Unexpected Second Life

I had my life planned.  It was a good plan.  It was an altruistic, fiscally responsible, family-friendly kind of plan.  It was a dependable and worthy plan.  My plan blew up.

I don’t have a plan anymore.

In May of 2017 I was a part time Music Therapist and full time Stay at Home Mom happily tending to the needs of my young children, cooking healthy dinners, doing mediocre housework and generally enjoying the life that comes from new babies and happy marriages in Madison Wisconsin.

In May of 2017 my husband and our two kids left for a three week East Coast Extravaganza!  A family adventure that would bring us to see most of our friends and family throughout the Northeast through a compact, kid-friendly and well thought out travel schedule.

In May of 2017, my husband died in a hospital room in New York City.

In May 2017, my life imploded in what continues to be the most profound, painful and mind-altering experience imaginable.  Welcome to my journey.  Welcome to the inner workings of my mind as I process, grieve, expand, continue.

Welcome to my unexpected second life.

 

Transition and Transformation

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It is no secret that the past year has been a struggle.  In this vortex/dumpster fire, “journey” if you want to make it sound nice, I have been forced to recon and reconcile with my deepest fears, insecurities and sorrows.  A year ago, as I played in our shared backyard with my babies, as I walked the stroller to the playground and treated my little ones to ice cream, as I agonized over the challenges of motherhood and marriage, I did not know who I would become.  I did not know the sadness, anger, numbness a person could experience.  I did not know the choices I would have to make and the experiences I would have to face. I didn’t know how strong I was.

I know now.

I know there is so much I do not know.

 

Beyond raising/supporting my children and getting myself reintegrated, I have had two main focuses in the past year.

  1. Find, buy, and establish a home for myself and my children.
  2. Find or establish a meaningful job-career to support myself and my children.

These are the pillars on which I build the person I am becoming.

 

It has been 341 days since I sat on that couch in Brooklyn and watched the man I love slip away from his body and into the unknown.

 

I am becoming.

 

1.5 weeks ago I closed on my house.  An exciting update for a separate post.  An airy, open home filled with history and creative energy, built with good bones.  Practical and dreamy.  I am in the unpacking process.  There is a lot to unpack.  (Literally and figuratively…see what I did there? lollollol)

 

Today I sit in a hotel room on the edge of the ocean, at a conference surrounded by my Music Therapy colleagues.  It has been years since I took the time to care for my professional self.  5 years+ since I last saw any of these people.  My heart is filled with gratitude and my mind is filled with motivation.  I have been waiting to go back to work as a music therapist and mental health counselor.  I have been waiting to regain the emotional stability, clarity, and presence to support my clients they way in which they need.  While I am not there, yet, I feel myself growing in that direction.  I feel the deep love and support of my professional community.   I feel the pull of my professional being urging me to read, do, learn.

And this is a very exciting.  Because it means that I am on the other side of something.

I am able to look to my future with anticipation and for-thought.  I am able to imagine who I want to be and the life I want to live with clarity.  And I am not so naive to believe that this can all be carefully planned and executed, because life does not go that way.  But I do know I can move forward with intention.  With purpose.  With confidence.  With joy? And that is a gift I treasure.  To have a future to move forward to.

 

Maybe this second life won’t be so bad after all.

 

Maybe joy can return.

 

My tree has been dormant and frozen.  The buds are beginning to emerge.  I’m still alive.

 

A New Home for Tim

 

When Tim died, I had him cremated.  What he would have wanted.  His body was turned to ash at a cemetery just a few miles from the house he grew up in, on a sad stretch of Rt 1 in urban New Jersey.  A cemetery we had passed countless times on drives to visit his family.

The day I flew to Madison to retrieve our belongings from our apartment, his ashes arrived via FedEx.  Packaged in a generic plastic box with his name printed on the front.  For the past year, Tim’s remains have existed in that box, tucked in a cabinet in my parent’s house.

I initially did not know what to do with the ashes I had in my possession.  I have no intention of keeping Tim forever.  I have given bits of him to friends and family, scattered him in Rahway Park, the Charles River, under a flowering crab tree on my parent’s property, and in the gardens outside the Museum of Natural History in Manhattan.  More of him will go to Wingra Lake in Madison, WI, The Connecticut River running through the Pioneer Valley of Massachusetts, the sands of Cannon Beach, OR and China Beach in San Fransisco.  Bits of Tim will be sprinkled amongst the buttress roots of our favorite tree in Sarasota Florida.  Some will go in my flower gardens.  What remains will fly with my children and myself to Ireland, the country Tim always dreamed of visiting but never had the chance to see.

