Sunday, January 31, 2016

Owning our bodies

Body image is something that I think about pretty often. A lot of my clients deal with body image issues or eating disorders. Women especially have a difficult relationship with their bodies. I can't say that I have always been confident in my body but I have made a concerted effort over the years to get to where I am.

A couple weeks ago I was sitting in church and I wasn't expecting to hear anything that would relate to body image but I did. Someone read a scripture, "Behold, I have graven thee upon the palms of my hands; thy walls are continually before me" (1 Ne 21:16). Some of you know that I am LDS or Mormon. This scripture is from the Book of Mormon. But whether you consider the Book of Mormon a book of scripture or not, the Bible also talks about how after Christ was resurrected, He still had the prints of the nails in His hands and feet. In fact, when Thomas doubted that Christ visited the other apostles, Jesus asked him, "Reach hither thy finger, and behold my hands; and reach hither thy hand and thrust it into my side: and be not faithless, but believing" (John 20:27).  I have heard these things many times but this time a different thought entered into my mind: "Don't be ashamed of your body. Your body tells your story." When we are resurrected, our bodies are supposed to be perfected but Christ chose to keep his scars. They are a symbol of His purpose and love. I realized that I don't need to resent anything on my body. My body tells about my purpose and my love. Why would I ever want to erase that?

There is a theory of therapy that focuses a lot on looking at problems as part of a client's story. One of my favorite researchers and authors, Brene Brown, talks a lot about owning our stories. One way we can own our stories is by owning our bodies. 

I'm 32-years-old now, so it is a very exciting time to be looking in the mirror. Each day holds the possibility of a new gray hair or wrinkle! I don't think anyone wants to age, especially if it is quicker than others. But I don't want to resent or resist that my life is happening and as a result my body is changing. 

Our bodies tell the first part of our story: our genetics. We look like our parents. How fast we age, how tall we are, what color of hair, skin, and eyes, are all in part determined by our genetics. My nose moves when I talk. My mom's nose does it too. I have this little extra fat under my chin. My husband and I would joke and call it "the Crandall double chin." I have no butt. It doesn't matter how much I run or do squats, this baby does not got back! All these characteristics show how I am connected to my family. 

Our bodies tell about the events in our lives. I have two scars on my face. They are really tiny but they are from when I had to get stitches. A lot of us may have scars from accidents or even from surgeries due to illness or injury. Many women have stretch marks from pregnancy. Many women have c-section scars. The scars we have from these events may play a small or big part in our story.

Our bodies tell about our emotions. I've noticed on my face that I'm developing smile wrinkles. Those wrinkles tell a story. The symbolize the happiness and laughter that I've experienced in life. I have wrinkles on my forehead. I have those because apparently I'm raising my eyebrows a lot! Well, I am a therapist...

Our bodies tell about how we cope with our emotions. I have been overweight and underweight. But whatever the weight was, usually it told something about my story. Sometimes it told that I was carefree. Other times it told that I was fearful of being unattractive. It told about my stress. It told about my perfectionism. It told about my effort to be physically fit. It told about my fear that my worth was determined by weight. It told about my self-acceptance. It told about my confidence or lack of confidence. It told about illness. And now it tells about my grief. 

Now, I don't think it is wrong if we want to change our appearance. But I don't think we don't need to feel so desperate to change our bodies. We don't need to feel ashamed of our bodies. If we don't like our bodies, then maybe the greater truth is that we don't like our story. And if we don't like our story, then we need to work on either self-acceptance or we can rewrite the ending. We become so preoccupied with how we look that we forget how miraculous our bodies are! During a therapy session, a client of mine shared that she had completed an athletic accomplishment. I thought it was awesome and I exclaimed, "Wow! You have an amazing body!" She was quite taken aback because we had previously discussed body image issues. I hadn't meant for my comment to be a intervention but I had to explain that whether she liked the way her body looked or not, her body did something amazing. 

It will be hard to exercise if we are doing it to have some ideal body type. But if we exercise because it feels good to feel our muscles move and stretch, we can truly enjoy our bodies. Too often we think of our bodies as something to be visually or sexually enjoyed by someone else. But what about you enjoying your body? What about enjoying a good dance off in your mirror? What about enjoying the wind rushing over your body as you make it down the slopes? Your body is the vessel of your soul. It is a gift for you to enjoy and a way for you to take in life. 

I love my body! Not because I think I'm some hot mama, but I love that I can walk and run. I love that I can wrestle with my children. I love that I can feel their little hands touch me. I love that I can express love in more than just words, that I can hug or kiss someone and feel a mind and body connection. Embracing my body helps me to embrace life and to own my story. So my hope is that we will stop focusing on the way we look and with a grateful heart enjoy our bodies. 

Saturday, January 30, 2016

My new life

I haven't written in a while because I have been preoccupied establishing my new life. I've been applying to a PhD program. I've also been checking out daycares for the kids for when I start school. There is really a lot to think about when you lose a spouse, even after all the initial items of business are taken care of. Then, you need to start preparing for the life you want to lay ahead of you. Most of the time, taking these steps to set up my new life is exciting or at least emotionally neutral. I feel passionate about my work and I feel very excited about pursuing my doctorate.

When I went to look at daycares, I encountered some things I hadn't expected. The first thing I noticed was that at most of the daycares, all the children were white. Most of the staff was Hispanic or black. I seriously felt I had walked into the movie "The Help." I was glad that at least the staff was diverse but realized for the first time that my children might feel different. Maybe they won't notice at all. When Isaac was alive we attended a Spanish-speaking congregation for our church so we made a lot of friends that were Hispanic or were in interracial, bi-cultural marriages. I became accustomed to being in situations where there was more diversity. It was the first time I realized that my kids might feel different and would identify with being a minority and experience the emotional burden that comes with that. It felt heavy to think that Isaac won't be here to help them navigate that.

With all this busyness, I have been pretty distracted from grieving. Of course, I am constantly reminded of Isaac's death and think of him often but I realized that I wasn't grieving the same way I had been the month before. It is so strange to see how my grief changes with time. In that moment, I almost missed my grief. So I decided that I was just going to sit and grieve. And I do that sometimes. I'll just sit and listen to music and cry. Sometimes I journal. Sometimes I just think. Music really soothes my soul, so I try to either play the piano or guitar or listen to music when I want to sit in my feelings.

