Health

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Health and physical wellness has been something that I’ve always had some level of focus on.  My weight has been a challenge for me since childhood, and for as long as I can remember, I have engaged in regular physical exercise and eating healthy food.

When Tim was alive, I focused on my own health and constantly encouraged him to take care of his own.  Family walks on the weekends and healthy whole-food dinners.  I pestered him regularly to finally go get his yearly physical, which like most men his age, he brushed off as unnecessary.  I pestered him to go the gym, which seemed impossible with the crushing responsibility of his 60+ hour work week and the constant needs of our babies.  We assumed he was healthy.  I constantly pushed him to be more mindful of what he ate and exercise more.  In retrospect it likely would not have prevented the inevitable genetic build up of cholesterol that ultimately caused the 100% blockage of his LAD, but maybe.  I try not to spend too much time thinking about it.  It’s painful.

What I DO think about, however, is what will take me out.  Here is a comprehensive list of everything I have diagnosed in myself over the past 12 months and the actual causes of my “symptoms”:

Stomach Cancer (Stomach bug)

Colon Cancer (Same stomach bug)

Skin Cancer (normal mole cluster)

Breast Cancer (PMS)

Multiple Sclerosis (Sleep Deprivation)

Brain Cancer (2 day stress headache)

Enlarged Spleen (tweaked side muscle)

Pancreatic Cancer (no reason, it just seemed about right)

 

As you can see, I’m a bit paranoid that I’m going to die.  (Of cancer, specifically.  Don’t ask me why, it’s just what my brain always goes to).

When I told a friend about my list she looked at me and asked “Don’t you think it might be helpful to talk to a therapist about this?”  and I was like “lolololol. Probably.”

I should probably follow up on that.

But the problem is that I CAN’T die, because if I die, my kids would be orphans and nobody deserves that.  It would be too tragic for words.  Everyone would be sad forever.  So I can’t die.

So, guys, I’m trying really hard not to die.

And my current approach to this is to focus on my own health.

The thing is, there is no guarantee that I won’t die. I mean, I WILL die, I just would prefer to die a long time from now…so I’m doing what I can to take the steps within my control not to die young.  I started by cutting out refined sugar and alcohol entirely for a month.  I then began adjusting my diet to be comprised almost exclusively of vegetables, fruits, whole milk dairy, healthy fats, small amounts of whole grains, and lots of protein.  I’ve been working with a wellness coach to influence and motivate my choices.  I’ve also begun to include more cardiovascular and strength training into my weekly routines.  And it’s working.

I’m feeling more energetic and focused.  I’m losing fat and gaining muscle.  I’m feeling better in my skin.  I’m reducing the gravitational force against my joints.  I’m making it happen.

The thing is, raising young children by yourself is fucking exhausting.  And the best way for me to better care for them is to better care for myself.  So I’m doing that.  I’m focused, motivated, engaged, accountable.  I’m moving forward with intention.  I’m doing everything I can to live the long, healthy life that my children deserve.  I’m looking forward to what this process will bring.  It feels good to feel good.

I’m pretty sure I don’t have cancer.

For now at least.

I’ll take it.

Apple Hand Pies for When You Finally Get Your Shit Together

 

I haven’t been baking much lately.  Mostly because I rarely eat refined sugar now.  Isn’t that pretentious?  I don’t care, it’s working for me.

It’s officially fall.  The foliage is at it’s peak and our front porch is piled with festive orange pumpkins.  We’ve all settled into our new routines and responsibilities and you know what guys?  I’m finally getting my shit together.

Kind of.

So today, looking at the pile of apples in our refrigerator crisper drawer, I decided to make a festive seasonal treat.  I mean, might as well try.

 

Apple Hand Pies for When You Finally Get Your Shit Together

2 All Butter Pie Crusts

6-8 handpicked organic apples or whatever

1/3ish cup sugar

Cinnamon

Ground Ginger

 

Make a pie crust.  You can use this recipe.  Don’t use a store bought crust, you know it offends me.

Finely dice apples and mix in sugar and spices.  You can experiment with this.  Don’t live your life based on what random recipe blogs tell you to do, you are a grown adult now.

Use a *wide mouth* mason jar lid to cut rounds out of the rolled pie crust.  It’s so quirky!

