The End

I’m not going to lie, the past couple of months have been… rough. Grief is a tricky thing. As soon as you think you’re past it, it sneaks up behind you. Sometimes something happens that triggers it, and sometimes it comes out of nowhere for no reason at all. Sometimes it’s short-lived, sometimes it makes itself comfortable and stays a while. This particular grief wave was persistent. It’s passed now, but I was held under by it for the better part of two months, which sounds absolutely insane to me because that has never happened before.

In the last two years and seven months, I can’t remember a grief wave as bad as that one. Maybe I’ve just forgotten how bad it was in the beginning. Maybe the numbness lasted so long that I’m only now able to really feel the intensity of the waves. Maybe my grief just isn’t living up to the expectations I have for it. I expect it to lessen with each passing year. I expect that each holiday and anniversary will get easier. I expect time to do its work and to heal the wounds. I’ve told myself that if I could just make it to the next second, to the next week, to the next year, it would get better. And overall, it has. But this grief wave made me feel as if Gregg had just died, except that I didn’t have any of the initial numbness you get when something so shocking happens. I just felt all the pain of it.

As sucky as it was, I needed this wave. It was… grounding. It let me process things that were preventing me from moving forward and being fully present in the here and now. I had spent so much time chasing a reality that didn’t exist, I wasn’t even sure what was reality anymore. And I’m not even talking about since Gregg died. The last few years of his life, I chased a reality that didn’t exist. I so badly wanted him to be the man I married and for our family to be whole, but that wasn’t the reality then, either. That was just a dream. An alternate universe without war and trauma and drugs.

Since Gregg died, the logical part of my brain has been able to see that that dream was gone. I prefer to live by that part of my brain, where everything is organized and rational and I can make sense of it. Relying on that part of my brain helped me navigate my new world. I could see clearly why this had happened and continue to move forward with an intensity of focus that rarely waned. I knew exactly what to do. That intensity was comfortable. That chase of what was up ahead kept me sane. Putting it all behind me made me feel so… safe. But what I didn’t realize was that I was still chasing a future with Gregg. With my logical brain in overdrive doing all the planning and reasoning, my emotional brain sat in silence. When it did speak up loud enough to get my attention, I would rationalize with it and make it see reason until it was silent again. But that’s not sustainable. Even for someone like me who lives primarily in logic land, even when I didn’t have a dead husband. You still have to address those pesky emotions. Eventually, my emotional brain took over. And let me tell you, it was all over the place, constantly trying to find a way back to where it all started and unable to accept the fact that the road up ahead was much different than we had planned.

It’s like I was watching a movie, one where a woman drives and drives and drives, enduring the bumps in the road, the sharp curves that came so unexpectedly. Eventually, she would get to her destination, because that’s what happens in movies. Obviously, there would be a happy ending. He would be there, waiting by the side of road, so happy that she kept going, even when the road was treacherous. I’ve only just realized that I’m not watching a movie. That I am actually the one driving, and that as much as I chase it, that reality of finding Gregg up ahead died with him. No matter how fast I drive or what shortcuts I make, that road will never lead to the happy ending that I wanted. And while my logical brain could see that clearly, my emotional brain is only just catching up. And it’s terrified of the road ahead now that it fully understands that Gregg is not there waiting. It’s devastated. It’s sad. During this grief wave, it was also exceptionally angry- at everyone. At Gregg for abandoning us. At everyone who enabled Gregg, including myself. At people who I love for trying to love me. At myself for not being able to save him.

Maybe the emotional part of me took so long catching up because losing Gregg was such a shock and logic was the easier way through it. Him dying wasn’t a surprise, because logically, that’s what happens when you do drugs. While they have their claws sunk into you, they will drag you down as deep as they can take you, and sometimes your rock bottom kills you. But, if you take logic and reason out of it, it should never have happened. There are a million different scenarios that could have unfolded that would have been so much better than this one. But we all just played our parts so well. Gregg, the dysfunctional veteran who was slowly turning into a shadow of himself. Me, the committed wife who did everything she could in all the wrong ways to pull him back up. The people who cared about him, who weren’t able to help him because they didn’t really know. His doctors, who were fooled by his act almost every. single. time. Random people who didn’t do anything to stop the scene from unfolding, like the guy at the corner store who sold Gregg so much booze or the teachers and employers who saw him spiraling. And the Oscar goes too… Gregg, for being able to put on such a strong face when he was battling so many demons inside. A face that fooled even me sometimes.