During my graduate program, the faulty really emphasized self-care. I'm trying to be vigilant about self-care. Sometimes that means going to the gym. Sometimes it means skipping the gym. In all the busyness I'm trying to prioritize eating. Ha! I never thought that would be a struggle for me! I've stopped cooking, which if you know me, is giving up one of my favorite things. Costco is my new chef. And although it's not quite as tasty, it makes my days more manageable so I can spend my time doing the things that are most important.  When I work, I take myself out to lunch. And I have a dear friend who I schedule a long lunch with a couple times a month. I find that giving myself this break and also connecting with my friend really helps me to have the energy and emotional capacity I need to have for my work.

With the kids, I've tried to make sure we eat breakfast together. They are very into pancakes, so we eat a lot of pancakes. Before Isaac died, I didn't always sit down with the kids to eat but it feels important for them to have a sense of unity and consistency. Maybe it's for me. Also, before Isaac died, we didn't have a super consistent bedtime routine. Now that I've been working more and sometimes later into the evening, I've really tried to make this time, their time. Wyatt is always asking to sleep in my bed, so I decided that it might be fun for them to do our bedtime activities on my bed. So we read stories, sing songs, say prayers, and brush teeth. They think it's the coolest. Sometimes they try to turn it into a wrestling match. I think establishing these times together has helped me feel connected to my kids even when I have to spend the day thinking about a million other things.

In some ways, I'm grateful for grief. It's not always easy to find space for it but it forces me to reflect on how I care for myself. My grief has also helped me to be better at holding boundaries. I can't rely on Isaac to reinforce my parenting, so I have to be fully committed to disciplining. I have to communicate more effectively the expectations I have for my children. So in some ways grief is making me a better parent, at least I think it is! I started seeing a therapist and that has been helpful as well. You don't really have expectations for grief because usually you don't "expect" to be grieving. But as I grieve, I find that things are working out much differently than I would have thought, which means that somewhere in my head I must of had some expectations of grief in general. I'm trying to accept that my grief doesn't have to look like that of others, and that if things aren't bad, it doesn't mean that something is going to blow up in my face.

Some other things that have really helped me in my grief is my friends. I have an amazing friend that calls me every week day. This has been so helpful. Sometimes we talk for a while. Sometimes it's 5 minutes. I have other great friends that invite me to dinner, or we go to Costco together. I've found it important to spend time with friends. I'm pretty extroverted but when Isaac was alive, I didn't really feel like I had to socialize because I could just socialize with him at home. My family has been helpful as they check-in on me often. Isaac's family has been great as well. I feel really lucky to have their support and love. They treat me like I'm their biological daughter. I think that seeing the bond that they share with my children also makes the loss of Isaac a little less heavy.

Although grief is heavy, I can't help but feel so grateful for all the people that help me carry this burden. It makes all the difference. Sometimes I wonder, "How am I not falling apart?" And the answer is that I have so many people helping me do this. And even though life is much different from what I expected and one of the worst things that can happen, did happen, I feel good. I feel like I'm still me. I'm developing this sense of peace and acceptance that God is in charge and I can trust Him. It feels good to have that message consistently reaffirmed to me. It's so hard to struggle and trust that God will deliver you or bless you when you need it because you always think you need it right now. God continues to bless me in unexpected ways, sometimes through His spirit and sometimes through the people in my life. I'm so grateful for my faith. I'm grateful for my mother who taught me how to develop faith. My relationship with God sustains me when I'm low. It is a humbling experience to let God bless you. I don't understand why I've been so blessed in my circumstances when others have had similar experiences and don't receive all the blessings that I have received. I know that blessings can't be deserved or not deserved; it's God's gift. I think that it's hard for me to comprehend that someone so mystic and all-powerful compels me to Him in such a personal way. And although I've been hearing that my whole life, it's different when I experience it.

Friday, January 8, 2016

When I'm not enough

I've been listening to the book "Rising Strong" by Brene Brown. She is brilliant! She is raw and she teaches me so much about what's really going on in my head and my heart. She helps me find the language to explain the emotions I experience. Her book is not on grief but as I listen to her book, I realize that some of my suffering with grief isn't even about the loss of Isaac. Some of it is about me.

I'm an overfunctioner. Yep, that's a thing. Apparently, Brene is too. So I'm among good company! :) Being an overfunctioner can be great. You receive a lot of praise, you get a lot done. But at the end of it all, you still aren't satisfied. Because if you aren't doing, then you are failing at over-functioning! Ha! One great thing about Isaac is that he would help me to see how ridiculous I can be at times. He would help me to see that even though there was merit to getting it all done, getting it all done wouldn't make me happy. I would never be able to get it all done and rest later because there would always be more to do. Before Isaac died, I felt like I was learning how to let go of my to-do list and be present. So when Isaac died, it made me so mad because now I need to function at a higher level. On one hand, it's good that I can do it. On the other hand, it perpetuates a behavior that can get unhealthy real fast.  People tell me, "You're so strong," or "If someone can do this, it is you." Sometimes I don't want to be strong. It makes me feel like hard things happen to me because I'm strong. I've since realized that I'm looking at it wrong. The truth is that if I wasn't strong, this still could of happened and I'd just be a mess. But I'm still not happy about it.

In her book, Brene talks about realizing that she is uncomfortable with her own need. As she talked about this I just started to cry. I realized how much I shame myself for needing. The other day, some friends had us to dinner. They were so sweet and had called my friend to see what I liked to eat. They got presents for the kids and me. I was so grateful but I felt so dumb because I hadn't even thought to bring them a treat for Christmas. As I listen to Brene's book, I realized that I didn't just feel dumb. I felt like a failure. While it's good to be polite and be thinking of others, I realized that it is hard for me to accept people's help or generosity without feeling the need to give back. I feel like I've been taught to do my part, always give. And while that's good, it's also not good. Because the truth is that somewhere deep inside me, I don't believe that people will love me if I don't give back. If I don't have time, or if I forget something, there is a part of me that feels that I have failed. That expectation is so unrealistic. And it leaves me feeling like I'm not enough, that if I'm not the giver, then I have no value in the relationship. And I'm more needy than I've ever been. This shame has probably made me judgmental of others when I thought they weren't giving enough or being polite. If I feel that I can be perfectly giving, then I probably expect that from others too. That's not fair. None of us are perfect.

