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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

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