’ll honor the deal we struck. I’m still deciding on if I am going to call back or not 😉

Strength, Courage, Wisdom…Faith, Love and Hope – got me through this one for sure J

XOXOXO,

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