After Brene had already had me crying about being needy, she decided to lay it on thick. It felt like she opened up this little door in my heart that I locked a long time ago, probably in high school. It was almost like she started opening the door and then said, "Rebecca, what's in here?" Then she said:

"...most girls raised in this state are taught the opposite of integration. We're raised to compartmentalize. We're raised to be tough and tender, but never at the same time...we're taught how to be tough and sweet. And, of equal importance, we're taught when to be tough and when to be sweet. And as we get older, the consequences of being tough and independent when you are supposed to be tender and helpless increase in severity...but as we get older, the consequences for being too assertive or too independent take on a darker nature: shame, ridicule, blame, and judgement...When that day comes, we start to get the message, in subtle and not so subtle ways, that it's best that we start focusing on staying thin, minding our manners, and not being so smart or not speaking out so much in class that we call attention to our intellect. This is a pivotal day for boys too. This is the moment when they're introduced to the white horse. Emotional stoicism and self-control are rewarded. Displays of emotion are punished. Vulnerability is now weakness. Anger becomes an acceptable substitute for fear, which is forbidden."

And that's when I realized how much shame I feel about who I am. I had never admitted that I was ashamed of myself because I don't do "bad" things. I don't commit crimes. I'm not mean. But I'm smart. I'm ambitious. I talk a lot. I have opinions and I don't hesitate to share them. I'm talented. And in subtle and not so subtle ways, I've been taught that these things were why I didn't marry at a younger age. In college, I wasn't skinny enough. I wasn't blonde enough. I wasn't sweet enough. My grades were too good. I was a teaching assistant for a very difficult writing course. And, I cared too much about getting married. I was supposed to move forward with my life, but not too much because "no man wants to be with a woman who is smarter or more ambitious than him." I learned that I had to have an answer ready to the question:  "Why don't you think you are married yet?" I learned that people would think there was something wrong with me the longer I stayed unmarried. And the worst part is that I started to doubt that I had real faith in God and His plan for me. I'm not sure that I ever doubted God. What really happened was that I felt shamed for being single. Being single seemed to send a signal to everyone else: "She isn't worthy of love. You should try to find out what's wrong with her." And you know what? That's bullshit! I'm callin' it. A person's marital status does not determine his or her worth. All the best things about me, the things that make me love myself, the parts of myself I enjoy, were made out to be the very things that made me unlovable. How awful! And that saddest part is that this didn't just happen to me. This happens to a lot of women, and men!

This new knowledge of the shame I feel, helped me to realize why I felt angry that Isaac's death left me alone. Because once I realized that his death made me single, I feared the shame. I feared the way people would judge me if I never remarried, or if I remarried too soon. It didn't matter that I wasn't rejected in a divorce (the shame from that would probably be even worse). I knew that single=shame. And I never wanted to feel that as intensely as I did before. But now that I know what it is, I don't have to accept it. And I'm done with being the person everyone else wants me to be. I'm going to talk because I have ideas to share. And I'm going to be ambitious because I have things to do. And I'm going to be tough and tender. And I'm going to be spiritual and inappropriate at times. And I'm going to be a good homemaker and a good worker. And I'm going to trust God and know that I am worthy of love for all the parts of me.

Maybe that is why I enjoyed my marriage so much. Isaac gave me permission to be me. He didn't shame me for being smart or talented. He never shamed my body. He loved all of me. The truth is that I didn't have to wait for Isaac to love all of me so that I could love all of me. Grief has broken my heart open, and now I can see all the scar tissue, anger, hurt, and resentment. With God, I'm going to heal all the parts of my heart. Not just the part that misses Isaac. I have people to forgive, things to let go of, and parts to reclaim. These are the things that will make my heart whole. I almost wrote "whole again," but that would be a lie. My marriage made my heart full. It will take a lifetime, and maybe more, before anyone of us could be perfectly wholehearted. But I will never get there if I won't look at all the places in my heart.

"Integration is the soul of rising strong. We have to be whole to be whole hearted. To embrace and love who we are we have to reclaim and reconnect with the parts of ourselves we have orphaned over the years."-Brene Brown

Before I finish this post, I want to share a few bits of advice on how to interact with single people:

  • Never ask, "Why do you think you aren't married?" You are implying that there is something more wrong with them than with you or any other married person. Think about it. You know plenty of screwed-up married people so this question inaccurately blames the single person as though something makes them unlovable.
  • Value a single person for the individual he or she is. You should do the same to married persons.
  • A single person has the right to long for a romantic relationship without being accused of being or acting desperate. Single people aren't stupid. Just because they haven't been married doesn't mean that they don't sense the connection, companionship, and sexual intimacy that they are missing out on. So don't make them feel silly or desperate for wanting that.
  • Don't assume that the single person has an addiction, problem, or personality trait keeping them from marriage. The truth is that a lot of married persons have these problems too. Single people are the same as married people. The are just pre-married people.
  • Realize that your discomfort with a person's marital status is your problem. Families might need to grieve. You may have expected to had grandkids by now. You may have expected to raise babies with your sister or best friend. Most likely, your single friend has already grieved the loss of these expected shared experiences, but you have probably failed to recognize your own need to grieve that these things haven't happened and may never happen in the way you had hoped.
  • If you are close to a single person, ask him or her how you can support them. Some may feel like a third wheel, and others might want to be included. Some might want you to set them up on dates, some might not. Some may want to talk about their dating life. Ask the individual so you can know what is helpful and not helpful.
If you've done these things, don't worry, we all have. As a society we've bought in to these beliefs. I've been guilty of some of these behaviors too. But we can stop doing this now. We can start treating every person as an individual worthy of love and belonging. All of us at times feel like we aren't enough, and it is the worst feeling in all the world. Let's not perpetuate that when we can do better.