Put a spoonful of apples in the center of each round.  Wet the edges of the crust and press another round of dough over the top.  I use a fork to seal it.  It’s kind of cute but also super lazy.  Also use the fork to stab some holes in the top.  Pretend they are the entitled white men of the Senate who have wronged you.  Kidding not kidding but kidding. (lololol, so funny, right FBI?)

Bake at 375 degrees for 30-40 minutes, until browned on the bottom.

Cool and eat in reasonable single serving portions.

Or shove them all in your mouth.

I’m not here to judge you for your life choices.  We’re all trying.

 

 

 

Work and Life

It’s been a very busy few weeks with back to school.  Not just because Byron is now back in his pre-school routine, but because I have returned to work full time.

The last time I worked full time, I was a married, childless twenty-something living in Somerville, MA.  For four years I commuted an hour to the South Shore to work at a therapeutic school as a Clinician and Music Therapist.  I loved my job, but Tim and I were struggling to make ends meet as the price of living in the greater Boston area rose.  Tim got a job offer in WI, we moved a few months later, and I struggled to find my professional footing in the new city.

Because Jack Byron came so quickly and easily into our lives, I did not have a chance to establish a career path for myself before his birth.  So I focused on being a mother.

Being a stay-at-home mom was not something that I ever planned to be.  At Mount Holyoke, I was made to believe that such a path was a waste of my intellect and education.  My creative energy felt lost in the endless days of diapers and board books and stroller walks.  I established a small private practice, which kept a foot in the professional world and contributed to our family finances, but mothering my two children became my focus.

A big part of this choice was our situation.  Tim was working 60+ hours a week, and we shared one car.  Childcare in Madison was astronomical, and 40+ hours a week for two kids would have negated any pay I might have brought home.  I wanted to take advantage of the opportunity to focus on my children and put hot dinners on the table every night, so that’s what I did.  I was a stay-at-home mom with a long line of letters after her name and a mountain of student loan debt.  And it was ok.

After Tim died, I had to stay home out of pure necessity.  I was not in a mental space to work as a therapist.  My mood was volatile and my trauma was easily triggered.  I didn’t have the energy or focus needed to sustain a clinical practice.  I wanted to make sure my kids were ok.  The finances allowed it.  So I continued to be a stay-at-home-single-mom.

 

This summer, though, life started to shift.  I started to feel grounded and motivated.  I had learned how to reclaim some sense of happiness and my post-traumatic stress responses decreased.  I began to feel suffocated in the endless day-to-day monotony of a child-centered existence.  Nobody appreciated the hot dinners I put on the table anymore.  I was left alone at night with my thoughts.  There was no adult in my home to share my day with, to ask me how I was, to care for me in any small way.  I started to feel that being alone with my children 24/7 was no longer beneficial to any of us.  So I sat down with a glass of wine and updated my resume.

 

I was not sure what kind of position I would find in this area, or what the pay might be.  I planned to focus on private practice, which would allow me the time and flexibility to continue working the other part-time job I’ve held since last August.  But one day a position fell out of the sky, and I went for it.

And I got it.

So here I am, several weeks later.  I work full time as a Guidance Counselor at the local elementary school my kids do/will attend.  I. Love. It.  While I do not have the degree or license normally expected of the position, my background and experience is a combination that lends itself perfectly to such a position.  I’m energized at the end of the day instead of mentally depleted.  I’m excited by the work that I’m doing.  Better yet, my KIDS are doing better.  We have a sense of routine and structure that was lacking before, we appreciate our time together more.  We are more whole.

I’m proud of myself for being able to support my family in this way.  For taking the scary step into the unknown territory of full-time-single-working-mom. For reestablishing myself socially and professionally.

It feels like a big step, and important step, a step that needed to happen.

Never would I have imagined in this position, in this town, in this job, in this life.

But here we are.

We are making it work.  It’s working for us.