Sometimes I wonder what would have happened if I had chosen to take a different role. Maybe he would be alive, or maybe the last years of his life would have just been lonelier. Maybe he would have lived longer, but done more damage to the people around him, and to himself. Maybe he would have eventually hit a wall and been forced to make a change. I’d like to think that what happened was the best case scenario. But part me is still holding onto this alternate universe where everything did turn out in the end. Where he is free from the demons that plagued him, where our family is whole. Where our kids will love him and be able to know him. Where and our grandchildren will climb up on his knee after dinner and laugh at his funny faces. Where we grow old together and can look back on the life we created and smile because we overcame so much and made it our destination in the end.




I’ll never understand why humans have to sleep. It’s the biggest waste of time. I could accomplish so. much. during those inconsistent 5-8 hours a night where I’m slowly beaten to death by tiny feet and elbows that always seem to find their way from their bed into mine. 7ish hours a night times 365 days a year… that’s like, a crap ton of hours. Did you know that people spend, on average, 1/3 of their life sleeping? That means that by the time I’m 75, I will have slept for 25 years! I could be so ridiculously productive during those hours instead of just laying there completely useless. Waste. of. time.

Also, turns out, sleep is really anxiety provoking for me. See, when the sun goes down and I have to lay down to go to sleep, I have to stop balancing everything. I have to carefully set down all the plates I’m spinning and hope that they don’t shatter into a million pieces while I’m not attending to them. I have to stop cleaning, and studying, and nursing owies, and throwing baseballs, and fulfilling church callings, and paying bills, and cooking… I have to stop, carefully place each fragile piece of china in its proper place, and leave it be until the next day. And that is almost more difficult than trying to keep all the plates spinning.

As parent in general, but especially as a lone parent, there’s never enough hours in the day. There’s never enough time spent reading their favorite books. Never enough games of catch. Never enough consistency. And I’m only speaking for me- I’m sure there are lone parents out there who are kiiiillling it. I see you and I am cheering you on, friends. But right now, I’m not killin’ it. I’m just sort of half-heartedly hitting it over the head with a hammer, the rubber kind my two-year-old kid likes to hit people with. Not super effective, just annoying. And even mustering the effort to do that is wearing me thin.

Sometimes that sense of wearing thin is a sign that I need to do small things like stop and take 5 minutes for self-care, or say “no” to the thing that would put me over the edge, or revaluate my priorities for the week. Simple, easy things I can do to help keep me going. But sometimes that feeling is an indication that I’m neglecting some aspect of my health- physical, emotional, spiritual- and need to focus on nurturing it.

If my body can’t keep up physically, this is where I start. Running low on energy probably means I need to get better sleep *insert eye roll*, eat healthier, drink more water, change my workout routine- easy, textbook stuff. I know how to do this, and have gotten preeettty good at doing the physical self-care thing (except the sleep part, obviously, which turns out is really important). But I can always improve, so I look for ways I can be better and more consistent. Not like a crazy person, but like a regular person who wants to live just until I’m at least like 100 so my kids can have a parent here on Earth for as long as possible. But like a spry 100, because I need to still be able to serve some purpose… It’s 2019, don’t tell me that this isn’t a completely attainable goal.

If it’s my emotional health that’s making me a crazy person, I usually need to address whatever’s in “the box.” I call it the grief box, designed mostly for stuff about Gregg, but I can fit all kinds of shit in there. Feelings of anger, shame, regret, fear, betrayal… put all that in a box and then slam the lid shut. Done and done. Except no, it’s not done at all, I eventually have to go back to the box when I’m ready to deal with the stuff. I’ve been more intentional about working on this one lately. It’s not easy to look in that box, but I refuse to let it sit there and take up space, silently mocking me as it wins the battle and takes control, slowly wearing me down.

It’s harder to explain what it feels like when my spiritual health is suffering, but I’ll usually know because I will feel empty. I’ll feel like I’m failing everything and everyone and like I can never be good enough. I may already be doing the basics, like going to church and praying and reading my scriptures, but in the same way that a robot would do those things. This is when I have to stop and be more intentional about turning to Christ, because he makes up the difference and fills the holes that I can’t. When what I can give today is only 5% of what I think I should be capable of, he holds me and then makes up the other 95% through the people around me who love me and my children. When my kids want a mommy who’s there all the time, but all I can give them is bowl of cold cereal and a kiss before I head out the door, he comforts me and gives me the energy to be more present with them when I get home after a long day. When I feel the weight of the world on my shoulders and like I am the only one there to bear the burden, he lifts me. When I want to do the right thing, but choose to do the other, he weeps with me. When I have nothing left to give, he gives for me.