Sunday, January 3, 2016

The Bitter in Bittersweet

So, I know you might be wondering, "What's it like to be a widow?" Well, let me tell you. Sometimes it's fine. Sometimes it's good. And sometimes it downright sucks. It's fine because I'm doing what I normally do. I take care of my kids, I go to work, I go to the grocery store, etc. It's good because my children say the cutest things and make life so magical. And it sucks because I'm lonely, and I'm doing everything alone and deciding everything alone, and I never wanted this. And I realize that was a run-on sentence, but that's what my life has come to!

The other day my friend called to chat and like any concerned girlfriend, she asked, "Okay, so I've got to ask. How are you doing on the whole no sex thing?" I laughed and responded, "You know what? Thank you for asking!" Obviously, I don't want everyone asking me about something so intimate, but she is my best friend so I didn't mind. It was nice to have someone acknowledge that there are so many different parts to my grief. And sex is one of them. It was actually one of the first things I started to miss. I thought it was strange at first but then I realized that it made perfect sense. That was when I felt closest to Isaac. That is the one thing that we shared that was never shared with anyone else. It is hard to lose the person who is your truest, closest friend, and lover. No relationship comes close. I have to live with going 100 to zero. No one can just step in and make it better. And, I think that's why we call it "loss." We can't get it back. It can't be fixed. Now, that doesn't mean that I can't be happy or that it doesn't get better. It doesn't mean that I won't love again or that I won't have other meaningful relationships. But it does mean that I have to make room for this ominous feeling.

A couple months ago I was talking with my church leader who also happens to be a marriage and family therapist. We talked about the difference between grief and depression. I think that often people think that if you really loved someone, that you should be depressed. Grief can be a trigger for depression, but you don't have to struggle to function to experience grief. Now, that's not to say that functioning at times can't be difficult. For a lot of people it can be. My church leader made the comment that some people run hot and some people run cold. He stated that I seem like someone who runs hot and that I was probably not at risk for depression. I was more likely at risk to be anxious and have panic attacks. So I've been trying to monitor that and be aware of my anxiety. And, I definitely feel anxious at times. I try to use a lot of the coping skills that I've learned as a therapist. It helps a lot. But just because I'm a therapist and I know what is going on, doesn't mean that I can avoid the pain or the feelings that I experience. I sometimes find my mind racing with all sorts of thoughts. Sometimes I get caught up in problem solving mode. Other times I realize what's going on and I remind myself that the thoughts and worry are just my brain trying to fix this. And, I like to fix things. I'm not one to sit around and wait for things to happen. I'm a go-getter, but you can't go get healing. Grief doesn't have a finish line. It doesn't work like that. So methods that have worked great in other areas of my life won't work with grief. I have to learn to sit with the unknown and wait for grief to come to me.

Sometimes the waves of grief come at unexpected times. Sometimes something will trigger a memory of Isaac and the loss feels like a sharp knife. Sometimes it feels like a actual ache in my heart, not like the ache of a heart palpitation or when you think you are having a heart attack. Sometimes my heart physically feels like it is hollow. Sometimes I lose my appetite, but I still eat anyway (cause if you know me, you know I love food). Sometimes I feel so exhausted that I can't even cry because I don't know how to create the space I need to let it all out. Sometimes I re-experience some shock symptoms, especially when I have to deal with things pertaining to the automobile accident.

Sometimes I'm happy when I expected to be sad. And sometimes I can cry one minute and laugh the next. Sometimes I can remember things about Isaac and not feel sad at all. Sometimes I can feel confident and full of hope and faith. And other times, I'm full of fear and longing. Sometimes I'm angry and super pissed to be alone. And sometimes I'm tired because I'm trying to stand up as huge waves of emotion wash over me day after day in addition to the normal things I do. So I'm trying to simplify my life to make space for the grief that rolls in when it pleases.

It's a lot. And I don't share these things because I want you to feel sorry for me. I share this because I know that a lot of my family and friends really want to know what I'm experiencing and this is a way for them to grieve with me. And it helps me. Sharing these things helps me give space to process what I am experiencing. It helps to be able to talk about my grief and know that others care to listen. Because I'm not really looking for advice. I really just want someone to sit with me in this vulnerable and unfamiliar place.

I want to take some time here to talk about what I think is helpful to a grieving person. What is helpful to me might not be what another grieving person needs, but I think it's a place to start if you are trying to support someone who is grieving. First, a grieving person wants you to ask. You can ask something as simple as a genuine, "How are you doing?" Now, I'm a pretty open person so if I feel the need to talk about my grief, I will seize that moment to tell you. And if I don't feel like talking about it, I won't. Others might not be so open. So politely ask how they are doing and let them know that you don't want them to feel obligated to talk about their grief but that you would love to be listening ear if that's what they need. Second, advice can be annoying. Not all advice is annoying so this is tricky. I would say that you probably need to think about how well you know the person who is grieving. If you know them well, not much will be annoying. But when people who I don't know me well are telling me what I should do or how Isaac or God feels, it can be annoying. Not all the time, but sometimes. Sorry to be vague there, but that's the way it is. Now, I don't get offended easily, so don't worry, I'm not thinking anything about you if you did do this but at the time I was probably thinking, "Okay, stop talking. I don't care." Third, check in. I have a friend that calls me almost everyday. We don't talk about my grief most of the time but having someone be there to talk to each day about the little things really helps. Fourth, don't fear my grief. If my sadness or pain make you feel uncomfortable, that makes me feel like you don't accept the human parts of me. So if you have trouble tolerating sadness or pain, you need to figure out why. Your loved one needs you to listen and sit there calmly. And when you can't be there, it makes your loved one feel like they need to feel better to be loved or accepted by you. I also think that it will prolong grief and depression because when you can't be tolerant of their grief, they will move deeper into their grief. Validate their grief. Be there. Fifth, don't just offer to be there, show up. It means a lot to me when people don't half-heartedly ask me to do things. When they make specific plans, or ask me if I need specific things, that is helpful. The other day a friend asked if I needed help with the snow. I happened to be out of town, but it meant a lot that he recognized that I might have a very specific need at the time. Although, I know my friends are happy to help when I ask, moments like these help me to really know that I can ask for help and my friends will be there.