8 Years

 

(Pictures from September 4th, 2010)

8 years ago Tim and I wed in a ceremony overlooking the green mountains of Vermont.  At our sides and around us were a collection of dear friends and family, each of whom ended playing a vital role in Tim’s hospitalization, death, and my recovery in the aftermath.  Matt called 911 the night of the heart attack, and sat by my side through the night at the hospital.  Kelli was the first to arrive at the Emergency room.  Dave was my confidant in the hospital.  Liz drove through the night to be with him on his last day.  Sam drove me out of Brooklyn the day after his death, then flew to Madison to help me pack away our life as we had known it.  Amanda met with me two mornings after to help me process when my shock left me detached and dissociative.  Hannah was with me after my move back to Vermont, with cider and lemon cakes and companionship.  Our family and friends surrounded me and our children with constant love and support.  The people there on that beautiful day were the people there on the worst days, and for that, for community, I am eternally grateful.

 

On our wedding day, two storm systems collided and evaporated in the night, leaving blue skies and only a gentle shower to wish us luck.  Our families and friends held stones gathered from rivers in New Jersey and Vermont, and blessed them with love and positive intention for our union.  We danced to Bob Marley’s “Is This Love” and ate the maple cake I had baked from scratch.  The event space was filled with flowers grown, collected, and arranged by loved ones.  Banners created by a selected few displayed words of intention for our marriage.  Love, Community, Honor, Hope, Joy, Friendship, Kindness, Growth.  Every detail of our wedding day reflected the beauty, connection, and love we were to bring into our marriage.

 

I have been struck lately by how fortunate I was to have the marriage I had with Tim.  We did not have a perfect connection all the time.  We both had strong personalities and wildly different backgrounds that sometimes caused disconnection and hardship in our partnership.  But we worked hard to work together, to be together.  We chose each other every day because we wanted to be with one another.  Our friendship, our mutual respect, the ways in which we pushed one another to be better people, to pursue our passions, to live a life we wanted, that was special.  We had a bond that not everyone, married or not, gets to experience.  I met a soul mate at 21 and shared 12 years of adventure, growth, and joy with him.  I’m lucky.

 

I often wonder how our relationship and marriage would have evolved over time.  What would we look like today?  20 years from now?  Where would we be and what would we be doing?  Would we still be happy?  When Tim died, it had been growing stronger for years.  We were in a great place.  In some ways, it makes the pain worse, to have lost that joy, that momentum.  In other ways it makes it easier.  He left on a high.  We had not yet peaked, but we were doing well in every way.  He died deeply and unconditionally loved.

I wonder if love will ever come my way again.  A different kind of love, likely, if it happens.  Regardless, I’m certain I will die loved.  Whenever that happens.  By the people who stood next to and before us on that glorious day.  By the people who have come into our/my life since.  I no longer have the love of companionship and partnership.  I no longer have that incredible man.  But I still have my people.

And people matter.

Digital Archeology and Grief Waves

A few weeks ago I took out my camera.  *The* Camera.  The one I bought five years ago with the money I made helping a friend pot 60 rare orchids.  The one I took countless amateur photographs with, of us, of our children, of the natural world.  The one I left at home the morning we left for our east coast vacation…when I assumed the consuming sensation of dread I felt in my core was the result of forgetting an object.  The one I hung in a closet and didn’t touch for over a year.

 

I opened it up one evening a few weeks ago.  I was thinking maybe it was time to take it back out.  To explore photography again for a bit.  To see what was on the memory card, projected on the tiny black screen.

 

A few weeks before our trip, we had celebrated Jack Byron’s 3rd birthday.  I took my camera, like I always did, to document the family occasion.  It was a beautiful little gathering of some of our close Madison friends.  The babies and parents we had grown to know and love over the previous three years.  We held it at Happy Bambino, the storefront and parenting resource center I had facilitated a parenting group at, at the time.  I made Jack Byron a chocolate cake from scratch, and Tim decorated it with colorful icing dinosaurs.  We got balloons from the Ben Franklin next door.  I brought my guitar and lead the kiddos in song and dance.  We sang “Happy Birthday” and coaxed toddlers through their sugar highs.  It was a fun day.

 

I was exhausted when I got home, and I never got around the downloading the photos from the day.  Had I, I would have deleted them from the camera and left them on the hard drive of the old iMac that’s now sitting in my dank basement.  But because I was tired, and had two little children, I didn’t get a chance.  I put it off.  Thank goodness for my previous lack of motivation.