In a perfect world, I’d have time for all the things. Every morning, I’d make my children a nutritious, organic breakfast before kissing the tops of their heads and sending them to fetch the box of play-dough, slime, and glitter so that they could make a giant mess with it. I’d smile and clean up while they proudly held out their creations, then ran off to play in our perfectly landscaped backyard. We’d run errands, and their clothes would be free of dirt or snot, their hair combed into place. I’d spend the rest of the day reading to them and taking them on hikes and teaching them how to be decent human beings, all while simultaneously running a fortune-500 company that would allow us to go on trips around the world, as well as a non-profit that would end world hunger and all childhood diseases. Perfect.


Let it Go

As per usual when I write, I should be working. I’m not avoiding work. I just have too much on my mind to focus and I won’t be able to make any sense of anything until I get it written down.

Today I was late getting to school. I’d like to be able to blame it on traffic or some important meeting that kept me. But no, I just plain spaced on going to school. Sometimes widow/mom/grad student brain is a bitch. Anyway, parking on campus is a nightmare at any time of the day, but it’s the freaking Hunger Games during midday. So when I arrived on campus, already late, I rushed through my normal parking lot, knowing that the parking Gods were definitely not going to smile upon me this time. I was right, they didn’t. So I rushed to the neighboring lot, barreled down the first row of cars, screeched around the corner, and then- there it was. A parking spot just for me. The universe had heard my pleas and aligned the stars in order to give me this. one. spot. Just for me. It may as well have had my name on it. Like, engraved into the asphalt. That’s a thing, right? Yeah.

I was almost crying tears of joy at the thought of pulling into that sweet space, turning off my engine, and walking my merry little self to class. Then the unthinkable happened. A black sedan, which I can only imagine was being driven by the devil himself, pulled into the opposite side of the parking lot. Before I knew what was happening, that car had maneuvered itself smoothly between those two lines like the words of a love letter. Thoughtfully and poetically woven on crisp, college-lined paper, but horrendously repulsive. Love letters and people who steal parking spots freaking suck.

I was so. angry. Like I’m a bit embarrassed at how upset I was, but not that embarrassed because let’s be honest, THAT GUY is the asshole. I swore. I shook my steering wheel a little bit. I probably would have gotten out of my car and like, I don’t know, challenged him to a duel or something, but who has time to fight a duel these days, amiright? And I was already running late.

Instead I turned down the next row of cars, submitting to my circumstances and accepting the fact that, nay, it was not meant to be. I geared myself up for the drive to the parking lot on the other end of campus and the longer walk that would accompany it. I was almost to the exit when, suddenly, there IT was. MY parking spot. Not the one that I had wanted, not the one that I had set my heart on. Not the one that I thought was intended for me. But the one that was for me. And you know what? It was amazing. And even though I had to go through a mini existential crisis to get to it, it was worth it.

Sometimes things are taken from us. Sometimes our plans don’t go as planned. Sometimes when we think we know what Heavenly Father intends for us, our worlds are turned upside down. Sometimes we miss an opportunity. Sometimes that thing that we really, really wanted, the one that was perfect and meant for us, slips right through our fingers.

So what do we do? We can cry. We can scream. We can curse and beat our fists. We can, ya know, challenge random strangers to a fight to the death. But does that change anything? Does that restore what we lost? Does it make the pain less intense? Well actually, I’d say yes to that, throwing a temper tantrum does make the pain less intense sometimes. Anger is a great coping mechanism. But not a healthy one, especially when we’re using it long-term. It keeps us stuck. Stuck in a place where we can’t see what’s around us, where we can’t see the blessings that we’re missing out on. Where we can’t see what Heavenly Father is preparing for us.

There is so much good that can come from letting go. It’s painful and it’s hard and it straight up sucks a lot of the time. But there’s so much more. There’s so much more that’s being prepared for us that we will miss out on if we fight to hold on to what we can’t have.

There’s a Light on this Tree that won’t Light on One Side

It’s 11 pm on December 25th and I still haven’t found my Christmas spirit. But I have stopped wanting to torch every Christmas tree that I see, so I guess that’s something. The tinsel, the trimmings, the trappings are all less aversive to me than they were last year. So I’d say I’ve come a long way. Although, going from feeling like you want to commit arson when you drive by a house lit with blinking lights to just feeling… nothing… may not actually be that much progress. But it does feel better. It stings less. But It just feels empty.