Now, I realize that this was a heavy post. I'm so very grateful for everyone's support and prayers. I don't want you to be worried about me after I've shared with you that I experience difficult emotions. Sometimes I feel like when I share my sadness, everyone starts to worry. I need you to know that this is a part of me. And it doesn't mean that I'm slipping into a depression or that I'm not doing well. I'm just letting you see that I am a whole person. And that means I experience ups and downs. And the truth is that most of you didn't know much about my downs before now. I want to be authentic about my grief. My grief isn't just spiritual epiphanies, growing closer to God, and remembering good things about Isaac. There are some really tough, ugly, gut wrenching parts to grief. I would be doing a disservice to anyone else who experiences grief if I left out the hard parts. I hope to show you that my life is a bittersweet combination of both loss and love, and that where there is a lot of pain, tears, and struggle, there is also a lot of laughter, singing, and dancing. 

Monday, December 28, 2015

What Isaac taught me about love

I'm going to start at the beginning because as Julie Andrews suggested, "It's very good place to start." After our first date, Isaac was so sneaky and left a note on my car the next day thanking me for our date. I thought it was a hate note from my neighbors for parking in "their" spot (they thought they owned parking spots even though none were assigned). I was in shock. I can't tell you how many times that I had been told to "let him know you had a good time," "text him," "reassure him." I remember talking to my mom about two weeks after Isaac and I had started to go on dates and I started to cry. I felt so silly but the truth is no guy had ever treated me that way. Isaac was brave. He wasn't waiting for me to reassure him or decide for him. He was going to jump in and see what happened. So many young people hesitate to show love for someone. They want to feel certain first. But Isaac gave when he didn't know I'd give back. From the very beginning Isaac "loved" me. It's not that he had fallen in love with me. Love is a verb, and he decided to love me and see what happened.

When I first became friends with Isaac on Facebook I noticed that his profile picture was of his parents. I thought that was kind of strange but if you know Isaac, then you would understand that Isaac loves his parents, and Isaac is his family. Isaac really looked up to his parents and the love that they had cultivated through the years. I could see that Isaac really believed in marriage and that the greatest happiness in life would come from loving one woman really well. Isaac is a much more private person than me. If something good happens, I want to tell everyone. If I'm feeling love, I want to shout it from the rooftops. Isaac showed me that I didn't need to share everything for my happiness to be real. I didn't need to tell everyone on Facebook how much I love my husband or post each time he did something nice. He taught me that those things are personal and that I don't need the world to validate my happiness or love. It's not that he looked down on people who share these things but it did help create intimacy. Rather than sharing things with others, we became really good at sharing our feelings in person with each other. I can't really describe it but there is something really special about your spouse opening up and sharing his feelings with you for only you to know. 

Isaac was good at apologizing. When I first got with Isaac, I never saw an angry bone in his body. But kids change things. Ha! And he is latino, so I'm pretty sure he gets his hot head from all those hot peppers he likes to eat! Isaac would be stressed out from work and sometimes he would take it out on me. I would get mad at him for his attitude. And we had fights about real issues too. We went through a very difficult time after Rose was born. But Isaac was always good about apologizing when he acted in a way that wasn't loving. That built trust. I knew that I could trust that no matter what we disagreed upon, we would always come back together. I learned that even though we lost our cool or got lost in a fight, we both wanted this to work and we both loved each other.

Isaac always made me feel beautiful. Isaac never compared me to other girls. He never criticized my body. He didn't look at other women. It's so hard as a woman in today's world to feel like enough, but I always felt like enough with Isaac. 

Isaac cherished my role as the mother of his children. He was so great about being supportive through my pregnancies and expressing gratitude for the physical burden of carrying the children. Maybe because he wanted six more! But still, I'll give him credit for making me feel appreciated. 

Isaac has also taught me things about love through his death. When I look back on my marriage, I realize that there were times that I held on to hurt or amplified hurt because I would let a moment define our relationship. Sometimes after a disagreement, I would start to doubt that Isaac felt the same way I did. In marriage, you aren't always kind and you aren't perfect. I realize now that too often when we disagreed, I would worry that something was shifting in our relationship. And while that can happen in a marriage, I realize now that the worry was unnecessary. When Isaac died, everything in our relationship flashed before my eyes and now I'm not sure why I ever doubted him. I hope that if/when I remarry that I can be better about not letting the emotions of one moment define what I think about how my spouse feels about me. I feel like I could have avoided a lot of hurt if I had just taken a step back and looked at the whole relationship rather than focusing on what was happening in the moment. It's easy to feel good about your marriage in the good moments but it's more important to trust that your marriage is good even in the difficult times.

And now, I'm trying to learn another lesson about love. Maybe a broken heart doesn't love less. Maybe a broken heart can love more. In some ways, I feel that I love my children more now than I did before. They bring so much happiness and purpose to my life. I'm not sure that I needed that as much as I do now. I love my friends and family more as I've seen them sacrifice for me and support me. I feel more compassion for my clients. I am more aware of pain and the process that goes along with it. I feel more gratitude for the people and blessings in my life. I have felt of God's love more. So even though my heart aches, maybe the aches are just growing pains. 

Friday, December 4, 2015

There are no bad days

I joined a Facebook support group for widows and widowers. And while I enjoy being part of the group, I find that sometimes my experience is different from others' experiences. I often see people say, "Today was a bad day..." or "The holidays are bad..." I'm not sure why it bothers me so much but I hate using the word "bad" when talking about grief.

My Thanksgiving break was hard. I cried a lot more than I normally do when I'm at home living my everyday life. Isaac's absence hit me really hard. The space he used to fill felt so huge. I felt myself anticipating what he would say and do but nothing ever filled the space. At times I felt bored without him. I felt lonely. I felt alone. I'm beginning to understand what it means to truly miss a person. This experience let me see what I'm in for as I get further and further from the time when Isaac was alive in my life. But it wasn't bad. It was sad. It was really, really sad. But for me "bad" has such a negative connotation. I don't think that the pain I feel is "bad." It's good! I should feel this way. It should hurt this intensely. The pain reflects the loss of something great. It isn't wrong to feel this way. I feel this way because I loved Isaac with all my heart. And, I know that he loved me. It makes me sad because I know our future together on earth was going to be bright but now our future is very different from the one we had planned. And if there are days that I cry or can't pull myself together, I'm not going to feel bad about that. I gave all I had to our marriage and there is no way, no way, that I could ever turn off the grief that I feel.

