Thursday, January 31, 2013

The Laundry Epiphany

A few weeks ago as I was doing laundry, I noticed that I had already done a few loads of dark laundry, and still had more to go. My first thought was "that's weird, I don't ever remember washing this many dark clothes before."

For whatever reason, this thought took me by surprise. It may seem obvious to some of you, because we have 7 people in our house now, so of course I would be doing more laundry. But that wasn't the realization. It was because most of Steve's laundry is dark - he prefers darker colors. And I realized that for some reason, I was surprised that it wasn't like Jeremy's. And my subconscious automatically went to "before" meaning before Jeremy died. 

What's weird is that I rarely compare Steve to Jeremy. They have a lot of similar qualities - mostly the good ones - which is why I love them both so. But they are very different. Whenever those thoughts come in my head, I try to be gracious to myself and to Steve to remember that not only is he different, but so am I. But, I'm human and I love two men both at the same time so I'm not so naive to think that those thoughts wouldn't creep in once in awhile. 

Jeremy didn't do it that way. What would he say in this situation? Steve handled this so much better than Jeremy would have. Jer would have handled this better. Jeremy would have known what do about this problem. Jeremy would remember this reference. Steve hasn't figured this part out yet. Jeremy never figured that out. I wish Steve and I could have share this memory, too. I wish Jeremy wasn't missing this.

The truth is, these kinds of thoughts can plague widow(er)s in new relationships. I can't speak for everyone, but I know that I'm ok with wrestling with these things. Maybe it's because I won't ever apologize for loving and continuing to love Jeremy. Maybe it's because I won't apologize for loving Steve as much. Maybe it's because Steve is great about talking through these things with me without feeling threatened. Either way, these fleeting thoughts remind me that I have lived two separate lives that continue to overlap in my heart. And that's ok.

Today, as I was folding laundry, I remembered that thought from a few weeks ago and smiled. The bottom line is that I miss doing laundry for Jeremy and grieved a weird, tiny piece of my life that maybe I hadn't before. And I smiled because I was thankful to be able to do laundry for Steve, whether it was dark, light, or pink and polka dotted (ok, that might not be so great!). It's ok that it looks different. It should. They're both equally important and meaningful. One does not negate the other.

Sometimes all it takes is a silly moment of folding the laundry to change your world.

Wednesday, January 30, 2013

What Would He Say ......

...... if he were to come back for a moment or two ...... after five years?
What would he think of how I've handled his death ...... and my "after"?

It's interesting that just typing those two sentences brings tears to my eyes.  Tears that run down my cheeks as I type.
I think part of that is because I know that he will never come back, not even for a moment or two, and it breaks my heart to even ponder that.
And I think the tears also come because I know that his heart would be broken ...... at how broken my heart became.  And how dark my world became.

But what would he say?
I think the first thing he would say is, "I'm sorry."  Not that he could've stopped death from taking him out of that surgical room.  I know that.  Jim would not have chosen death over us.  Ever.  But the choice was not his.  And he'd still say he was sorry.

He'd say that he knew how much I hurt when he left, and how alone and cold and dead I felt.  And then he'd say that he never doubted for a second that I would keep breathing, that I would survive his death ...... and the grief that would move into my soul.

He'd tell me that he always knew how strong I was ...... and that even when I doubted if I'd live to see another day, he knew better.
He'd say that he's proud of me ...... and that I should be proud of me, too, even though he knows I'm not.
He'd tell me that of course I grieved hard ...... because I loved hard.  He didn't expect less.  He'd also say that he knew that I did the best I could ...... and that my best was pretty damn good.

He'd say that he's proud of our children.  They may have made choices that we wouldn't have chosen for them, but we raised them to do just that:  make their own choices.  And then to live with the consequences, and the joys.
He'd tell me that he knew that our oldest got accepted to Harvard ...... and that it made him grin from ear to ear.  He say that he's been watching all six of them ...... and that he knew they'd be ok. He's proud of the young women and men they've turned into.  And he's beaming because we'll finally have another Cowboy in the family!  
He would wish that he could be here for marriages and grandkids ...... to enjoy them with me, but that he'd still be watching them  ...... and enjoying them, too.

He'd tell me to stop blaming myself for mistakes I've made and wish I hadn't.  "Everyone makes mistakes, Janine.  The point is to learn from them.  And you did."

He'd tell me how very, very proud he is about the work I'm doing to support and encourage other widowed people.  He might even wipe away a tear or two as he tells me he's glad that I allowed God to work through me, as I used his death, and my grief, to be a positive force in the lives of others.  And ...... he'd say that I always had made a difference in the world ...... at least to his and the childrens' world.

And when it was time for him to leave, he'd hold me ...... and tell me that he's never stopped loving me ...... and that he never will.  And that means that he wants me to be happy ...... and to grab onto love if it ever comes my way again.

I can almost hear his words now ...... the last words he said to me 5 years ago ...... the last words he'd say again if he had the chance:  "I love you.  I'm proud of you.  And I'll see you soon."
And I'd have no doubt, that just as they were then,  they're still true.

Tuesday, January 29, 2013

In the Ring with Grief

Amanda is starting school this week with her new class, and asked me to fill in for her today, she will be back next week!

I wrote the following blog about three years ago. I have been thinking a lot since Janine's last post about the difference between those of us who are further along the path, and the those who have just started traveling this widowed road. If I read the words I have shared with you below six months after Phil died, I wonder if I would have been repulsed? Would I have kept reading to the end? Would I have needed to review that very first line more than once to be sure I read the words correctly? Probably. 

But there is one thing that I know would have kept me reading with a fairly open If I trusted the person writing the blog, I would have at least been willing to consider the ideas presented. Today I want to thank you for trusting us. We blog here because we care about you, even though we have likely never met. This space was created to provide YOU with a large variety of points of view and many ways of looking at the challenges widowed people face. We each write from our hearts, hoping to encourage you, and assure you that you are not alone, especially when you feel you must be the ONLY crazy widowed person in the world. You aren't.