If it were up to me, I would have buried myself under a rock from November 1st until December 27th this year. But alas, the universe would not allow it. My family whom I live with were ready to deck the halls this year. They made sure I was ready, too, because they’re amazing like that. I lied and said I was. Also, I was in charge of overseeing the stage decorations for our ward (my church congregation, basically) Christmas party, which included a talent show and a visit from Santa on said stage, so the stage had to be decked. It was a mistake putting me in charge for sooo many reasons. I would rather have taken a doorknob to the eye (that happened to me once… when I was a child and much shorter, obviously) than decorate a damn Christmas tree. Also, I’m mainly just terrible when it comes to decorating anything for anything. My lack of attention to detail these days does not serve me well in making things look pretty. Like my first idea was to just get a Charlie Brown tree, nothing else, and just hope that everyone would think it was funny. But instead I borrowed some brightly-colored decorations from a wonderful woman in my ward, had lots of help from my friends, and we totally Grinched an already-decorated Christmas tree from the foyer of the church building. Merry Christmas.

One thing that did help me get through the holiday season was that I planned an escape to California this week. Thomas has been begging to go to the beach since like September and I figured it would be just what we all needed. We spent all afternoon today at the beach, building sand castles and standing near the water, waiting for the waves to crash over our feet. Then Thomas got too confident in the strength of his lower body, let go of my hand to walk closer to the water, and got taken out by a wave. He informed me tonight while I was putting him to bed that he did not want to go back the beach. It’s too dirty and the waves have “too big of muscles.” *insert giant eye roll. That’s exactly why Gregg didn’t like the beach. Well, not the muscles part, but the dirty part for sure. He hated the feeling of sand and insisted that since he had to spend 12 months surrounded by nothing but dirt in Afghanistan, he was allowed to hate the beach. Whatever.

I wish that I had more vivid memories of our Christmases together. There was the first, in 2009, which we weren’t actually together for because he was deployed. He managed to surprise me with a diamond necklace, which his sister gave to me on Christmas eve. I thought for sure he was getting me a guitar. I don’t actually like expensive jewelry. He didn’t know me very well then, but I did love, and still treasure, that necklace.

Then there was our second Christmas, in 2010, which we flew back home for. His sister bought us matching sweatbands and sports-themed underwear, because like, why would she not. The picture of us posing in those is one of my favorites.

Then 2011, the year we drove from North Carolina to Arizona, in the middle of moving to New York. Literally, when we flew home after Christmas, we flew into JFK and took a cab to our new home. We hadn’t even planned on going to Arizona, but we decided to make the trek sort of last minute. We drove straight through. 36 hours. Taking turns driving. Stopping only for gas and to pee. For 36 hours. I don’t know how we survived. Really, I don’t know how I survived. I mean this in the most loving way possible, but Gregg was the absolute WORST on road trips. Like, driving 10 hours to California with Thomas and Luke was easier than driving to Target with him. For some weird reason, he never liked to talk on road trips. He had to listen to his music, but ON HIS IPOD WITH HEADPHONES. He complained non-stop about the traffic, or the people going too slow, or the sun in his eyes, or the people going too fast, or the seat being uncomfortable… The man turned into a giant baby. And I can say that because I would say it to his face if he were alive. Giant. Baby.

Then in 2012 Gregg’s sister and her family spent Christmas with us in New York. It felt weird because my brother had just died a few months before and I didn’t really recognize that I was spinning out of control yet. So I just assumed that everything was actually fine but also felt like I was actually going crazy. It was a weird year.

You would think I would remember 2013, the year I was pregnant with Thomas, and the couple of years after. I don’t, so I’ll just skip ahead. Those were dark years, man.

In 2016, six weeks after Gregg’s mom died, the adults in the family were trying to fake it for the kids, watching the toddlers decorate the Christmas tree because no one else had the heart to. Frankly, those toddlers did a better job than I would have. We all felt keenly the fact that Gregg’s mom wasn’t there to make last minute runs to the store for stocking stuffers or to let you forage through her well-stocked makeup drawer. And that hole that she left is what we were all trying to ignore when we had Christmas Round Two on the 26th, a sort of second chance at feeling something that felt like Christmas spirit. We had spent hours making funeral potatoes, which I later threw up. I was in the middle of eating, juggling Luke and trying get Thomas to eat, when I decided enough was enough, Gregg should wake up and come and eat with the rest of us.

Side bar: if you don’t know what funeral potatoes are, they’re basically like if potatoes and cheese had a baby and that baby was mixed with various other dairy products and crack and then baked to a golden-brown perfection. I think it’s technically a casserole, but it’s also one of the top five most delicious dishes on Earth according to Paula Deen. I made that up.

