Shades of Gray

Get your minds out of the gutter people–not THOSE shades of gray.

About two weeks ago, my son came home from school with a rash. It came on very suddenly and he had no other symptoms. I figured it was just an allergic reaction to something. The next morning, the rash was significantly worse. But still, no other symptoms were present. I drove myself crazy wondering if I should keep him home from school, take him to the doctor, etc.  I figured it was likely the doctor would say it was a virus and there was nothing that could be done.  But, what if?  No easy answers.  All shades of gray.  (I ended up taking him and it was a good thing because he had a bacterial infection in his skin!)  But my point–I kept wishing that were more black and white answers in life.  Parenting–no matter what anybody tells you–all shades of gray.  My career choice–nothing black and white about it.  Should I sell my house?  No right or wrong answer that I can see.  That’s when it occurred to me that the one thing–the only thing–that is black and white–is life and death.  In dying, there are no shades of gray.  You’re either dead or alive.  So, why am I having such a hard time accepting the fact that my husband is dead?  It should be very clear.  But, it’s not for me.  Most days, I still don’t believe it.  I have to keep his clothes and his toothbrush because he will need them when he gets home.  Maybe I don’t like black and white after all.  I refuse to accept it.

My birthday recently passed and the anticipation was dreadful.  I didn’t want to be home.  I didn’t want to be away.  I didn’t want it to be my birthday.  I kept thinking of all the birthdays I shared with Jake and how he always tried so hard to make them special for me.  Two years ago on my birthday, I was dieting around the time of my birthday (which I often am because  summer is around the corner).  That particular year, I was doing a “NO SUGAR APRIL (except on my birthday)”.  So, I planned it all out myself.  Exactly what I wanted for dinner and the precise ice cream cake I wanted.  Jake wanted to give me a break so badly that year, he wouldn’t let me pick up the kids, the cake, dinner–none of it.  He kept saying he had it all under control.  However, he picked up the ice cream cake first–before the dinner, before the kids–so the frozen cake was in the car for a very long time.  When he came home, I asked if the cake needed to go in the freezer, but Jake kept brushing me aside with “Don’t you worry about anything.  I got this”.  Well, as you’ve probably already guessed, the ice cream cake melted and I got to have ice cream soup on the single day that month that I was letting myself eat sugar.  I’m not going to lie here–I was PISSED off.  I had so been looking forward to that ice cream cake–dreaming about it even!  I never stopped to be grateful that Jake was bending over backwards, trying his hardest to make this day special for me.  I was so focused on the stupid ice cream cake.  It became a story we eventually laughed about.  But oh–to be able to have a do-over of that day.  That’s all I want.  A do-over.  Of that day, and so many other days.  I want to jump up and down and kick and scream for a do-over.  Please.  I’ll do anything.

When my birthday came around this year, all I could think about was “This is the first birthday of the rest of my life of birthdays without Jake”.  I tried hard to suppress that thought.  I knew it was negative and no good would come of it.  My birthday was low-key and I insisted on no cake (and not because I was dieting or avoiding sugar).  We had decided to take a trip to the southern Oregon coast and stayed in a “vintage” house right on the ocean.  The views were incredible.  I happened to look out the window and catch that split second in time when the sun was setting over the ocean.  It was stunning.  There were so many beautiful colors–not a single shade of gray.  That’s when I realized that I wanted to see the world through those colors from that point on.

When we got home, I had to unpack and re-pack immediately to leave for a work trip the next day.  As I did, my youngest son walked into the room.  Check out this gem:IMG_0994

This is my “baby” boy.  He made me sit down and watch him while he put on a show for me in this…special outfit.  I stopped everything I was doing and watched him.  I found myself truly and genuinely smiling and laughing.  I mean, look at all those colors!  Yes.  This is the way I want to live my life.  Because one thing is exceedingly clear.  I am still living.

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Hill from Hell

Before I get started-I have an update. The Midnight Sun Brewing Company did get back to me and shared that “Berserker” will be landing in 22 ounce bottles in Seattle soon.  I don’t know what “soon” means, but she didn’t have an exact date.  Yay!  Be on the lookout.  In the meantime, my brother gave me a lovely present to tide me over:  IMG_0954Woo hoo!  I have become a huge fan of the porters and stouts that have been aged in bourbon/whiskey/scotch barrels.  Very excited to share some of these with my friends.  One thing about the Pacific Northwest–you cannot beat the beer!

Another thing I love about where I live-are the many trails I can choose to run on. I love prancing through nature!  I tend to stick to my favorite (with the stump–more on that later) but know that running different places for different purposes is what is going to help my running overall.  There is a trail that is commonly referred to as “the hill from hell”.  Jake used to use this hill as part of his training.  He would go there and run up (and down and back up) 5-6 times in a row.  His particular goal was to elevate his heart rate to a certain number (yeah–that’s what kind of shape he was in–he had a hard time even getting his heart rate up into his target zone). My goal is to actually make it up that hill-once per run-without having to stop or walk.  Hills are not my friends.  I don’t like discomfort.  Today, I ran up the hill from hell.  The trick for me is to NOT look up at the top of the hill.  Today as I was trudging, dragging, crawling up that hill, I reflected on the metaphorical nature of running up that hill from hell, and what’s going on in my life right now.  As I ran, I thought to myself, it doesn’t matter how slow you go, it doesn’t matter how long it takes you, just keep moving and you will get there.  It hit me–these are DEEP THOUGHTS! Stop looking up at the top of the mountain thinking that you’ll never get there.  Instead, focus on one step at a time and don’t stop moving. When I reached the top of the “hill from hell”, I thought to myself “powerful human”.  You did it.