As the editor of this blog, I know that you won't connect with every post written, but I do hope that every blog shared reminds you that this space is here for you day after day, month after month, year after year to prove that people survive widowhood...even when they don't believe they can or will. We are surviving, and you are, too. Step by reluctant step we make our way forward into a future that we didn't plan for, but one that belongs to us nonetheless. Together our blog team paints a picture of what has been; what is; and what can be...we believe in love that never dies and in joy that returns again and again. Here is my post. I won't be offended at all if you think I have lost my mind ;)


Over the past four years grief and I have reluctantly become friends. Grief is not the kind of friend I can call in the middle of the night when I am sad, but rather the kind of friend who sits quietly at the end of my bed while I cry myself to sleep. Grief may be away for weeks or even months at a time, but the knock of this friend is now as familiar to me as my own voice. There is no need to explain my sorrow to grief; she understands my process better than I do. Grief knows I will get up again no matter how hard I have been hit by her power, and patiently stands as a witness to my ability to regain my balance time and time again. When grief calls, I stop what I am doing because I have learned that she must be answered. When I quit trying to escape her, I found an unexpected comfort by her side. She calls me and repels me; guides me and confuses me; moves me forward and throws me back.

Some days I hate grief, and other days I miss her. I have discovered a safe place in her arms, though her twisting, turning path won't allow me to be still for long. Her presence has added a soft cadence to my day-to-day life that I have come to rely on as confirmation that I am, indeed, alive. The irony of this does not escape me. I have realized that in my mind grief has replaced Phil, and that my fear of letting him go has created a relationship with grief I could never have anticipated. I am beginning to believe that this is why grief comes in waves.

If grief was linear and we could walk from one stage into the next, there would likely be large numbers of grieving people with severe stage fright. I would be terrified if someone were able to provide me with a grief graduation date. Instead, grief throws us from one phase to the next, with no predictable pattern or discernible course. Like a boxer who learns to fight on their feet, our tortured, grieving selves wheel from one moment to the next watching for the inevitable gut punch. And slowly, painfully we become stronger, faster, and more confident each time we are forced into the ring. That doesn't mean we won't hit the mat  or that we won't be tempted to stay down for the count...but somehow our spirits find the will to fight one more time.

Grief holds the towel as we come out of the ring. Grief bandages our wounds and then sends us to face the opponent called death, again and again. Grief stands behind the stool in our corner and insists we go another round. There is a saying that speaks to the concept that some friends come into our lives for a purpose, but do not stay long. I am beginning to think of grief as a friend who will come and go from my life. She will show me how to survive in the ring of sorrow, and then leave me with these hard earned knocks hoping they teach me something about living courageously. Grief will also point out that she is not Phil and that he is not her. He exists in a separate, and timeless, place that she does not inhabit. Grief is wise. And eventually I must let her go, knowing that when she resurfaces, sometime down the road, I will know the sound of her step and turn to greet her as a friend.

Monday, January 28, 2013

Home Planet


Until last Monday, I thought my choir brought me healing simply because I got to sing with others, something that brings me great joy. I really underestimated it.

At my last rehearsal, our director began practice with an icebreaker. She had each of us stand, say our name, and say one thing about ourselves. Because it was MLK day she used words that exemplified Dr. Martin Luther King to prompt us. "Give us one way you have purpose, legacy, joy or dreams in your life" she said.

 I spent the time waiting for my turn trying to listen carefully to each person talk and simultaneously grasping for something to say. My shy brain shuts down to brain-stem-functions only when I'm forced to speak in front of a crowd so I wanted at least a vague idea of what I'd say before I had to take my turn.

"I'm Cassie and I think my purpose might be to help others who've been through tragedy through my writing," I spit out and gratefully took my seat with shaky hands and burning cheeks, relieved to be a part of the audience again. Each woman or girl spoke endearingly of hopes and dreams, legacies and purposes and I grew more and more proud of my fellow choir mates and women in general.

Finally, the last woman to stand said she wasn't a member of the choir, but in fact, a choir member's grandma.

"I'm Joy and I'm Megan's* grandma," she said. I'm here visiting from out of town and I just HAD to see what Megan's choir practice was like. It's been so wonderful for her. Her mom died three years ago..." at this last statement, everything except those last few words receded into the distance and my body and mind were completely tuned in to that 8 year old girl sitting in the front row.

I knew Megan and I knew that her dad played percussion for us at choir concerts sometimes. I suddenly put things together. Most little girls who sing in the choir have moms who join them. It's an intergenerational choir after all. I'd never seen Megan with a mother figure and felt some kind of draw toward her and her father and had no idea why.

It had even crossed my mind that he might be widowed. Now that it was confirmed for me, I couldn't think of anything else.

As soon as practice was over I went straight to Joy and said "Well, you're not going to believe this but my mom died when I was five too and then I was widowed at 35 also!" I gave her my Soaring Spirits Loss Foundation outreach card and wrote my email address on the back to give to her son-in-law. She showed me the blog her daughter wrote in the last 7 months of her life. Not only did Megan and I both lose our mom at 5 years old, but to cancer as well.

We talked about how Megan was doing, how hard it was for me when I was her age because I didn't know anyone else who didn't have a mommy. About how long it took to heal. She told me she was worried her son-in-law was lonely and I felt those words deep in the pit of my stomach. Oh, lonely. I know lonely, I thought.

I left practice that night feeling a lot like I felt when I first went to Camp Widow. It's something I can only equate to what it must feel like for an alien stuck on our planet to find another member of her home planet among all the humanoids.

While I want to run up to both Megan and her father the next time I see them and say "let's be friends...NOW!", I know that that urge is just from the relief of finding some of my fellow aliens, but I do hope I can get to know them both better, regardless.

At therapy that week I told my therapist all of this. I told her that I didn't want to foist myself upon these people who didn't know me from anyone, but the urge was there anyway.

"How did you find support when it was you in her position?" she asked me.

I explained that I was lucky to have some females in my life (mostly friend's moms) who loved on me, cooked meals for me and made me feel accepted.

"So what makes you think that little girl wouldn't benefit from you in her life?" she said.

My eyes filled with tears so fast that they fell, heavy and huge, without hitting my cheeks on the way down.

Oh, she got me, I thought.

"Yes," I finally admitted. "That would be very healing for me." And I couldn't squeak any more words out around the giant lump that had formed in my throat.

I know this family doesn't know me. I realize they might not want or need my presence. But if they do I would be honored beyond words. If only to make both of them feel like they've found someone from their home planet to compare notes with.

*Names have been changed

Sunday, January 27, 2013

The Bubble


My body is already preparing for the 3 year "sadiversary." 

It seems this has started a lot sooner this year. I can feel it in my heart, the tears are falling often again. 