Because I had planned on spreading Tim in all the places he loved, I did not initially buy him an urn.  It seemed like just one more heartbreaking task to take on amongst the legal documents and financial concerns.  As time has gone by, however, I started wanting to find a home for Tim.  A more permanent, dignified vessel in which he could reside.

Throwing an urn at the pottery studio seemed like a good idea, but I wanted to make sure the piece reflected who Tim was and not what I wanted to make for him.  Most urns I found online seemed tacky, too generic, too ornate, too boring.  I started thinking about a wooden urn that reflected Tim’s warm, solid nature and started scouring the internet for handmade pieces.

One night I came across the right urn for Tim.  A hand turned, black walnut urn with a modern, almost space-ship like design.  The grain, color, and shape seemed perfect.  Something Tim would have likely picked out for himself.

It arrived today.  Two days before I close on our new home, Tim’s new home came in the mail.  I placed the bag containing his ashes in it.  I put in his favorite tattered wallet, a memorial card from his celebration of life, the malfunctioning compass he found at a thrift shop and loved to wear, and his “Wisconsin for Bernie” pin.  Little pieces of who he was amongst what remains of him.

I look forward to putting him on a shelf, surrounded by his books and journals.  I’m glad to have him in a fitting container.  One that I know he would have loved.

It’s funny the things that can bring you bits of joy.

My stardust love in a wooden jar.

Revising New York: Re-entry 


Last night I returned to New York City for the first time since May.  We hit the city limits around 7pm.  Traffic moved freely through the twisting freeways and concrete overpasses.  My GPS routed me to Bay Ridge, Brooklyn via Manhatten, down the JFK, past the asphalt plant and the towering high rises, down the East River.  Past the hospital where Tim died.  Under the footbridge I crossed the day of the MRI.  Through the awe inspiring infrastructure that makes this seemingly impossible city sustainable.  Through the Battery Tunnel,.  To my best friend’s apartment, where I last heard Tim’s voice.

The kids were perfect travel companions, considering their age and needs.  We found parking quickly and settled in without incident.  I slept in the same room I spent that last week of Tim’s life.  Sat on the couch where he took his last conscious breath.  

It’s surprisingly good to be here.  To be with loving friends.  To revisit this space.  To make new memories.  

The coming week will bring museums, subway rides, visits with family.  I will bring the kids to the places Tim was so excited to show them.  To finish this adventure he started.  

Holding Tim in our hearts and minds.  Living this new life we have the chance to live.

Last Easter

 

Growing up, for me, Easter was a big day.  We would invite our large extended family to our home for an Easter meal and sugar-on-snow at the Sugar House.  The ground would be muddy and damp and the smell of boiling maple sap filled the air.  We would walk down the dirt road to my dad’s sugar house and drink warm,fresh maple syrup from the canning tank.  We were surrounded by family and friends.  It was a happy time.

As an adult, I would generally mix up my Easter plans.  Tim and I lived too far from family to make it to a Sunday celebration, so we would generally celebrate with friends in their homes or the homes of their relatives.  Every year was different and I grew to enjoy the new traditions we were developing as a family.

Last Easter was my favorite as an adult.  We invited a large group of families into our small apartment for a potluck brunch.  We enjoyed mimosas and set up an egg hunt in our shared backyard for our toddlers and babies.  It was a warm, beautiful spring day, and Madison was vibrant and alive with the energy of renewal.  We were surrounded by friends and happiness.  It was a beautiful day.  A happy day.  It was the last holiday Tim and I were able to truly share together, as our little family of four.

This year is different.  We are here in Vermont, on the cusp of a move into our new home, still living with my parents.  We had planned on a quiet (sad) day at home until a gracious family member thankfully invited us to their family gathering.  The kids got treats and books and flower seeds from the Easter Bunny.  I’m doing what I can to keep it together and share a good day with my kids.

 

The concept of Easter to me feels like a joke this year.  The myth of resurrecting from the dead a cruel reminder of my dead husband sitting in the plastic box in our cupboard.

 

I keep thinking of last year, and the years before when we were able to enjoy the celebration of spring,.  The rebirth of the earth in the Northern Hemisphere, the promise of things to come.  We are undergoing a slow, painful rebirth this year.  The Spring brings memories of Tim’s last weeks, his death, the aftermath.  It brings the promise of a new home, healing family trips, a new garden, a new start.  I wonder what next Easter will look like.  Feel like.  There is hope for the things to come.  And pain in that hope.

 

I would give anything to bring Tim back from the dead.