Anyway, I think the thing that helped me get over wanting to burn down the North Pole this year was my inability to avoid Christmas. Like, I could not escape it. Every morning I woke up, walked up the stairs, and was greeted by a Christmas tree. I had to go to not one but TWO Christmas parties. My kids are old enough to know that they want to see Santa and, while I am not a perfect parent and let my children do things like watch other kids open toys on YouTube, I will endure any amount of pain to see their eyes light up with joy. So I stood in line while they waited to see Santa and then took several pictures of them, all of which were terrible. But really, the exposure to it all just made it less aversive. Seeing and smelling and hearing Christmas taught my brain that it wouldn’t actually kill me and made me less anxious about it. Which would have made sense in my behaviorist mind if someone had told me that’s what I needed to do, but it also would have made sense in my mind to punch that person in the throat for telling me that’s what I needed to do… so yeah, I’m glad that no one tried to give me advice about how to move forward.

But even though it feels less like I’m being attacked by a tiger that I need to kill with fire this year, Christmas still feels empty. I’m sad to say that to say that I haven’t even been able to feel the true meaning of Christmas. That is one thing that has been hard. I would genuinely be fine without the presents or the lights or the food… but I love my Savior and I want to celebrate his birth. But feeling that means feeling everything, and I guess I just can’t right now. There are times when I do, but I can’t feel it all right now. Cheers to Christmas being over and to the coming new year.



Bah Humbug II

Real talk: I hate Winter. Like, I’m the BIGGEST baby about it. I’ve spent about half my life in places with cold Winters, so you’d think I’d be used to them by now. In New York, I’d even have to spend most of my time OUTSIDE in them, trudging through the streets and almost being swept up in the wind tunnels of blinding snow that lurked around every. Damn. Corner. Somehow I survived two whole Winters there.

But now it’s more than just not liking the cold. Now it’s a huge trauma/grief trigger, and I’m fighting it. Like, I can feel my body and mind and spirit all digging their heels in, trying to stay in the warm sunlight where nothing bad happens and we can all just run away into the mountains to escape our worries and dance off through the meadow into the sunset. And not have to think about or worry about that time when, in the thick of Winter and amidst Holiday cheer, we went to wake our husband up from a nap and he was dead. Or all the things that happened in the handful of weeks before, that we should have paid more attention to.. Yeah, screw those times. Those times can suck it.

If I had my way, I’d live somewhere where it was mid 70’s year-round. In the city, where we would have access to farmer’s markets and concert venues and quirky antique shops downtown. With the best schools and parks and museums, where my kids could learn and explore. But also like 20 minutes from the mountains where we could hike and canoe on the river and go “animal-watching” (Thomas’ new favorite thing) and get away from the people-ness of the city. Such a place exists, right? It has to.

This time of year is also hard because now that I’ve gotten my new normal, things like Holiday parties and big gatherings threaten it. Being around the people who I love most is a reminder that Gregg’s not there with us. That’s actually not just a Holiday thing, it’s turned into an all-the-time thing. I don’t know what to do about it besides not avoid those situations… but they’re just so dang avoidable! Given the choice between putting myself in those situations and feeling the loneliness slap me in the face full-force, or staying away and just pushing that loneliness deep, deep down until is suffocates and dies- I’d like to say I always make the healthy choice, but I don’t. Sometimes the stakes are so high that it’s either me or the loneliness and I simply have to cut of its air supply. Survival.

BUT, I also refuse to be that person who 20 years from now still hates Winter and doesn’t like Christmas and is the doom-and-gloom, bah humbug of every Holiday party. So, since we can’t escape Winter right now, we will just bundle up before dancing off through the meadow into the sunset, with our scarves trailing behind us and our cheeks red from the cold. We will make friends with the snow, even if it’s a little a-hole. We will smile at every gaudy Christmas tree until we find something we like about it, as if it were a difficult co-worker or a rude cashier. We will do as much of Holiday spirit-y things that we can handle, and bow out of all the rest, but add more each year… probably. And we’ll create new traditions that will be ours, that will keep our new normal going strong.

Sand Castle

I think I’ve been angry lately. And so the grief cycle continues, pulling you back in right when you think you’ve finally shaken it. Up and down, back and forth. And while it’s nice that the waves come less often, it also means that they are less expected. I don’t look out for them. I don’t have a chance to inhale deeply and brace myself before they crash into the paradise I’ve created on the shore, the paradise I thought I could just keep building up and up and up until the waves couldn’t reach us anymore. A place where we would be safe.

I’m angry that Gregg didn’t fight more. And that’s selfish of me, I know. But I am. I’m angry that he side-stepped all the help that was offered to him, that every time he started to reach for a hand, he’d reach for something else instead- a bottle, a pill, whatever was his current remedy. For all the hurt and pain and trauma that he endured, there was a lot of love and hope and joy here for him. And he didn’t reach out and take the hands offering it. And it doesn’t really matter if he couldn’t or if he wouldn’t… the outcome is the same.