My physical grief always starts in the arches of my feet and the palms of my hands.
From there it spreads to my joints, and eventually, my brain. It takes me a while to realize I am in a grief cycle.

I have 6 months until the 3 year anniversary. Today is 30 months since my husband left this earth.

My brain keeps count of how long it’s been. It’s constant. Counting, counting. Never ending. I keep waiting for the day that I stop counting.

Maybe that day will never come.

I am secretly starting to panic over the 3 year anniversary.  Since I am starting to panic (already), I feel weak.

I have this vision in my head - that come the 3 year anniversary - my grief will shatter at my feet. I will be able to walk over the broken pieces of grief, and make a major jump forward.

As I see myself coming into the 3rd year, I keep envisioning myself in a bubble.

The bubble drowns out all the sound of life. Everything bounces off it. Even good noises and good things are drowned out by the bubble.

As I look at myself in this bubble, I keep waiting for the bubble to explode.

Of course this is going to be the year the grief magically disappears, when the bubble will burst.

When the bubble bursts, it might be so loud and so sudden, that it will leave my ears ringing and leave me wondering what the hell just happened.

The bubble might not explode. It might get a small tear, and will lose its air slowly. So slowly that I might not even realize the bubble is gone.

When the bubble pops, I envision myself covered in thick, sticky grief. I might be able to shake the goo off easily.

Or I might be stuck with the goo for the rest of my life.

Being naive, I think the 3rd year will be the magical year, when everything I have been through will fade away and I can skip forward and live a happy, joyful life.

Maybe it’s not being naive. Maybe it’s me lying to myself, telling myself it will magically get better.

Maybe it’s because I am hopeful, but the experienced me knows it’s not that easy.

I know there will be no magical turn in my grief. I know it will slowly fade.

So slowly that I probably won’t notice until years down the road.

I’m still hopeful for the 3rd year, magical grief turn.

Saturday, January 26, 2013

Someone Else


“Sometimes you need to hang on to someone else’s hope, someone else’s peace and sanity while yours is under siege. Do it. Courage, hope, faith, sanity, peace… they all come and go. Borrow them from someone else’s supply until your own comes back in.” -Linda Mundy

How did I make it this long?

How did I survive the most soul shattering event that could ever take place?

How was I able to get up and breathe, and then walk and then live, after Michael's death?

These are all questions I've asked myself and find others asking me.

Time does make certain aspects of life more bearable, but to say I didn't, at many times, loathe waking  up each morning, would make me a liar.

The truth is, that at the moment where I wanted to give up I remembered the man above. I remembered how much he loved life, how much he made everyone he met feel like they were special, how with three simple words from his mouth he had my heart forever.

But there I was, consumed in my own suffering, that I had forgotten the fact that all he would want would be the ability to live, and here I was, ready to give up on any sort of life or existence.

The truth is that I lived for Michael. I woke up. I got out of bed. I sought out others like me. I found my passion. I pursued it. I learned to laugh and smile once more. I did it for him, and in the midst of that action, awoke one day to the realization that I was now living for myself.

He gave me strength when no one else could, He rooted me on for each inhale and exhale. He never doubted my course. He inspired me and gave the world color when all seemed gray.

He did it all when he was alive. He did it all after he passed away.

He made me hold on. He lent me the core of his soul and the strength of his being for as long as I needed.

He saved my life by letting me see I could save my own.

Friday, January 25, 2013

Maggie's Cool Car - Part II

After many months on the market, Maggie’s Cool Car finally found a new home.  The nice lady who counted out a cash deposit shook with anticipation as she hinted at the car’s new life, using phrases like “kids out of the house”, “single” and “PAAARTAAAY!”  (Yes, that is a direct quote.)  Clearly she was very excited and happy about our exchange.  I on the other hand, was melancholy, although her overwhelming joy about the new adventures awaiting her and Maggie’s Cool Car softened the blow of each hundred-dollar bill hitting the dashboard as she counted.   It’s the saddest I’ve been in a long time about receiving money.

She’s coming to get the car Wednesday so the cool car and me have one last weekend together.  I haven’t made any specific plans for us yet, but it’ll get some love between now and then.  Weather be-fitting, we’ll take many a top down, radio blaring ride.

Since it has been on the market, I’ve kept Maggie’s Cool Car in the garage, stored safely away from door dings, windshield chips, dust and mud.  While driving it today I quickly realized I had forgotten how this car turns heads.  When people see this fun car with its top down and radio blasting, the look on their face screams “I wish that was me in that cool car!”  Oh boy.  If they only knew the rough roads this car has seen, the want might not be quite so strong.

Most of the ride has been sweet, undeniably.  From the moment I picked up Maggie’s Cool Car, we had a grand adventure.  A lot of memories were made in and around this car and those don’t leave when it drives off on its new life. Yes, it’s one more thing I’m letting go of, but the feelings and memories, those will stay forever in my heart.  I like to believe that all the powerfully positive energy that Maggie and I generated together imbued Maggie’s Cool Car with a lifetime magical aura.  It’s a wonder that car didn’t fly.

Hmmm….. Maybe that’s why everyone was staring when Maggie’s Cool Car drove by.  The wheels weren’t touching the ground.

Thursday, January 24, 2013

The foot of the Ocean

Enjoying a few warm moments this weekend in Panama City Beach, FL

I find it ironic sometimes how much I love being at the ocean. It's ironic for me in particular, because I have no desire to ever be IN the ocean due to my ridiculously irrational fear of fish and all things that live in the water. I will put my toes in as long as I can see the bottom, but if I see anything in the water, even from far away, I am outta there faster than a speeding bullet. But, I digress...

What I meant to say is, there is just something about being near the ocean. The white noise of the waves, the view and appearance of's breathtaking. It's hard to see this view and not just stop to reflect. 

Every year for the past 4 years, I have gone to Panama City Beach, FL in January for Gulf Coast Getaway to lead worship. Every year, it has proven to be a pivotal point in my life.

The first year I went with Jeremy and it was just the most incredible experience. Even days before he died, we talked about how much we were looking forward to going again in just two short months. We could never afford to travel for leisure, so we always squeezed our experiences into these trips. We had never witnessed worship like that before, we got to do what we loved, and we met so many cool people as a result of that trip. 