 

Today, I’ll settle for happy kids, chocolate bunnies, melting snow, and ham.

Equinox

 

It’s the Vernal Equinox today.  When I woke to my daughter’s cries at 5am, it was -2 degrees outside.  The world outside is coated in a thick, icy layer of snow.  We are encased in winter, trapped in what feels like an endless forced hibernation.  And yet, it’s the first day of Spring.

I have always relied on the seasons as a source of inspiration and motivation.  The changing seasons bring me comfort in the constant of change and the life-force rhythms that exists in every layer of our beings.  We experience freeze and thaw, growth and stagnation, bloom and wilt, harvest and rot.  There is a time for everything, and we must give ourselves the permission and grace to experience these transitions and stagnations.

It’s seems appropriate that the Spring Equinox remains frozen this year.  And infuriating.  In many ways I am still frozen in my own journey…yet I see the promise of change on the horizon.  The path ahead of me is getting increasingly clearer.  I will close on our home the second week of April.  With the help of family and friends, I will move and unpack the boxes that contain my old life, clean up my possessions, and decide how they will fit in this new life I am creating.  Some may go.  Some may be put back into storage for another phase.  Some will adorn a new home for the new life ahead.

It’s exciting to be on the cusp of something new.  To feel the power of possibilities ahead. It’s nerve wracking.  And sad.  But I am growing more and more thankful for the life that lays ahead.  I’m having mostly good days now.  I’m feeling more confident in myself and who I want to be.  I’m still working out a lot.  I still have a lot of triggers.  My trauma and loss still sits in the forefront of my existence…but they are bringing integrated into a bigger whole.  A stronger whole.

I’m curious to see what challenges lie ahead, and how I will manage them now, as RoseAnna 3.0.  I’m excited to be taking real steps towards going back to work as a Music Therapist and Mental Health Counselor.  To actually feel like I will be ready for that in the coming seasons.  I’m looking forward to diving into the pain that I have been holding onto and really allow myself to feel everything I have had to dampen for the sake of survival.

This Spring is an important one.  May will bring the anniversaries.  It will also bring a new garden.  A new home.  And new beginnings.  And I know Tim would be excited and proud of that.  “…May we create the best possible Universe together…”  I’m working on it.

 

 

Sad Happiness

It’s hard to imagine, but my baby boy will be four tomorrow.  He is growing physically, mentally, and emotionally by the day.  He is brilliant, like his Papa.  He is creative and expressive, like his Papa.  He’s analytical and curious, like his Papa.  He is strong and solidly built, like his Papa.  He never fucking shuts up…like his Papa.  He is Tim in incredibly beautiful, wonderful, meaningful and sometimes infuriating ways.  Every day I am thankful to have these incredible little children, and the connection they give me to Tim.  To have this physical reminder that he was here, and in a way, lives on in their genetic code.  Their co-creator.  Their father.

And in me.  In bearing Tim’s children, my body absorbed pieces of his DNA.  I physically contain parts of him on a molecular level.  I carry his always in my heart and blood and mind.

 

We hosted Jack Byron’s birthday party on Sunday.  A fun, wild little event where we danced and ate chocolate cake.  I spent the day prepping and putting out all the excitement I could muster.  But really I was sad.  It was hard not to disassociate, as I have found I sometimes do.  In this atmosphere of fun and celebration I felt a deep ache for Tim and his presence in our lives.

I have no doubt that tomorrow will be similar, as I bring cupcakes to pre-school, give gifts, and decorate “the whole world”, as Jack Byron has requested.

Because these happy occasions are forever tinged with the weight of grief.  That dark ocean who’s waves splash over me at the most inopportune times.

There is no escaping it.  I am learning to live with it.  To accept it.

Maybe one day I will know pure happiness again.  Maybe not.  Who knows. Either way, I’m learning to roll with it.  Accept whatever joy I can feel and allow the rest to pass through.

Tim.  Know that you are loved.  Know that you are remembered.  And on these “happy” days.  Every day.  You are here, in them.  And in me.

Vacation and Other Big Things

 

It’s been a big few weeks.  An exciting few weeks.  An overwhelming few weeks.

On Valentines Day I got on a plane with my two wild, out of control little children and flew, by myself, to visit Tim’s family in Florida.  Not only did I fly, by myself with two very wild children, I got a rental car by myself and drove the hour from Tampa to Sarasota by myself, then checked into our vacation rental that I got and paid for, by myself, and spent the week in Florida, in a rental apartment, with two kids, by myself.

Yes.

I’m proud of myself guys.