 

So a few weeks ago, while exploring the contents of the memory card, I hit pay dirt.  Beautiful, loving, fun photographs of Tim with both our kiddos.  Celebrating a happy day.    *New* images of my love with his loves.  His scruffy beard and permanently swirling brown hair.  His chocolate brown eyes.  The soft red flannel I had inhaled his comforting scent through when it covered his warm body.  His life force illuminated by birthday candles and buttercream frosting.

I cried.

I cried really hard. In pain.  In joy.

I clicked through the photos and touched his digital cheeks with my fingertips.  I unearthed feelings I hadn’t processed before.  I let the dark ocean crash over me and smother me with it’s suffocating pull.  Tearing through the sadness.  Unearthing the gratitude of a fresh image.  Oxytocin memory bursts.  Archeology of the griever’s soul.

 

 

Retreat and Renewal

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This week I had the opportunity to attend “Modern Loss”, a grief and expressive writing retreat at the Kripalu Center in the Berkshires.   For three days, I had the pleasure of connecting with 30-odd women, sisters from all walks of life traveling the same path through grief and loss.

What a privilege to have the time and space to escape into a space of self-care, personal development, and spiritual nourishment.  To talk openly about my experience to a multitude of understanding ears.  To share and open and feel a sense of normalcy in this bizarre and mind-altering world of bereavement.  I am fortunate to have been present in such an experience.

I had a realization recently.

I’ve been in survival mode for 4 years now.

In Spring of 2013, I drove my tin-can Hyundai Accent, loaded with plants and guitars, from Massachusetts to Madison.  Three weeks later, I was pregnant.  Carrying a deeply wanted but slightly unexpected baby in a new city a thousand miles from home.  Byron was born, and I experienced just what motherhood actually takes.  The sleep deprivation, the intensity of love and emotion, the loss of self, the hormonal shifts, the stress.  Then came Claira, and the readjustment to motherhood with a toddler and newborn.   Tim died when Claira was only 10 months old, and I truly went into *survival* mode.  My entire world and identity shifted in moments.  I lost everything.  All of my energy went into the care of my children and my own desperate attempt to stay afloat.

In the past months, I’ve acclimated my little family to our new home, new life, new rhythm and routine.  I’ve started to feel like I can breath again.  Like there is a sliver of time and space that could be reserved for caring for *me*.

So I’m going to follow this opportunity wherever it needs to go.

I’m not going to make this some sort of self-care-weightloss-fitness-super-widow type of blog.  I’m not interested in going in that direction with my writing.  But I would like to share that I am finally, FINALLY, in a space to better care for myself.  And I hope that makes me a better mother.  A better person for the world.  A healthier person.  For my kids, and for me.

For a long time, I was devoid of happiness and hope.  I was a brittle, bitter shell of a woman, filled with smoldering molten lead.  I was a hooked trout flopping helplessly on the shore.  I was a thunderstorm personified.  I was nothing.

I’m whole again, now.  A new person ready to take on this new life.  I want to move forward with intention, passion, and good health.  I have goals and visions for my future.  And I’m finally in the physical and mental space to take that on.  So I’m taking it on.   I’m looking forward to where this new path will take me.

In the words of Jack Byron: “Onwards and onwards.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

On Negotiating An Open Marriage With Your Dead Spouse.

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This one is a post I’ve been wanting to write for some time but have struggled to sit down and fully process.  I need to be open about something that I’m still working to get comfortable with.  Something I haven’t told a lot of people yet.  Something that’s complicated for me on every level.

You guys…

 

I’m…I’m dating.

 

*Hides face in irrational shame*

 

I know.  I KNOW.  I know you are happy for me, thank you.  In my rational brain I understand that this is the next natural step in moving forward as a solo person in the world.  I understand that I am a lovable human deserving of affection and respect.  I understand that I’m an adult woman capable of making my own decisions and creating my own future.  I intellectually know I’m not cheating on Tim.

 

But it’s still kind of weird.

 

I met Tim when I was 21.  A child, really. My brain wasn’t even fully developed at that point.  Which explains a few things. We were engaged when I was 25 and married when I was 26.  Our partnership was natural, organic, loving, respectful.  I grew into adulthood with Tim by my side.  For 12 years I shared his partnership.  People would express their admiration and awe at our love and I would smugly smile and say things like “well, marriage is a lot of work, but he’s worth it!”.  Because I thought I had it all figured out.

lol.