The second year, I was 8 months pregnant and newly widowed. I remember praying our plane would crash into the ocean. I remember aching and wrestling through worship, and marking every spot that Jeremy had stood the year before. I remember 1,600 college students raising $10,000 for my family and being overwhelmed in my gratitude for the hearts of so many who were carrying me forward. 

Last year, I remember a different kind of wrestling, as I was battling the judgement of many for my new relationship, but feeling my heart healing as well. It was also the weekend that Steve told me he loved me, while I heard the crash of the waters in the background, and the beating of my heart echoing behind. 

This year, I was able to bring Steve with me. I needed him to know why this place was so sacred to me, why I loved it so much. Every year, I've spent time at the foot of the ocean: comforting a friend who grieved a betrayal of the worst kind from her best friend, cursing and sobbing in the middle of the cold night, wondering why I had to keep on breathing without Jeremy by my side, swelling with joy and confusion at the uncertainty of life and of what the future would hold for me, and hand-in-hand with Steve, enjoying a new experience together, and also grieving that I would never again be hand-in-hand with Jeremy in that place we so loved. 

This place, and the ocean represent a lot for me. Fear, growth, question, pain, struggle, and ultimately, hope and healing. That's why I love it so much. The ocean challenges me. It humbles me. And it heals me. It's a place that reminds me, even in the midst of knowing at the foot of the vast ocean that I am small and insignificant, that I am also not alone and that I matter. 

The ocean reminds me that if I close my eyes and listen, take a deep breath and soak in the moment, I will have survived one moment. If I can survive one moment, I can survive the next, one breath at a time.

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

I Now Find Myself ......


...... as the "old kid on the block".  I am the writer who's been widowed the longest here, now that Michelle has moved onward.

I'm not quite certain how I feel about this.
I guess I'd have to say that I feel more "unsettled" than anything.

I have been widowed for 5 years ...... and have been writing on this blog for four of those five years.
It has mostly been a very good outlet for me, and I have been told that it's mostly been a good place for widowed folks to come and learn that they're not alone.  Or crazy.
Or doomed to a life a living in a cold, black pit with no way out.  Ever.

But there have been times, more lately, when I wonder if I've run out of things to write.  Or if my usefulness on this blog has passed.
Every day we get new "members", as horrific as that is.
And I would hazard to guess that we lose "longer widowed" people every so often.

I think that's because the newer you are here, the more you can relate to the newer writers.  Their pain is still raw and overwhelming, much like yours.
I get that.

But my pain isn't so raw any longer, thank God.  Our pain can't stay that raw, that intense, that ...... life-sucking, or we'd never survive it.
I'm still not quite sure how I did, but I'm glad that I did.  Now.
During those first couple of years I wasn't glad at all about that.  And I was as pissed as hell that death doesn't come as easily as it did in "The Notebook".  Puh-leaze.
I now hate that movie.

But I digress.  Often.
I find that I have less pain to write about.  Where once there was only despair and blackness ahead of me, there's now hope ...... and the courage to try new things on my own.
But if I write about how good things are ...... very few of you seem to relate.  There are far fewer comments which leaves me wondering if anyone's reading, or if I'm failing to connect with you now.

If I write darker posts, and write about the pain that still sometimes comes ...... sometimes ...... it seems to hit home with more of you.  Or at least more of you comment, letting me know that you connected with my words.  With me.

So I find myself in a dilemma ...... a quandary, if you will.
My life is good.
After 5 very long, very hard, very painful years.
I am happy.
I am content.
And I am happily and contentedly single.
And would like to stay that way for a long time.
The thought of being in a relationship makes me nauseous.
I have learned that it's better to be single, MUCH better to be single ...... than to settle ...... for anything, or anyone.  Ever.
I will never, EVER again settle for less than what, or who, I had.

No, I don't miss Jim any less now than I did back then, it's just that his absence has become my new normal.  I still miss him.  Too much to describe, which is probably why I still cry every time I talk about how much I miss him.
I still wish he were here, but I no longer spend hours a day wishing that.
Because no matter how much I want it, that wish is not coming true.  And I'm tired of spending that much time and energy wishing for something that won't happen.
I have learned to move forward.
Without him, even though I never wanted to ...... never planned to.

It's time for me to enjoy the life I have, to enjoy my children and to share as much time with them as possible.
It's time for me to be happy again ...... because that seems the best way to honor Jim, and our relationship.
And I aim to honor him as much as possible, and make him proud of the woman I've become during these 5 years.

Maybe that means that I'll need to move on from here, to make room for someone you can relate with better.
Maybe not.
Maybe some of you need to know that life does get better.
After a while.
Maybe some of you need that hope.

That's the only reason I continue to write.  And if one day, it becomes clear that I'm not giving you Hope ...... my time will be up.
And that will be OK.

Tuesday, January 22, 2013


English: Fraser Valley Elementary School classroom
English: Fraser Valley Elementary School classroom (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I went to my new school to set up my new classroom today.  The kids come back next Tuesday, but I've been working away for the past week or so getting materials ready and now, physically moving desks and cleaning to try and make the room look welcoming.

I am excited to be working in such a friendly place ..... but I am also nervous.

I get nervous at the start of every term.  Will I be able to guide the children through the work?  Will the kids settle in?  Can I still teach?  What's my name again?

Silly really as as soon as I start work, everything seems to flow.

But it is now that I miss having Greg here to remind me that I am GOOD at this job.  That I can teach in a way that children can relate to.  That I am good at developing a rapport with children.

I miss having someone at my back giving me encouragement, or providing an intelligent sounding board for ideas.

I miss having someone tell me that everything will be OK.

So I ask you all to wish me luck .... by this time next week, I'll have met my new class. 

Remind me that everything will be OK, OK?
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Monday, January 21, 2013

Read, Breathe, Repeat

My sweetie
Thursday was Dave's birthday. He would've turned 40, an event we would talk about so often. We completely took for granted that he'd be around and for some reason, this thought keeps circling me lately.

We believed (of course) in full faith that he'd turn 40. We had no reason not to. And yet, he is gone and will never be older than 38.

This is so unbelievable to me that I can't make it fit in any compartment in my brain. It sort of hovers there above it all, unable to click fully into place, like a puzzle piece that almost but not quite fits in an empty space.

On Wednesday night I stared for a solid hour at his face in picture after picture.

I tried to will his picture to come alive. I suddenly (for the first time) needed to see video of him. Previously the idea of seeing videos of him made me feel seconds away from a full meltdown. It terrified me.