Maybe this wave of fiery-red, angry grief has hit because Thomas has been talking about him more. Not in the usual cheerful “my daddy was this” and “my daddy was that” way. In a “my daddy left because he hates me” and “I just want to see my daddy” way, with big tears rolling down his cheeks. And I’m pissed that this is his experience. And Luke’s. And that this is the legacy they have inherited.

I won’t be in this place forever. I’ll work through it and I’ll feel better. But right now it hurts.

Also, Try the Cheesecake

It’s been a doozy of a week. I have felt all the feelings. Felt my stomach turning somersaults on all the ups and downs. And while I’m exhausted, I also feel completely… alive. I’m starting to let go of the numbness more and more and instead purposefully reach for things that make me actually feel. And even when those things slip right through my fingers, the movement of just reaching out my hand has been valuable. It’s made me feel all the hope and grief and happiness and disappointment that my soul has needed to feel.

This week I went to mine and Gregg’s favorite restaurant, just a few miles from where we lived before he died. If you’re ever in Gilbert, AZ go to Joe’s Farm Grill. Order the sweet potato fries. Eat all of them, with the pineapple Thai sauce. Don’t share. Thank me later. Anyway, I got there at 7 pm on a Saturday night, which meant waiting in a 45-min line (#soworthit) by myself. I got to chatting with the couple in front of me, who had the most adorably chunky little 10-month-old girl. She reached right for me and as I held her, I told the couple how I was missing my boys, whom I had left at home for the weekend. I told them how I was in town for a funeral, but obviously had to make time to go to Joe’s, where my husband and I used to eat at least once a week.

This next part requires some back story. See, there’s this thing that a lot of people do when they’re going through grief. They feel so keenly the stark difference between the upheaval in their world and the normalcy that other people enjoy that they take every opportunity to let others feel the difference, too. Part of it also has to do with having bad days and wanting to ruin everyone else’s day, but whatever. There have been so many times when people have asked about my husband and I have just blurted out, “he’s dead.” Sometimes I’ll also crack a morbid joke (“you think your husband’s a deadbeat?!?…”), just to heighten the shock factor. Anyway, it’s a common thing among grieving people, particularly among widows and widowers. I think that’s because their sense of normalcy is most effected. It hurts to lose anyone, but losing a spouse impacts literally every area of your life. Nothing is normal anymore. So when given the opportunity, a widow or widower will drop that bomb on the innocent cashier who just wants to make small talk or on the poor billing specialist at the doctor’s office who just wants to make sure they file the claim properly. There’s just something so satisfying about seeing the light in their eyes falter for just a moment and their words get caught in their throat, the same way yours did when your spouse died. It’s cold, I know. But there it is, the troubled little kid in all of us, going around trying to ruin everyone’s day.

Anyway, the sweet couple in front of me continued chatting away. “Is he jealous you’re here without him?” The wife asked. Jealous? I thought. Who? Who is she talking about? It took me a second to realize what she was asking. She naturally assumed that my kids were at home with my husband for the weekend and was asking if he was jealous I was eating at our favorite restaurant without him. Here it was, the perfect opportunity to crush the shiny outlook on life these two had. Probably married less than two years, their whole lives ahead of them. They were enjoying a nice family outing here, in our place, where Gregg could never order a Bacon Blue Burger again. I smiled a little. “Yes,” I answered. “Yes, he is.” And I must have said it really creepily or something, because they both sort of just slowly turned forward after that and we didn’t speak again. Whatevs, I was only there for the fries, anyway.

But this encounter made me realize that my normalcy has returned. It’s normal to be without Gregg now. It’s normal for me to stand alone in a really long line. It’s normal for me to not call him on the phone on my way home. It’s normal not to roll my eyes as I pick up his gym clothes off the floor. And it’s normal to see a happy family and not want to rain on their parade, because I am also happy.

There are still new things that I have to deal with all the time. Lots of new territory that definitely does not feel normal. But Heavenly Father has placed people in my life to help me navigate those foreign places. And even when I feel like I’m walking around in circles, in the dark, in three feet of mud, at least I’m going somewhere. Better to trudge along towards wherever I’m going than to stay stuck in one place.

Root Beer

Today I had a really awesome experience at church that I would have wanted to share from the pulpit during testimony meeting, but alas, I have near crippling performance anxiety- like seriously, I’d rather rip off both my arms than speak in front of an audience. Also, my children would have used their biggest outside voices to protest me leaving them in the pew, anyway… So, I’m writing about this experience instead.