Earlier this week, I ran my favorite trail–you know the one with the stump with all the stuff on it.  Someone left me a gift on the stump.  IMG_0956 I loved my gift–thank you–you know who you are.  However–the STUPID JERKS WHO STEAL THINGS OFF THE STUMP THAT MEAN THINGS TO OTHER PEOPLE–have returned.  This time they stole the Jesus figurine that actually turned out to be Luke Skywalker.  We thought he was Jesus for a while–until we realized he wasn’t.  Anyway, Jesus/Luke Skywalker is gone and I would like him to be returned to the stump please.  You are more than welcome to take the creepy ceramic cat head that is sitting on top of a stick in exchange.

Also earlier this week, I connected with someone who had lost his wife in a very tragic and unexpected way.  Unfortunately, we have something in common that we both wish we didn’t. He had just passed the three-year mark.  We have mutual friends, so this boy called and talked to me for a long time.  I’ll admit, for the first part of our conversation I was more in tune with the sexy New England accent (which made me homesick) than what he was saying.  But, he had a lot to say-a lot to share about his own experience and how he’s doing now.  He stated a lot of insightful and thought-provoking tidbits drawn from the wisdom that comes with experience.  He was also very straightfoward, honest, and no-nonsense (which also made me homesick). I have thought about that conversation for days.  This boy, although he misses his wife and loves her, is actually happy.  According to him, happiness doesn’t just come to a person.  One has to choose to be happy.  (I am simplifying the conversation down to some of the points I’ve had running around in my brain).  He spoke of his current girlfriend and his experiences with dating after he lost his wife. I got off the phone feeling very optimistic and hopeful.  Yes–I was going to forge ahead.  Yes-I was going to choose to be happy.  It was going to be that simple.  However, I spent the next couple of days in agony because I was doing to myself the exact thing that I despise–comparing myself and my grief to someone else’s.  Duh.  Although we have this horrific event in common-we are two different people in two very different places.  I took what he had said so personally–that I thought I should be happy because I could just choose to be.  Move on with my life.  However, I realized that by “pretending” to be happy-I was doing the same “door slamming on the memories” that I had done before.  That didn’t work out so great.  In the past week a few things have become very clear to me:

1.  I am sad.  I miss Jake–more than miss him. I spent 14 years with this man, I grew up with him.  We bought homes together, got a dog together, moved around the country together, traveled together, had four kids together, and parented together.  But our lives weren’t all about those bigger moments.  When we were dating, we used to go on “dates” every Sunday to the Home Depot. Yes–the Home Depot.  We did whatever we had to do at the Home Depot and then there was a shed outside the store that sold “food”.  I always had a warm pretzel and Jake always had a hot dog.   Our closeness came from the little, everyday experiences –quick phone calls and texts, short conversations (because who can have a conversation once they have kids?), big hugs, and “how was your day”s.  We did somehow manage to have one 30-minute phone conversations which included every little detail about the septic tank inspection.  The little things that add up to a giant thing–one that is bigger than the sum of its parts.  I am still in a place where I freak out when I realize that there will never be another picture taken of Jake.  I am still wishing for him to come back–and I think if I wish hard enough, it will happen.  Memories catch me off guard at the strangest times and places. I still can’t even believe he is gone.  I did not choose this.  I do hope that someday I will be happy again.  It’s just not that easy.  I need to stop comparing myself to the experience of another person-regardless of the commonalities.  I am sad-very sad.  And that’s okay–I’m not going to beat myself up over it.  I’m going to let it ride-let myself feel whatever it is I feel at the moment-even if it sucks.

2.  I am in no way, shape or form, ready to begin dating again.  I believe this boy told me he started thinking about dating again after about 6-7 months.  So, I put myself through even more agony wondering what was wrong with me–maybe it was time for me to start dating?  But the very idea of it, made me sick to my stomach.  I do not need to be dating.  I do not want to be in a relationship. Not now–maybe not ever-who knows?  But that doesn’t preclude me from someday being happy again.  I can be alone and still be happy.  What was I thinking in those few crazy moments this week?  Once again–comparing.  Stupid. Stupid. Stupid.

3.  I have the most incredible support system–one that spans the country.  This boy I spoke with–we don’t even know each other.  But he took precious time out of his day to reach out to me and let me know that I wasn’t alone–that someone else out there can empathize with me.  I realized that I came away from that conversation with the completely wrong message. He wasn’t trying to tell me to “be like him”.  I put that on myself.  He was extending a hand to hold onto–something to ground me and keep me from floating away with my sadness and longing.  He was trying to send the message that “someday”, I will feel better.  But it doesn’t have to be by anyone’s timeline but my own.

My brother and sister-in-law have a sign in their bathroom that says “Do more of what makes you happy”.  So, I’ve been thinking about what makes me happy now.  Really good beer=happy.  My new favorite bar=happy.  My supportive, loving family=happy.  Pinkabella coconut cupcakes=happy.  My incredible and hilarious friends=happy.  My running=happy.  My kids=…..depends on the moment 😉 When my three-year old tells me he loves me without me saying it first=happy. When my kids sing and when they belly laugh (even if it’s just because somebody said poop or fart)=happy.  I have happy moments now-I need to recognize them more when they happen.  I need to be aware and present in those happy moments.  I don’t think it’s about making a choice.  I don’t think it’s that simple.  But I am going to try.  One step at a time and don’t stop moving (even if the tears are flowing at the same time).