Sometimes I think people talk about these being bad days because others can't tolerate their grief. I've heard many comment on how others have said things to indicate that their grief should be over or less weepy. No one should ever tell you how to grieve. One thing I see supportive people say is, "Be strong!" or "Stay strong!" What does that even mean? When someone says that in response to me expressing grief, it confuses me. I don't think sadness and longing negate strength. I'm not weak because I cry. That is a funny thing about our culture. If you refrain from crying when you are hurt, you are considered tough or strong. But if you have ever really let yourself truly feel all your emotions, without letting your emotions consume you, you will know what it is to be strong. Most of the time we avoid difficult emotions because we worry they will overtake us. And often that ends up being the case. If we put off grief, it eventually will consume us. Allowing ourselves to feel requires the courage to be vulnerable without knowing what will happen. So my goal is not to be strong for myself and my kids. My goal is to just be, just be whatever it is that I am today. But one thing I know, today will not be bad because there are no bad days.

Tuesday, November 17, 2015

The Pain

     It has been a while since I have written on the blog. Mostly because I have been really busy. I moved and then I went out of town to visit Isaac's family and a dear friend of mine. I've been wanting to write about some of these things for sometime now. I find that I often learn more about myself and the world through talking and writing.
     I've observed a few things about my grief process. I have learned that the first week or two of grief is just shock and survival. Following that was a period of adrenaline. That time was filled with busyness and visitors. But once all the business is handled and the visitors dwindle, the loss settles in and the void makes itself known. The truth is that I didn't have room to miss Isaac before now. There was too much chaos, too much to do. As things settle down, his absence is so loud. And it hurts. There are different parts to the hurt. There is the loss I feel for my children. There is the loss of the future I thought would be ours. The loss of my dreams being shared with Isaac. The loss of marriage. The loss of my best friend. The loss of Isaac, the individual. I've heard some people talk about how surprised they are when they continue to grieve even after remarriage. But that makes sense to me. Remarriage can't be a replacement. You can't replace a person. You can simply create new nurturing relationships.
     When someone dies, there is part of you that says, "I want to say goodbye one last time or have one last kiss, or one last whatever." But I don't dwell on that because the truth is that no one last anything could make it better because it would still be a "last," and that is what hurts. I remember that a few days after Isaac died I had to drive somewhere. While driving I thought, "If I wanted to be with Isaac, I could just crash the car and die." And here is the struggle: I could die and be with Isaac or I can live but the truth is that I want to live with Isaac. And what I want, I can't have. And what does it mean that as I move further from that moment that my desire to live is stronger than my desire to be with him? These aren't questions that I need to answer. These are simply the raw emotions that I have felt.
     When Isaac first died, I felt so sad for my children. One of the reasons I married Isaac was because of his loyalty to family. My parents divorced when I was about six-years-old and my relationship with my dad has more often than not been a source of pain and disappointment. I wanted to be sure as one can be that the father of my children would always be there for them. So when Isaac died, it felt like the most important thing that I wanted for my children was ripped from them. But a dear friend told me something that has brought comfort to me. Someone had told her this when her family was grieving the loss of a young father. She said that it is important to remember that God loves my children more than me. Just think of that. If I truly believe that God is my Heavenly Father and the Father of my children, then why would he allow for this tragic loss? If God is love, how is this an act of love? I don't know why and I don't know how, but there is something in me that tells me Isaac's death was necessary.
     A couple weeks after Isaac passed, I found myself watching a cartoon movie, "Joseph in Egypt," while babysitting my friend's children. I had actually thought it was the movie "Prince of Egypt" and felt a little disappointed by the music, ha! But as I watched the show with the kids I learned something about life and God. As I watched Joseph's brothers sell him into slavery I started to cry in empathy. How awful! Can you imagine your siblings hating you so much they sold a slave? I'm sure that Joseph had a hard time praying, "Oh yeah, this is totally for the best God. I get it." He probably spent many nights wondering why God allowed for this to happen. But years later when he saved his family (and many more people) from famine, he got it. Now, I'm not going to save anyone from famine (at least I think not!), but I could relate to parts of the story. The first part being that sometimes horrible things happen for seemingly no good reason. The second part being that faith in God is the only thing that makes it possible for us to endure hardship. The third part being that in time God will show us all things and will manifest His love in greater ways than we can imagine. My favorite scripture is 1 Corinthians 2:9 "But as it is written, Eye hath not seen, nor ear heard, neither have entered into the heart of man, the things which God hath prepared for them that love Him." Each time I read that it blows my mind. It is so hard to comprehend that there could be this whole other plan for my life that is so much better than my plan. I mean, I've always thought that I can dream up some pretty amazing stuff. When I read this scripture, I know it is true. God has always been merciful to me. He has always provided. He has never disappointed me or let me down.
     As I had been thinking about Isaac's death and how it felt like I was losing the most important thing I ever wanted in life, a devoted husband and father, I thought of Abraham. I thought of how much Abraham had wanted a son from his dear wife Sarah. After so many years they were finally blessed with Isaac. And then God, asks Abraham to sacrifice Isaac. Whenever I've thought about this bible story I've always felt so much empathy for Abraham. How awful to be asked to sacrifice your son. I can't even imagine. At the same time, to some degree I can relate to having to give up the thing you wanted most. It was a little ironic and upsetting that I too was asked to give up my Isaac. Abraham was blessed that God then said that he didn't need to kill Isaac and provided a ram for sacrifice. I don't know why Isaac had to go. I don't know why that sacrifice was necessary. I can't explain why I'm not angry at God. It doesn't make sense. I should be angry. Instead, I feel like a little child, submissive. I trust Him. And this trust or faith surprises me even though it obviously lives in me. Mainly because you can only trust someone as well as you know him and it overwhelms me to think that I know God, that I know Him well enough to wade through these murky waters.
      I think another reason I trust God is because God gave me Isaac. It's hard for me to conceive that a God that would bless me so immensely would take away a blessing and then never bless me again. That doesn't make sense. It makes me think of Job from the bible and how God took everything away but then after Job proved his faith, he gave him twice as much as he had before. Now, I'm not hoping for two husbands but I do believe that God will bless me. And that blessing will feel more than sufficient. I have felt very blessed already. I feel so lucky to have such a wonderful family, friends, and in-laws. I seriously have the best support system anyone could ever have. Despite the blessings, I still feel and will feel pain. Pain is a feeling, and one thing I always tell my clients is that feelings are information. Pain is information that something isn't right. So as much as I want the pain to just go away, I know that I need to let pain teach me. So that's what I'm going to work on, letting the pain teach me. I think it will be hard to not postpone or push emotions aside but I believe that as I allow myself to sit in this place and rumble with these feelings I will find strength.