So Thomas was throwing a tantrum from the second we walked out the door to go to church until after the sacrament was passed. I wouldn’t let him take root beer to church. I know. Worst. Mother. Ever. Luckily it was more of a low boil tantrum and not full-on steam coming out of his ears. So there I was, trying to console him and focus on the spirit, when those two objectives sort of collided in an awesome way.

I was thinking about my trials and how they have served a purpose. I have learned and grown exponentially through them and reached levels that I would have never come close to otherwise… crap, there’s like a million levels above me though, I don’t know that I want to reach those if it means going through more awful trials… Anyway, even though I have that perspective, there are still times where I have protested my trials like a toddler who just wanted root beer. I wanted root beer, I had my heart set on root beer, I asked for root beer, and I didn’t get it. The answer was no. And all the begging, and bargaining, and anger, and beating my fists on the ground, and pleading for it to not be so didn’t change anything. Except that I just became exhausted and stuck in my own bubble of self-pity, ruminating on how unfair life is. And while those tantrums are sometimes necessary, because that anger and frustration is real, staying in them isn’t helpful. They never actually bring my hopes and dreams and desires to fruition. Staying in them doesn’t make me spiritually stronger or give me perspective.

But as Thomas calmed down, which honestly felt like the longest 30 minutes of my freaking life, I reflected on how he’s getting so much better at self-regulating. The body of a small child is basically a holding tank for a trillion tiny ping pong balls trying to make it to the other side of the table- and the table is on fire, and the human-like creature serving the ping pong balls is in a constant state of emotional crisis and has terrible aim. And let’s be honest, we’re really not that much better as adults. But with each soul-crushing disappointment that Thomas endures, he makes developmental gains that I sometimes forget to acknowledge and appreciate. He learns and grows with each one.

So as much as I sometimes want to just stay on the floor, crying and rolling around and kicking out at the people who try to comfort and help me, I can’t grow that way. But I can accept the things I cannot change and allow the atonement to heal me. And when I calm down enough to see that root beer may not really be what I needed, even though I still want it, that small insight adds to the eternal perspective that I’m gaining. I can look back on the progress I’ve made and be grateful for how far I’ve come, even if I’m still a little pissed I didn’t get that root beer.


Sometimes self-care looks like rappelling off the side of a cliff and sometimes it looks like Netflix in your pajamas. What’re you gonna do… Try as I might, I can’t always outrun the reoccurring waves of grief. Sometimes adventures and distractions and busywork help me pull my way out of it, but sometimes those waves pull me under with no warning. I can fight it, which only leaves me more exhausted, or I can wait below the surface, holding my breath until it passes. When I’m not feeling stubborn, I reach out for Christ’s hand as soon as my lungs start to burn. But sometimes I wait until the last possible moment because I don’t want to admit that I’m drowning.

Right now I have this tug-of-war between who I was before and who I want to become. In between those two people, in between the was and the going to be, I sometimes don’t even know if I exist. It’s uncomfortable, sometimes even painful. Sometimes I retreat towards what’s familiar, what I know; surviving. Seeing everything as a tiger that could attack at any moment. Where I can’t even think about stopping to enjoy life because just surviving requires too much energy. Where I can’t go to sleep when I’m tired, I have to stay up to, you know, do all the things. That’s how my life has been the last handful of years.

Lately, I’ve been reminded that I wasn’t always such a stick in the mud. I used to be playful and adventurous and take risks. My biggest adventure was marrying Gregg. Our whirlwind of a courtship-engagement-marriage was the stuff Nicholas Sparks’ novels are made of… romantic and crazy and full of drama. And as level-headed as I’ve always (mostly) been, I was drawn to the fearlessness in Gregg. I wanted someone who could throw caution to wind and take me on the adventures I craved. And that he did. But along the way, I became the buzz kill while Gregg remained the dreamer.

But what do I do now? What does it mean to just be me? I don’t have to be the buzz kill anymore. When I’m not expelling all my energy putting out fires, there’s more left to burn on things I love doing. When I feel safe, I can actually enjoy life, and be fun even. At least when the tide is out, when the waves of grief aren’t a danger. And when they are a danger, I can laugh through them (I have a really morbid sense of humor now, actually), even if I have to do it from the safety of my couch.

Men are, that they might have joy. I’m understanding this more fully as time passes. Not just by finding things to be happy about even when I’m surrounded by straight up suck, but by finding joy despite the fact that not everything is going great. I don’t know if there’s really much of a difference, but it feels like there is. The difference is that I feel like less of a robot and more of a human. I am better able to connect with people and feel with people and love. And I know that’s how God wants it to be.