But on the eve of his birthday, I felt almost as though I needed concrete proof that I didn't make him up in my mind. Sadly, I don't have a single video with him in it. I have video he took of the Colosseum in Rome, but he didn't even talk. I have a video he took of me when he did talk but I can't figure out where it is.

I realized, with a sudden stab of pure remorse that we didn't take enough pictures or videos. Why didn't we?

The time I spent staring at his pictures felt holy. I stared at his face with fresh eyes. His deep, dark brown eyes and handsome beard, his smirk, his incredibly perfect white teeth, the smile I believe he reserved for me alone.

I tried to turn the images into a three dimensional memory. I tried to smell him and feel the texture of his arm once again, run my fingers through his hair. It was beyond frustrating and I cried myself to sleep.

The day of his birthday I felt numb or distant or on auto-pilot, or a mixture of the three. I had some things I needed to do and I did them, staying relatively alert and present, but when I got home, there were 20 facebook notifications and they were full of bad news. So much sadness had descended on several people I love all on the day Dave should have turned 40 but is instead ashes in a box. The tidal wave of sadness crested and I finally lost it.

So much pain, and why? I don't believe in a merciful universe or god. I suppose there might be a greater power I can't fully understand, but it's not merciful. It's not evenly doling out the pain.

There's no reason behind any of it, only the chance to dig yourself out of the pits of despair and find something to get up for. It's finding silver linings and not shutting down completely, but how much can a person take, I wonder? And are we sometimes fooling ourselves with our silver linings and positivity?

I am so furious that there has to be so many broken hearts. I'm so tired of pain, my own and others'. I'm working so damn hard to remain hopeful but I'm also going to give myself a break for feeling hopeless, or deliriously angry, or brokenhearted and I'm not trying to push the feelings away, but god dammit this is hard. It's scary to feel the hope for better things slip away even temporarily.

I keep thinking of the videos of Dave I could be looking at now, if we had thought to make them. It reminds me to continue to try not to take for granted what I'm lucky enough to have now. I don't care if I'm filming my cat purring on my lap or my friend talking to me from across the couch. I'm making a record of the people and furballs I adore and I'm going to remember how incredibly lucky I am to have them at all.

What else can we do, really, when the truth is, nothing lives forever and nothing stays the same?
Isn't that the lesson death teaches us? Cherish when you can. Don't be afraid to love just because your heart will be broken if you do.

Makes me think of my favorite C.S. Lewis quote...

 “To love at all is to be vulnerable. Love anything, and your heart will certainly be wrung and possibly broken. If you want to make sure of keeping it intact, you must give your heart to no one, not even to an animal. Wrap it carefully round with hobbies and little luxuries; avoid all entanglements; lock it up safe in the casket or coffin of your selfishness. But in that casket- safe, dark, motionless, airless--it will change. It will not be broken; it will become unbreakable, impenetrable, irredeemable.”

Read, breathe, repeat. 


Sunday, January 20, 2013

Dear Bipolar

Seth and I, before bipolar took away his amazing smile.
Dear Bipolar,
I am writing you this letter 1,622 days since you came into my life and stole my sweet husband’s soul.

This letter will reach you 908 days after you physically took my husband from me.

Since you have done this to so many peoples lives, you probably don’t remember me. I will try to refresh your memory.

1,622 days ago, you came into my life, uninvited. You were not invited in, I know I did not leave a door or window open, yet suddenly you were there. You stepped into my husband’s soul, turned my amazing and vibrant husband into a depressed, angry, anxiety ridden, empty shell of a person.

You caused my amazingly bright and creative husband to see dead people, hear voices, and caused him to think about suicide daily. Your voice was in my husband’s head. You ridiculed him at every turn. “You’re not good enough” you said.

You took the sparkle out of his eye.
You took the pep out of his walk.
You took away his smile. How could you take away that amazing smile??

You took away his trust and faith in the world around him, causing him to think the world was after him.

You even made my husband think I was out to harm him.

You entered our life when we were just getting started. You see, we were happy. We didn't need YOU. Yet, you kept working on my husband. Bit by bit, destroying him.

908 days ago, you put a gun to my husband’s head and took him away from me.

Left me widowed at 29 years old.

When I am angry about my husband’s suicide, I blame you.

My husband would have never killed himself. But you were happy to do it.

Bipolar, I hate everything about you.

I hate your games, your mania, your depression, your psychosis, even your name. Bipolar = Two polar opposites. Did you leave something out when you created your name? I think you did.

Because of you, I do not get to see my “happy ending”. I do not get to live to be old with my husband. We will never have children or fulfill our dreams and goals.

Bipolar, your day is coming. I might not live to see that day. But your days are numbered.

A cure is coming.

It might be in the form of a pill, a shot, surgery, or hell.. maybe even a microchip.

When I get to the other side, my first duty is to get rid of you.

I will not let you destroy another person. I will not let you destroy another family.

Mark my words, your days are coming to an end.

And I will be watching, with my husband’s arms around me, with a huge bowl of popcorn and a huge beer when it all comes crashing down.


(If you or someone you know suffers from mental illness (Including if you have a parent that is mentally ill), PLEASE consider organ donation to the Harvard Brain Bank <-- Click here.
They are trying to find a cure for mental illness, but need organ donation.
Seth wanted his brain donated to the Harvard Brain Bank, unfortunately I could not fulfill that wish.
Please help with the research and study of mental illness for future generations.)

Saturday, January 19, 2013



“You forget that, in the dark, we must move closer together in order to see each other. You were never alone.”

I'm sitting here at another AWP event, ever grateful for the ability to be among these women. These ladies have not only allowed me to see that I am not alone, but given me the ability to pursue my passion, and in return, do all I can to make their journey one that they can be proud of and enjoy after such tragedy.

From laughter to hope to inspiration, there are so many things their presence has given and brought into what once seemed like an empty soul-less life. But even more, is gratitude.

My fellow widows have made me grateful for a life i once loathed having. They've made me grateful for being willing to open up to let life in, and let those around me know they are loved.

I have no fancy blog today, just a simple note on all that you have given me. Thank you.