Monday, October 19, 2015

The kids

One of the first things people ask you is, "How are the kids doing?" The truth is they are doing pretty good. Today broke my heart a little. As I was getting Wyatt ready for church he kept asking if his friends were going to be at church. He then asked if his daddy would be there. I reminded him that Daddy was in heaven with Jesus. Then, he told me that he wanted to go up there with Jesus. And then he said, "I want my daddy back." I just hugged him and said, "Me too." I finished getting him ready and I told him he looked handsome and he said, "Like Daddy!" Yep! I wasn't surprised that it took about six weeks for Wyatt to realize that Isaac was gone and not coming back. Children process things very differently. It will be interesting to see how the children grieve as they grow in understanding. When Isaac first passed away, Wyatt asked a few times about Isaac. But after telling him a few times that Isaac was up in heaven with Jesus, he stopped asking. Rosie would say "daddy" when she saw his picture or his truck. Rosie hasn't demonstrated understanding beyond that.

Right after Isaac died, I was mostly sad for my kids. Maybe that's just typical mom behavior, worry more about the kids than yourself. It breaks my heart that their dad won't be there for so many moments of their lives. It breaks my heart because Isaac wanted to be there and we'd talk about the things we could do with the kids when they were older. I sometimes can't get over the fact that Rosie barely knew him. He had such a special love for her. You could just see it in his eyes. And I know that maybe someday they'll have a stepdad who will love them. And I know that they have grandpas and uncles who love them. But it is just painful to think that they won't be able to see or feel that love from their father the way I could when he was here. Luckily, we have lots of pictures and videos. I hope that those help the kids to feel close to him. Wyatt and I often look at videos and pictures together. I feel like it is a positive way for him to connect with his dad. When we went to the pumpkin patch Wyatt made sure that we got a daddy Isaac pumpkin, and a mama pumpkin, and two baby pumpkins. I also caught him the other day playing with his spidermen. He has a small one and a bigger one. He told me the big one was "daddy Isaac spiderman." And the small one was Wyatt spiderman. It's kind of funny how he says "daddy Isaac" a lot. But he also calls me "gegecca" a lot now too! I guess that's what happens when you have a lot of company!

Sunday, October 18, 2015

The day Isaac died

It was a Wednesday. We had been home about a week since our family vacation to Utah and Idaho. The night before we had homemade pizza and Isaac played with the kids while I cleaned up. I was really tired and had wanted to go to bed early but Isaac really wanted to watch this movie on TV so I stayed up to watch the movie. And for those of you who know Isaac, yes he did fall asleep! Haha. The next morning I remember waking up and Isaac would usually cuddle or hold me in bed for a while before we actually got up. So he had started to do that when we heard Wyatt wake up. I was potty training Wyatt so I jumped out of the bed and rushed to get him on the toilet before he wet his diaper. Don't worry, I was too late. So since I was up, I decided to make Isaac some breakfast burritos. He was still chillin' in bed, so I asked him if he wanted to have breakfast in bed. So Isaac ate breakfast, Wyatt drank his milk, and I sat next to them in the bed, and we watched Fox News (not my choice! Ha!) Then Isaac needed to get ready for work so he showered and Wyatt decided he wanted to shower too. My morning got busy as I had to get Wyatt ready after the shower. Isaac told me that he thought he would take the day off after he checked in with work because the other employee was off that day and they had something that they needed to work on together. I remember that as he was leaving Wyatt started shouting, "Park! Park!" Isaac told him we'd go to the park. I double checked because I had already planned to go to the park in the morning. Isaac said to take the kids anyway and that we'd go again if he got the day off. Isaac said he would call pretty soon to let me know if he was coming home.

The morning got hectic and I thought it was strange that Isaac hadn't called yet. I was trying to gather up the children so we could get to the park and I would just call Isaac while I was on my way to the park. After I had gotten the kids in their car seats, I ran to grab the trash and noticed two cops walking up to me. They asked for me by name. Oh guys, I thought I was being served! I was like, "Oh no! I'm being sued!" I'm a marriage and family therapist so I always worry that a lawsuit could be possible if someone commits suicide or something goes wrong. But then they told me Isaac had been in an accident and asked if they could come in and talk to me. I was like, "Yeah, of course." Then my mind started trying to figure out what I should do with the kids when all of a sudden I thought to ask, "Is he alive?" They said no. Then I just remember weeping, "No!" And then I straightened right up and would alternate between sobs and getting my kids situated so that I could talk to the cops. It is such a strange experience to receive this kind of news. They talk to you like you are going to respond to what they are saying but the truth is that a million things flash before you. One of my first thoughts was, "Oh no, it's here." Isaac had always thought he would die early. Not this early, but earlier than typical. The cops kept asking me about who they could call or if someone could come over. I kept thinking, "Why would I have you call my people? Why do I need someone here? I'm going to be so busy calling everyone." Well, about three phone calls in I understood why I needed someone there. Listening to the sobs on the other end of the line was the worst kind of torture I've ever experienced. I just couldn't keep calling. As much as I wanted to be the one to notify family and friends, at some point I was just done.