I feel smug and superior, and while I would normally tamp down those types of feelings, I’m just going to let myself have this one.

Because I took my two wild little children and brought them on a week long vacation that I paid for, ALL. BY. MY. SELF.

And it was fun.  We spent a lot of time with Tim’s family and the kids got to soak up time playing with their grandmother, aunt, uncles, and cousin.  We went to the Botanical Garden and visited the tree Tim and I took photos in front of every year since Byron was born.

We went to the aquarium and the beach.  We visited Tim’s great aunt.  We picnicked with his aunt.

We went to at least three different playgrounds.

Nobody got sunburned.

I did it all by myself.

 

Because I can do this.

 

Want to know what else happened on our vacation?  The reason it’s taken me a full week to post about said vacation?

 

I put on offer on a house.  And negotiated the counter offer.  And hired an inspector and applied for a mortgage.  On vacation.  Alone.  With my young, wild children.

 

And in a few short weeks… it will be MY house.

A perfect, sun soaked, vintage home in a little village with lots of character and even more modern updates.

And I’m doing that by myself too.  Buying it.  By myself.

 

Because I can do this.

The Rings

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Rings are a big question with widows.  What to do with the rings.

When you marry, you exchange rings as a symbol of your enduring love and commitment to one another.  They encircle your ring finger, a public display of your connection.

I am married.  I have a person.  This is my proof.

We tap our rings on tables and nervously twist them around our fingers.  They become a part of us, these circles of precious metal, warm and solid as a good marriage should be. They become everyday like morning coffee and arguments over housework.  They become part of you.

And then one of you dies.

(It’s going to happen, guys.)

And you go on living with your life split open and your person in a box in your cupboard and a ring on your finger.

 

When Tim and I married, we chose to have rings made by Jade Moran, a jewelry designer on Highland Ave. in Somerville.  We liked her organic, modern designs and the trailing succulents in her studio.  We liked her.  We couldn’t afford custom rings, so we had rings made with existing designs in white gold.  They were special and unique.  They were exactly what we wanted.

Two weeks before Byron’s birth, Tim lost his ring in a snowbank on Johnson Ave. in Madison, somewhere on the walk between our apartment and the hair studio.  Disappeared in the frozen white powder covering the city.  He bought a cheap replacement the next day. $80 on sale at JC Penny.  It was good enough.

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One the second day of Tim’s hospitalization at Tisch NYU, his body was being pumped with IV fluids.  I stood at his bedside as the nurses worked him over.  “His fingers are swelling, we need to remove his ring”.  She popped the band from his finger and slipped it into my outstretched palm.  I fumbled for a moment, unsure of what to do with this piece of information in my hand, a slid it onto my finger.  It clinked against my other rings.

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After Tim died I kept the rings, all three, on that finger for several weeks.  They needed to be together.  At least something could be together.  I twisted and worried on them.  The skin on my finger started to get red and calloused.  I kept them there.

Then I started to get tired of the weight.  Three rings on one finger felt excessive.  One wasn’t supposed to be there.  I slipped off two, my aquamarine engagement ring and Tim’s silver ring, and placed them on a small lacquer box on my dresser.

Eventually even just the wedding ring felt unfair.  This little band, a display to the world that I was married.  But I’m not married.  But I am.  But not.  I’m raising these kids alone.  I’m personless.  I’m alone.

 

In October, five months after Tim’s death, I went back to Somerville.  I had unfinished business there.  I drove into the city, down the familiar streets of Winter Hill, and pulled into a spot on Highland Ave.  It was time to do something with my wedding ring.  I walked into Jade Moran’s studio with an idea.

My original plan was to have the ring melted down and completely recreated.  Like my life.  On fucking fire, hot molten metal flowing into an unknown mould.  Burn it all down.

But Jade looked at me and said “Are you SURE you want to melt your ring?  It might be a bit…traumatic.”

And I cried.

And she was right.

So we started brainstorming, and within minutes, we had a plan.  She would create two new rings to flank my existing ring.  The bottom ring would be an organic star scape with aquamarine, amethyst and ruby chips, the birthstones of the children and myself.  The top ring would hold a moonstone Moon, Tim’s birthstone, our celestial light.  The inside is inscribed with “starstuff”.  Like all of us.

My wedding ring would be polished and resized to fit on my middle finger, leaving my ring finger empty.   Like the gaping hole in my heart.  Free to be whatever it is.

 

They arrived today, my rings.  My Widow Rings.  I slipped them on my finger and made a silent commitment to myself and my children.  We will move forward together.  Tim will always be a part of us.  We keep going.  With these rings, I, me, wed.