I didn’t really have to worry about dating.  I was set.  Two babies and a permanently pregnant looking gut?  It’s fine, I HAD my man already.  Tim and I loved each other as who we were.  We were ice-cream-on-the-couch-and-Netflix.  We were comfortable-love.

But the thing is, while we had a mutually respectful and monogamous marriage, non-monogamy was never a deal-breaker for us.  If one of us were to stray, we would stay together, or so we would discuss.  Our marriage meant more than the cultural construct of one-person-forever.  We recognized that we humans are subject to crushes and connections beyond the confines of legal union.  Yet, for 12 years, we remained committed only to one-another.

 

So when Tim died, I felt exposed.  Suddenly single against my will.  For the first year, I sat with that, the loneliness. Then summer came and I realized that, damnit…I’m still alive.  I want to feel connection again.  I want to have new men in my life.  Maybe I’ll even find love again.  Who knows?  The Universe is One. Zany. Fucker.

So, in early June, I got back on OKCupid.com, the same website I met Tim on, and I created a new profile.

It’s been a rollercoaster.  It’s not always pretty, this cesspool of desperate, lonely people tragically clawing for human connection (or, in many cases, just anonymous sex).  But there are some really good people out there.  And I’ve connected with a few of them.

I saw a man for a brief time this summer, when the stars aligned for us to come together for a bit.  We hung out.  I’ll let you fill in the gaps there.  It was fun.

I’ve been on a few dates.

I’m exploring what it means to be me, in this time, now.

It’s not easy.  I miss the comfort and ease I had with the Tim.  The routine and familiarity of our rhythms.  I miss cuddling him at night.  I miss our conversations.  I miss him.

But I’m looking forward to what is to come.

I’ve pulled back from online dating for the time being, to focus on myself, my health, building my business, re-establishing my career.

But I’m still open to love and connection.  (DO YOU HEAR THAT UNIVERSE?  I’M STILL OPEN.). Despite the depths of pain I have endured, I’m willing to open myself to new people and experiences.  Maybe one day I’ll meet my next soul-mate.  Maybe not.  I hope to have fun regardless.  Not get hurt too much.  To better know myself through the process.

We’ll see where this wild life leads.

Hopefully not to too much more pain…but who knows.

I’ve lived through worse.

 

 

What used to be “we”.

From the ages of 21-33 I constantly used the word “we”.  We would go on road trips. We would go see a show.  We would be watching a new series.  We would meet up with friends for dinner.  We were the parents of our children.  Together, in this “we”, we were a unit.  I had a Bread and Puppet print of a kitchen table with two bowls and two spoons and “We” printed in bold across the top.  Out unit made me feel strong, empowered, connected, safe.

For several months after Tim died I spoke in “we”s.  It was a hard habit to break after over a decade, the entirety of my adult life, operating as one half of a couple.  Often I might be including my children in that term, but I would find myself talking to new people and expressing myself as a married/coupled woman and not the singleton I have become.  Like when I was trying to flirt with a cute guy…and kept referring to my own life experiences in “we”…and not exactly getting the point I was trying to make across.  Mentally existing in a life that was no longer.

In the past months, I’ve become comfortable with “I”.  I bought a house.  I’m raising my children.  I set up the printer and the smart TV and the wifi speakers.  That would have never previously been a RoseAnna job.  I clean the house and do the cooking and take out the trash.  When a raccoon rips open the garbage bags and scatters the garbage all over the yard, I’m the one with the shovel, holding my breath writhing in disgust.  I make my own damn coffee every morning.  I take care of myself.

And there is power in that.  To be comfortable as an “I”.  To know that I am capable of providing for and raising my children.  Maintaining my home.  Paying my bills.  Caring for myself.

To be able to paint my porch a vibrant berry hue and buy area rugs without having to consult anyone about the matter.  To decorate as I wish.  To watch whatever I want on TV.  To make my own decisions.  To be an independent being.

And there is loneliness in that too.  A deep, endless longing for a connection I will never truly find again.  Because my “we” was with Tim.  And regardless of what directions my life may take, I will never come across another Tim.  I miss the depth of his intellect.  Our conversations.  Our patterns.  Our togetherness.