Slowly, people started pouring into my house. I was so grateful for the support. The kids were probably wondering what was happening. The next couple days were such a whirlwind. I felt like I was going to throw up and I had a really bad headache. I stopped wearing any make up for a few weeks. No point, I'd just cry it off anyway. I was so grateful to have so much support but each time a new person came to express condolences it would just hit me like a wall. Those first days were some of the worst. I'd have dreams where Isaac was just doing normal every day life stuff. When I would wake up my brain would tell me, "No, he's dead."But following those first days, I began to move away from the shock and devastation. I started to see the support I had and the generosity of others blessing my life. I became overwhelmed with gratitude as miracle after miracle came into my life. I no longer get upset by my dreams and feel pretty okay when I wake up. A lot of people have been concerned about if I am sleeping but I actually haven't had any problems with that yet, thank goodness!

We still don't know a lot about the car accident as it is still under investigation. Isaac was killed on impact. And that brings me comfort to know that he either didn't suffer or didn't suffer for very long. It's still so strange that he is gone. It was really hard to believe that he died until I saw his body. It was so strange to touch his cold skin. Isaac was always so warm. I was the cold one. It brought some closure when I saw his body but it was also sad. When you see the body, you realize that the body is nothing without the spirit. So it was him, but it wasn't him. I think I kind of expected him to look like he was sleeping but he didn't even look like that. I never realized till that moment how much of a person is their spirit. In our society, we judge so much based on the body but the spirit is really the larger portion of who we are. So realizing that helped me to let go of his body. But I think that is also the hard part. As I move forward I am sure there will be times that I will feel his spirit near. But there is something so special and irreplaceable about being with someone while his spirit is still in his body. And that's what I miss and will miss.

Tuesday, October 13, 2015

What I'm learning

I don't know how much I will share on my blog but a blog seems like a more appropriate place to share the complexity of emotions that follow the death of a loved one. I have seen several clients who are dealing with grief. Often, they come in quite depressed. I assumed that I would experience something quite similar. I empathized with their struggles and agreed that the people that act like death is no big deal are out of their minds. But here I am today and I feel good. Great, now I'm that annoying person who is still happy even though my world should be falling apart!

Shortly after Isaac's death, my friend sent me a christian song where the lyrics read, "your world's not falling apart, it's falling into place." Say what?! It seemed so horrific to say that Isaac's death would lead to my world falling into place. But as time goes on, I do realize that my life goes forward and there are many important things for me to do. It's not that I don't have sorrow. The truth is that I have hope. Hope that our God is really as merciful as I've been taught. Hope that Isaac's death was not in vain. Hope that I can find meaning and love in a life following Isaac's death. And I think that hope makes all the difference.

My stake president (my church leader) who happens to be a therapist, explained to me that grief is not depression. I think I expected to be depressed. But grief isn't depression. It can trigger depression but it is not the same. I've experienced a myriad of emotions ranging from loneliness to excitement. The truth is, at some point, maybe before I came to earth and certainly while on earth, I committed to putting both feet in the water. Sometimes that means that the water goes above my head. But I never wanted to sit back and just watch.

A couple years ago I met an inspiring woman. She was so kind and cheerful. The more that I got to know her the more shocked I became as I learned that she had lost a son (at the same age Isaac died), had some health issues, and had an extended family experiencing lots of difficulties. I noticed that there was a depth to her, that she knew something I didn't. And after I thought that, I immediately thought, "Don't think that! Now you'll lose a child." I never thought it would be Isaac. I realize that I'm strange in that way, that I would look at others and envy their grief. But I am learning so much. So much about myself and so much about God. So much about the goodness of the people around me. The world only got brighter when Isaac left. I feel like I've learned more about Isaac as well. It's almost as though I can even see Isaac more clearly, who he was as a man. And although he is gone, his love still carries me.

I want to share a few things I've learned and I'm sure the list will continue to grow.

Things I've learned about God:

  • God blesses us with many small miracles and those can be just as miraculous as the big miracles
  • God will help you remember scriptures that will bring peace and understanding to your soul
  • God's plan is bigger and better than your plan
  • God loves me. If God was gracious enough to bless me with Isaac, then it would only make sense that all of God's following actions would bless me
  • God is guiding me and has been preparing me for a long time
Things I've learned about me:
  • the emotional work that I have done is now blessing me
  • my relationship with God is what gives me strength
  • I'm stronger because I have let others help and support me
Things I've learned from Isaac:
  • how to relax
  • people matter (and apparently horses do too)
  • compassion, generosity, and acceptance 
  • simple things are what make us happy
  • what it means to cleave to your spouse
  • how to put family first
  • The Office really can make a bad day better
  • beef really should always be what's for dinner
Things I've learned from marriage:
  • marriage is compromise, like all the time
  • love is a verb
  • love is a choice
  • trust is something that grows over time
  • it's fun living with your best friend
  • life is best shared
  • sometimes we take each other for granted
  • most of the time your spouse is doing his/her very best
  • it's not fair to expect your spouse to meet all your needs
  • listen, listen, listen
  • examine the opportunity cost of your actions. You might be doing the least important things for your spouse.
  • time is all you really have
Things I've learned about death:
  • death feels very strange, like someone vanished
  • death is part of life and it isn't all bad
  • death creates new opportunities and relationships
You know, Isaac and I weren't a perfect fit. In fact, about a week before he died, we met a man on the plane and he asked how we got together because we had told him that I was a therapist and Isaac was a cowboy. To be honest, I was like, "For real, how do we work?" But I think that is the amazing thing about our relationship. We are so different. I once heard someone say marriage is 60% compromise. Well, our marriage was like 80% compromise. But as hard as it was to figure out what we would do when we wanted different things, we were able to do it because we chose to make it work. Sometimes I think that is what will make it hard about Isaac's death. He changed my life in a lot of ways and he changed me. Sometimes I felt bad that I wasn't a cowgirl because I knew Isaac had to give up a lot of the things that he wanted. But as different as we were, neither of us could have ever said, "you'd be better off with someone more like you." The first thought I ever had about Isaac was that he was so interesting to me. His was such a random combination of talents and personality traits. I couldn't help but be drawn to him. He really was a good guy. And I can't be mad that he is gone because I just feel so lucky that I had him at all. And even though he is gone, I still have so much more than I had before I married him. I have two beautiful sweet children. They really are the best. And I have the best in-laws you could ever imagine. It's so strange to feel blessed at a time of such great loss but I truly believe that God has filled my heart and that the prayers of so many really do lift me up. And now I need to go throw away all the kleenex I just used, so I'm gonna go do that.