Friday, January 18, 2013


I think if I've learned one thing in the last 7 years, it's that the only constant is change.  It's one of those statements that although annoying is always true.  Change happens daily, sometimes good sometimes the not so good kind.  Today's change is of the good variety, although somewhat sad for me.  I started writing for the blog in spring of 2009; it is hard to believe it has been almost four years!  Although I still look forward to writing every other Friday and will miss it and all of you, it really is time to make room on the blog for a new voice.  I AM the old lady on the blog you still amazes me that I've been on this path for over 7 years now.  Funny enough, the surprise that Daniel is gone and has been gone for so long never seems to fade.  I guess I should be used to that by now!

So it struck me that the picture I inserted above is a "fork in the road" and I'm taking a different path...however you could also possibly interpret it as "stick a fork in me, I'm done" - which makes me laugh out loud! 

In the meantime, it is my pleasure to introduce your newest Widow's Voice writer.....

Please welcome Kelley Lynn to Widow's Voice, and to Fridays in particular.  Kelley is a writer, stand-up comedian, actor, and Adjunct Professor teaching theatre and comedy courses at Adelphi University. She lives just outside NYC with the 2 kitties she and her husband Don adopted together years ago.

Kelley started her widow's journey on July 13, 2011, when her 46 year old husband suffered a sudden and massive heart attack. Just 3 months shy of their 5 year wedding anniversary, and her 40th birthday.

In Kelley's words:  Grieving is hard work. It is excruciating and exhausting. Currently, I find moments of comfort, healing, and joy in laughter, being creative, finding ways to honor my husband's life, and writing. This April, I have the huge honor of attending my first CAMP WIDOW as a presenter, with my "Grieving through Humor" Workshop. I am also in the middle of writing my first book - a brutally honest and often hilarious look at love, life, and loss.
I am really looking forward to getting to know Kelley through her blogs, and I can't wait to meet her in person at Camp!  The blog has been such a powerful part of my grief path.  Thanks so much to all who have come here for community, friendship, understanding.  It has been an honor to share this space with such an amazing group of people.  I'll probably drop in from time to time as a guest writer and I look forward to it.  

Goodbye for now, xo


Thursday, January 17, 2013

What I Would Tell My Newly Widowed Self

Vee is having a bit of computer trouble, so visiting writer Wendy Diez is filling in as our guest blogger. Wendy is the founder of Chicagoland Young Widowed Connection, an organization supporting young widowed people in the Chicagoland area. Thank you Wendy!

Yesterday marked four years since Chris died, which simultaneously feels like forever ago and no time at all.  Parents often talk about the passage of time in relation to their children’s growth.  Blink once and they are all grown up.  We don’t really think that way in terms of grief, do we?  Every day seems torturous and never-ending without our love beside us.  The thought of surviving four weeks let alone four years without Chris seemed unbearable to me when he died.  Now that I have arrived at this point in my journey, I can reflect on those early days and consider some things that I wish someone had told me.  I share them not as an “expert” but as an unwilling veteran who gained experience over time.  I share them not just for the many newly widowed people who I know are part of our community but also for those other seasoned vets who might have their own lessons to add.  Feel free to contribute your thoughts in the comments section.

Your body will feel every inch of your grief so be kind to it.  Whether you aren’t physically able to keep food down or you drown your sorrows in it, or you drink to forget, or you become an insomniac, your body will suffer.  It may suffer only temporarily while you learn to live within your new life or it may be hard-hit with new ailments.  You may also unwittingly set up unhealthy habits as you and others make excuses.  “You’re grieving!  So what if you have an extra cocktail (or donut or sleeping pill)?”  These habits will be very difficult to break later on down the road.  This is the number one sentiment I wish people had shared with me.  Four years later, I feel like I have aged thirty mainly due to unhealthy habits I developed during the early stages of my grief.  I’ll be working on breaking those habits for a good, long time.

Your loss will transform your relationships.  This isn’t necessarily a bad thing.  Yes, some relationships that you thought were strong may not survive.  People’s own fears about death or their judgments about the way you are dealing with your grief can rip a permanent hole into a relationship.  These additional losses can add salt to your wound but you will also be pleasantly surprised by incredibly meaningful relationships that develop.  Some friendships that once consisted of a wave and a nod at church or the school drop-off will grow into invaluable connections.  And you will meet new people, like I have even four years out, who instantly “get it” and become like soul mates.  The long and the short of it? Your relationships will never be the same.

You are not alone…not by any stretch of the imagination.  Do you see what happened when you went to your computer and looked for others like you?  Or when someone told you that they knew just one other person who was widowed young and you reached out to him/her?  If I had understood the powerful, loving community that was waiting for me with arms outstretched the night that Chris died, I would have felt a little less scared, a little less alone and a little less hopeless.

You will actually feel like getting out of bed one day and be happy that the sun is shining and the birds are singing.  I promise.  I promise.  I really do promise.  Lots of widowed people say that it doesn’t get better, it just gets different.  Actually, it does get better.  Of course, you are never going to be happy that your life was rewritten for you without one of your favorite characters.  But it will get better.  It may happen slowly as you realize the value of this thing called life even more now that you have seen it ripped away from someone you love.  Or it may hit you like a bolt of lightning like it did for me when it dawned on me that I wanted to enjoy life for myself AND for Chris.  Either way, I promise that one day--unfortunately, I can’t tell you when-- it will hurt less to face each new day and you will begin to experience joy and happiness again.

You will live with your grief forever but grief will not be your life forever.   You will learn ways to walk hand-in-hand with your grief instead of you being dragged behind it.  You will learn how to share space with your grief during the holidays and special occasions without it taking over.  You will honor your grief by honoring your spouse/partner in both small and big ways for the rest of your life.  But grief will start to consume less of your precious time and energy and the business of living a beautiful life will ensue.   Before you know it, you will have blinked and four years will have passed.  And you will be able to look back and appreciate what you have overcome and what you have become.

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Death and Taxes ......

...... are both pretty sure things.
Both pretty stressful things.
Both beyond stressful when they come on the heels of each other, as they did for me, when Jim died.

He died at the end of the year.
Within a couple of weeks the tax stuff started rolling in.

Now that might not be stressful for many people ..... even many of you.
But for me, whose husband was a CPA and had chosen to "handle" all (and I mean ALL) of the bills, the taxes, the filling out of all of them and the writing of checks for all of them, seeing those first few income tax forms come in made my eyes blur, my stomach hurt, my heart pound, and my breathing charge into full-blown hyperventilate-mode.

And even though I have an accountant now to help get things done, my reaction is pretty much the same when the first of the year rolls around and brings tax materials into my mailbox.