But I’m learning to appreciate the solitude.

This time to explore my own being independent of anyone else.  This aloneness that leaves me vulnerable, and gives me opportunity to grow in directions I may not have otherwise imagined.  The discomfort that forces me to discover my foundries and push the limits of what I perceive myself to be.

Tonight I was reminded of a song we used to listen to often, in the early years.  It about sums it all up.

It’s different now.  Being an I.  Being an independent being, drifting through time and space.  Being without my person.

But I’m a person.  And I’m still discovering who this person is.  And I’m enjoying this person I’m getting to know.  Because there is power in being just “I”, and I’m going to embrace that power.  Because, what I do know, is that I am powerful.

 

Happiness Reclaimed

 

There was a very long time in this second life that I truly doubted I would ever feel happy again.  Joy was elusive.  Contentment seemed like a dream of an experience I would never live again.  The bitter, broken, burned up remains of my heart and soul sat soaking in a pool of loss and resentment.  I was a shell of myself, empty, my innards piled  on the sidewalk for the whole world to see.  Happiness became something that only others could feels.

My friends…I’m feeling happy again.

There has been an internal shift in these past months.  With the move to my new home.  With the anniversaries behind us.  With the sunlight and garden soil and lake water and long evenings.  I have started to feel whole again.  To feel my strength and resilience as part of my core being.  To feel like this is a life worth living.

It started, at first, with a few moments of light that would peek through the fog.  Then those moments began to stretch and weave themselves into my existence until the days started feeling lighter and softer.  The flashbacks started to taper off, and I could go days, weeks without the tortured memories overtaking my consciousness.  I don’t have them much anymore.  I started to notice that I felt GOOD, and if a random someone asked me how I was, I no longer had to fake a presentable attitude.  My mind feels clearer.  I actually have hope, most of the time, enough of the time.

At some point in the process I read something from someone, that compared picking up the pieces of your life to a mosaic.  Your heart, soul, mind, body shatters into a millions little pieces and you must collect them back up again to survive.  So you have these shards filling your hands, and you begin to lay them down.  There is no way to put to put them back quite the way they were…so you create a mosaic.  And it’s different.  It may not be what you expected or wanted it to be, but it is beautiful and it is complete in it’s own ways.  It’s what is.

So, for me, at this point in the process, I’m good.

I’m figuring it out.

We’re going to be fine.  (And it’s a privilege to be able to say that.)

Summer Solstice

 

Once again, as every year, it has returned.  The longest day.  The light.

It always returns.

Summer Solstice is our annual celebration of the bounty the earth provides us, the light of the sun, the comforting cycles that bring us back to where we need to be.  Reflecting on this day last year, I was in a dark place.  The sunlight and boastful flower blooms were an offensive affront to the dark numbness that had eaten my core.  My overwhelming sadness.  The dark haze that consumed me.  I could not see the light.  I did not want to.

Today brings us back, one year later, and I have changed.  I am in a different time and place.  My sense of self and life and purpose slowly transitioning and emerging.  I can feel the sun now.  It feels good.

The week of the death anniversaries, I got sick.  A horrible head cold that settled deep in my chest and left me lethargic and miserable.  Then came a sudden pain in my shoulder, which migrated to my back, to my hip, to my foot, serving no purpose but a physical manifestation of the hurt I had carried stoically for the past year.  Then it subsided, and I began to emerge a changed person.  In the past weeks, I have felt happiness regularly.  I no longer experience flashbacks, self doubt, tortured thoughts of the trauma I survived.  My ideas for my future are becoming clearer.  I can breath again.

Today, on the Solstice, I drove my kids to the Montshire Museum of Science 1.5 hours away.  We played in the exhibits and stopped for treats at the King Arthur Flour Bakery.  We stopped at my parents on the way home and filled my grandmother’s mixing bowl with berries from my father’s garden.  Tomorrow I will attend a much anticipated music show at my friend’s barn venue.

I’m living my life.  Moving forward with hope and intention.  I don’t feel guilty for feeling good, I just feel good.  There are times of sadness…many.  But not as many as there were.  Because I’m healing and growing and transforming.  I’m capable of joy.  I deserve happiness.

I’m getting there.