 

 

Landmines

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I hit a landmine today.  It’s a pretty common occurrence.  On a good day.  This morning I drove Jack Byron to daycare and headed over to the pottery studio to trim and carve a set of mugs I’ve been working on.  I stopped by the grocery store to pick up food for the coming days and drank my favorite kombutcha while gliding through the aisles.  I ran into an old teacher and went through the same conversation I have every time I see a person post loss.

“Yes, it’s horrible.  I’m ok, thanks.  The kids are doing great.  We are doing ok.  Thanks.”

I got home just after my mom put Claira down for a nap, opened up a package that had arrives from Amazon, and ran down to the basement to put some packaging in the recycling bins.

Then I stepped on it.  A landmine.  My mom had opened a box of the kids toys and placed them on the shelf.  A plastic bin of kinetic sand and plastic dinosaurs, the one that left our dining room table and floor littered with grains of sand.  The canvas shopping bag from the Willy St. Coop.  A fabric bin I bought on clearance at the Hilldale Target, filled with wooden blocks.  Books Tim had read to the kids in the rocking chair in the corner of Jack Byron’s bedroom, next to the window and radiator, under the planet mobil.

Little innocuous artifacts of the life I lost.  The husband and father we lost.  The existence  we shared in the home that is no longer ours.

And the grief ocean that exists inside of me swelled over the banks of my resilience and emotional work and washed over me, pulling me back into the waves.

This is not the first time this has happened.  It will most definitely not be the last.

In the corner of my parent’s basement is a stacked wall of the remnants of my life.  Boxes upon boxes of personal belongings and memories.  I have not touched the wall since moving to Vermont 8 months ago.  I did not pack these boxes, an army of earth angels  (ie, amazing friends) did.  I don’t know what’s inside these boxes.  I don’t remember what I saved.  I just know that whatever is there is what I thought was important to bring into this next life.

When Tim died, I didn’t just lose my husband and soul-mate.  I lost my life.  I lost my home.  My belongings.  My business.  My job.  My lifestyle.  My nearby network of friends.  My hopes and dreams.  My vision of the future.  My sense of security.  My fear.

One day I will have to go through these boxes.  A new home, with new beginnings and new dreams.

I dread that day.

I excitedly anticipate that day.

The process of opening these boxes will open the sandbag walls and steel doors I have erected between myself and the grief ocean.  These boxes that contain my past.  And what I believed to be vital to my future.  Whatever that is.  The ocean will engulf me fully, pull me under.  Into the rip tide, scraping my body across sand and coral rocks.  Submerged and momentarily drowning.

But I’m ready for that.

I’m ready to swim with the current and pull myself back onto shore.

Banana Bread Cookies to Successfully Compromise With Your Resident Tiny Dictator.

Step One: Put on matching outfits for no particular reason.  Preferably with a trendy, rustic, lumberjack kind of vibe.

We made cookies today.  I wanted to make banana bread with the black bananas that were rotting on the counter, but Jack Byron was having none of that shit.  He wanted cookies.  COOKIES.  So I told him we would make banana bread cookies and that REALLY pissed him off, but then I told him he could crack the egg and we were good.

This is not my recipe.  I totally lifted it from this website.  But I did make some changes, so at least I have that.

They are soft and subtly sweet.  They could easily be made vegan if you aren’t into animal products as much as I am.  They are good for killing time on a Saturday in January when you feel trapped in endless boredom and kid fights.  They are pretty good. 

So here goes.
Banana Bread Cookies to Successfully Compromise With Your Resident Tiny Dictator.

2.5 cups flour

1/2 cup granulated sugar +1 T molasses 

2 over ripe bananas 

1/2 cup butter

1 egg

1/2 cup Greek Yogurt 

1/2 t Baking Powder 

3/4 t Baking Soda

2 t vanilla 

1/2 mini chocolate chips

1/2 cup chopped walnuts 
Mash the bananas.  Stir in the rest of the wet ingredients.  The butter too, mash that in.  Good.

Put in the dry ingredients (not the chocolate and walnuts).  Let your kids mix it.  Keep quiet about the chaos they are creating, they are LEARNING.  Thy are QUIET.  Ok, take over for a bit.  Ok, done.

Mix in the chocolate chips and walnuts.  They kids lost interest and left.  You’re good.

Plop that shit on a cookie pan.  Bake in a preheated 350 degree oven.  10-12 minutes.

Feed to children.  Eat while staring out the window, longing for the freedom of youth.  

Compromise tastes pretty good.