I have often wondered why I still feel anxious at this time of the year ...... at the sight of all things tax-related.

Why do I panic at the thought of what item I may forget to turn in, or some piece of paper that I can't find?
And cry.

It took me sitting down to write this post to figure it out.
It really has nothing to do with my taxes (other than the normal amount of "uck" they give everyone).

It has everything to do with the fact that Jim's not here.

He's not here to fill out these endless forms.
He's not here to tell me not to worry.
He's not here at the end of each day.
He's not here to hug me when I need it (and boy, do I need it!).
He's not here for our kids.
He's just ...... not here.

Not in January.
Or May.
Or at Christmas.

The time of the year isn't as important as this one fact:

So while I may slowly get used to the sight of all things tax-related ...... they will always serve to remind me, every damn January, of something I really, REALLY don't need to be reminded of:

Jim is not here.

Thank you very much, IRS.
I'm sure I would've totally forgotten if not for you.

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

An odd kind of celebration

Picnic (Photo credit: Carlos López Molina)

When Greg died, I had just printed out invitations to my 40th birthday party which was supposed to be held 31 days later .... but wasn't.... for obvious reasons. 

I am not a person who likes to host parties.  I think the last birthday party I helped organise for myself was my 30th birthday when we lived in a small country town and all but one of the party-goers walked to out house. 

This time, we had booked a few tables at a local restaurant that overlooked the bay and had a dance floor and live band. I had bought an outfit and was getting excited to see all my friends.

... I still got to wear that outfit and see all my friends though. 
Just not for my party. 
There was no dancing. 
Instead, there were lots of tears. 

Anyway, my 50th is still over 7 years away and I am thinking I still need to finally have that party that I didn't get to have .... but not for me.

 ...This coming February, Greg SHOULD have turned 50. 
It seems such a surprise to say that number in the same breath as his name.  He always looked and acted much younger than his age.  He was such a fit, vibrant, adventurous, funny soul and he loved a good party. 

I don't want to replicate the wake where nobody could meet my eyes ... when they rose from the floor that is.  Where everyone spoke softly and drank cups of tea.  Where the world had turned slightly foggy and surreal and I was there without really being there.

I want to have a party that celebrates the bloke that he was.  I want his old friends to come and I want the stories to flow.  I want the kids to meet some of his old friends and hear what an amazing Dad they had.

At the moment, I am leaning towards a general invitation for friends and family to meet us down at the beach for fish and chips - something we used to do as a family.
Come as you are.
BYO folding chairs, kite and frisbee.

Just like he used to love doing.

Maybe I am odd for wanting to mark a birthday for someone who can't be there. 
Maybe this will seem inappropriate to some people.
Maybe I am asking for the grief monster to rear its ugly head and smack me back down.
But maybe I am onto something that will help us all.

I don't really know.
But it feels right to me.

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Monday, January 14, 2013


Seems like there is almost always some new revelation or event that sparks a Monday post idea for me. This time, Sunday night snuck up on me and I realized I didn't have anything that seemed to want to be written.

Then, I was making dinner when I realized I was out of lemons for squeezing over steamed asparagus and broccoli. Trying to improvise, I mentally scanned the contents of the kitchen for something that would work for the tangy part of the dressing. Suddenly, I remembered a dressing I'd make all the time before Dave died and happily pulled out the ingredients and began to whisk them together. As I stood there, tasting it to check for the proper ratio of flavors, I realized this was the first time I'd even thought of this stuff, much less made it since Dave died. I used to make it all the time. It wasn't a favorite of Dave's, so it's not as though I just hadn't had him here to remind me. It was one of many recipes I made for me alone because I liked it. Somehow it got stuck in that life and didn't make it over into the new life until that moment, almost 19 months later.

And it got me thinking. How many other parts of that life are just left behind that I don't even know are gone? What else is missing?

I've lost so much, and to think of what's been left behind causes panic to hover just nearby. How much has fallen through the cracks? Inside jokes, favorite meals, facial expressions that translated into complete sentences, a whole new language born of our relationship of 15 years, moments we had together? All are in danger of slipping away forever to be stuck in that old life. They might be gone forever. They might come back (like my dressing recipe). I don't know. Not knowing is scary and losing what little I have left of that old life feels like another tragedy.

So, to counteract the sucking power of grief, I did a little self coaching out loud to make it really sink in and told myself that it's okay that some things were left behind because nothing stays the same and starting over doesn't have to be all about loss. There are many good things, and not just recipes, that I've incorporated in my second life. I may have lost both the irreplaceable and the relatively unimportant in this explosion, but I've picked up what I could from the remains and added to it.

I've added even healthier eating habits. Dave was never really comfortable going as healthy as I wanted when it came to our pantry and refrigerator. I shed an emotionally stressful job for the opportunity to pursue zoology. I picked up crossfit, Bar Method and hot yoga, and ran a 5K. I started a blog or two and I've traveled. I've made new friends I can't imagine not knowing now.

As much as I want to cling to those little bits of my previous life, the more I do, the less I'm able to let the new in. I don't want to spend so much time looking back and trying to preserve the details of a  life I had to part with that I miss out on now.

So, it's being grateful for those pieces of the old life that can work their way into this new one. It's being thankful for having that old life at all. It's making room for my new life to unfold and bring with it the newness, the unknown. It's getting the chance to run everything that comes my way through a new filter: Do I alone think that will enhance my life or diminish it?

I have the bittersweet opportunity to be selfish and single-minded. When the focus is entirely on my needs and development, I get to sculpt my second chance as much as humanly possible. Of course, this is no easy task, but it's my second chance and I don't want to squander it trying to make that old life work when it's missing its center. I'm the center, now.

Sunday, January 13, 2013


I went there.

My craft studio.

It's been untouched for 29 months. When I moved, my mom and sister in law had to pack it. Because I couldn't step foot into it. The unfinished projects, unfinished memories, were far too much for my little brain to handle.

It's all still boxed up from when I moved over a year ago. The studio has become a dump all / avoid at all costs - room.

I haven't had the emotional power to even put my fingers into the unfinished projects.

The unfinished memories.

I went in there looking for supplies for a project me and some local widow friends were doing yesterday.

We made dream boards.
Dream Board my widow friend made

As I was digging through the boxes, I found my unfinished wedding album.

The album I was working on when Seth died.

The album he nagged me about finishing for 5 years. (Silly him, he didn't realize one page took me hours or even months, because it had to be perfect!)