Nine Pages in a Book

Tomorrow is mine and Gregg’s ninth anniversary. I’ve been reaching out for anything to take my mind off of it. A distraction, a diversion from the trigger that could start an emotional upheaval that I just do not have the time or energy to deal with. If you asked me how I felt about the day ahead, I could honestly say “fine,” because I haven’t been thinking about it. There have been enough distractions. Apparently avoidance is still my go-to coping mechanism. Super. I even planned a big distraction, er, adventure to mark the occasion. I always do something adventurous on birthdays and anniversaries and difficult holidays. Really, I started doing it, and continue to do it, to honor Gregg’s memory and his adventurous spirit. But I’d be lying if I said it wasn’t also a good way to scare myself into numbness. You can’t think about your emotions if your survival instinct is screaming at you that you should not be 100 feet above the ground right now, with only a rope between you and certain death. You can’t address the pain when you’re terrified. There’s no room for feelings when you’re feeling that.

Gosh, I miss him. When I was making my mental list of things I wanted in a husband before we started dating, everything about him was on it. Not that I was even consciously aware of my list, but I had one, everyone does. He checked every box. Tall, funny, strong, infectious smile, compassionate… I could go on, but you get the idea. Mr. Perfect. And I loved him even more when the facade of perfection I had created of him melted away, as it always does, and I saw him for the man he truly was.

I miss the feeling of safety he gave me. After he died, I felt helpless against the evils of the world. Single woman with two kids who looks like she hasn’t slept in four years; easy target for thieves and murderers and bears. I wouldn’t stand a chance. I never had to worry about that with Gregg because, I mean, come on… no one was gonna mess with him, not even bears. I sort of adopted some of his paranoia after he died, too, which didn’t help. He wasn’t there to check the house at night, so I did. He couldn’t tell me about all the terrible things that could happen while we were at the grocery store, so I had to think of them on my own. It was exhausting, and gave me the smallest glimpse of what he went through. But it’s better since I started going to the gym again. I may not be a 6’4″, 275 lb. hulking man, but at least now I’m strong enough to pick up both my kids and run. Which is sayin’ a lot, because they are not small children.

I miss Gregg’s playfulness. It was one of the things that attracted me to him. Also one of the things that I sometimes wanted to strangle him for. When he was himself and was feeling immensely happy, he was exuberant and boisterous and could not be talked down from the clouds. There were no adult responsibilities, nor reason, nor meaning to anything that was outside of his bubble of happiness. It was refreshing and frustrating for my practical nature.

I miss his ability to just make a decision already. I am a woman, therefore I am indecisive. Not about important things- those things I can see in black and white. But the mundane day-to-day decisions, the pointless things that don’t really matter can run me in circles until I don’t know which way is up. Gregg was good at pointing out when I was being ridiculous if I couldn’t decide on the color of wrapping paper to buy or what to pack on a trip or what to make for dinner. He wasted no time in looking before he leaped, for both the small, pointless decisions and the big, life-changing decisions.

I miss him forcing me to watch YouTube videos. Truly. A constant occurrence throughout our marriage was me doing homework and him trying to distract me from it in the form of a video of someone doing something stupid or an American Idol audition (the good ones and the bad ones). Occasionally he would try to distract me by singing “Mr. Lonely” from the other room, then follow it up with a video of gym fails after I finally came to sit next to him. I would usually pretend to be interested and then go right back to my work. I should have watched more dumb videos with him.. Put that on my headstone. “She should have watched more YouTube videos.”

If he were here, we’d be leaving on a trip, where we could hike and eat dessert and watch movies until dawn. Or we’d be high fiving while we passed each other at the front door, me getting home from some dumb meeting and him to going to the gym. One of the two.

It is weird to think about what we would be doing now and how different my life would be. And it’s a really weird feeling to also be happy with how things are now. Even with the trials we went through, my time with Gregg was full of happiness. But I am also happy where I am. I wouldn’t go back, but I would bring Gregg here if I could. Maybe here he could be happy, too.

An old friend told me before Gregg and I got married that we go through major life changes or chapters or something every ten years… maybe it was twenty, I can’t remember, but the point is is that maybe this is just the the beginning of the end of that chapter. There has been love and pain and happiness and tears and it’s been a beautiful story. But things move forward and you have to follow the plot where it takes you. You would miss out on the rest of the story if you got stuck in the first couple of chapters. Even though it’s painful and you know that there’s still more pain ahead, there’s also joy and happiness. What you learned from the beginning chapters will help you figure out how to deal with what happens later on  and everything will come together in the final couple of pages. And when all the lose ends are tied up in a neat little bow, you’ll be glad that you chose to keep going.