The same album I almost cremated with Seth when he died.

I haven't seen or touched my wedding album in 29 months.

While looking at my wedding album, I realized my "new" bedroom has the same theme as my wedding album. Victorian theme.

Same colors, same designs.

I didn't realize both my bedroom and wedding album were themed the same. Funny how the brain works. I loved the Victorian theme in my wedding album, so why not my bedroom? And before I realize it, I have made my bedroom to match my wedding album. Thanks brain.

I also didn't realize how much monarch butterfly stuff I have. For anyone that doesn't know, the monarch is the one thing I swear Seth sends to me.

It's almost like I knew about the butterflies before his death. So I was "stocking up" on monarch butterfly stuff. Just in case, of course.

Talk about future, past and present.

I haven't touched my hobbies since Seth died, other then my photography.

While going through the boxes - I realized I miss my craft studio. At our house, I had an amazing craft studio, that Seth built for me. I was always working on multiple projects at a time, and always had all of my projects spread out. I would get stuck on one project, so I would work on another, and return to the original project later.

I miss doing my oil painting. I miss the way the old me processed things. I miss making home made cards. I miss scrapbooking my memories. I miss attempting to sew (I am horrible at sewing). I miss making everyone's Christmas presents.

I miss disappearing into my studio to sort through some sort of mental frustration. My hands would be busy working on a project, but they would also be busy on working on what was on my mind.

Busy hands = Clear brain

I have a desk in my garage for my craft studio that has just been sitting there since October. It's a desk that is made just for crafting.

The desk has just sat there. Staring at me. Reminding me that my car can't go in the garage, and sits out in the snow, because I refuse to venture into the craft studio.

I realized I have been missing my hobbies. I realized I am sick of avoiding that room. I am sick of scraping snow off my car.

So I set some goals.

My 1 month goal - Get the desk moved into my craft studio, and at least get the boxes sorted into separate piles. Painting, paper crafts, photography, the list is long. So I can handle unboxing one box and one hobby at a time.

Gives me time to process what is no longer a important hobby to me.

Time to accept that some of the things I used to love, died with Seth.

My 1 year goal - Finish my wedding album and finish the oil painting I was working on when Seth died.

((Deep breath)) Here I go!

Saturday, January 12, 2013



“Remember that sometimes not getting what you want is a wonderful stroke of luck.”
-Dalai Lama XIV

This quote reminds me of a new year message I shared with my friends that I'm, in true Taryn fashion, sharing with you a bit belated.

Mistakes, losses, changes...all consistent attributes in any persons life, but I guess being the eternal optimist I am, I rarely remember, fixate, or find myself debilitated because of their ever coming and going presence.

In retrospect though, they've all led to another path in this labyrinth of a life that I'm ever grateful for.

So as another being so eloquently put into words, I too hope for many mistakes for you and me in 2013:

“I hope that in this year to come, you make mistakes.

Because if you are making mistakes, then you are making new things, trying new things, learning, living, pushing yourself, changing yourself, changing your world. You're doing things you've never done before, and more importantly, you're Doing Something.

So that's my wish for you, and all of us, and my wish for myself. Make New Mistakes. Make glorious, amazing mistakes. Make mistakes nobody's ever made before. Don't freeze, don't stop, don't worry that it isn't good enough, or it isn't perfect, whatever it is: art, or love, or work or family or life.

Whatever it is you're scared of doing, Do it.

Make your mistakes, next year and forever.”
-Neil Gaiman

Friday, January 11, 2013

My Struggles with the Death of A Hero

My grandfather died on January 1st. Unfortunate genetics punished him the last ten or so years with Alzheimer’s. His suffering also punished my grandmother who proudly stood by his side and cared for him until the day he died. As a fellow retired caregiver, I can understand some of her challenges. Others, I just can’t imagine.

However, instead of being 100% focused on my grandmother in her time of need like I should have been, I was distracted by so many other issues while simultaneously feeling terrible about being distracted.

One thing that just knocked me off center was that neighbors and strangers alike were showing up with support in droves. Some even brought food. Casseroles, chicken, bean dip – you name it, the food was showing up. My grandmother isn’t going to have to cook for weeks. But in the days after Maggie died, no one brought me food.  At least I don't remember anyone bringing me food.  In fact, after the first few days, it seemed like everyone disappeared on me.  I still don’t understand that and it still hurts.

Another thing that kicked me in the stomach were the reminders of stupid stuff that people say when death happens:

“He’s in a better place.” - Yeah, well maybe he liked where he was with my grandmother a whole lot. I know Maggie was pretty darn happy about us being together. She also liked our big plans. WE liked our big plans. Better place now? It’s hard to believe.

“He’s not suffering any more.” - How do you know? Maybe death sucks and it hurts a lot. I know for Maggie it certainly hurt a lot getting to that point. Maybe it gets worse.

“Everything happens according to ‘God’s Plan’” - Oh man, this is always a tough one. So God’s “plan” was for my grandfather to lose his hard-earned lifetime of memories and control of his body while my 90 year old grandmother struggled to feed, bathe and dress her loving husband as he faded farther into oblivion? Or God’s “plan” was that my wonderful wife died just when her life was starting to really blossom but not before she suffered miserably while I watched? This is a plan?!?!

And I could go on…. (I think we all have a list of these little sayings.)

Finally, why wasn't Maggie mentioned in his obituary?  Yes, I know the obituary is supposed to be about him but, damn it, all the other living in laws were mentioned.  Where was my sweetheart?  Does she not count anymore because she died?  As someone who is particularly protective of her legacy, this stinks.

I feel terrible for thinking all these thoughts. His death and celebration of his life is not about me or my sweet wife and it shouldn't be twisted to be made so.  I want to be strong, to be a rock for my grandmother. I want to exemplify what my grandfather taught me: integrity, honor, and respect. Instead, while facing the final stages of a life both long and well lived, I feel weak, selfish and angry. I feel like I've failed both my grandfather and my grandmother.

I try to always close out each of my posts with a bend toward the positive but I’m struggling with this one. Death sucks, even when it can be seen as a “release.” I don’t miss my grandfather any less because he was “released.” I don’t miss Maggie any less because she was “released.” Right now, I’m just angry about both losses, about how people have no clue and how I’m helpless to change anything. I think sometimes some things just suck. Is it ok just to sit with that for a while?