Saturday, December 31, 2016

2016 Spoiled Me!

2016 has treated me well in fact that I want to take a deep breath to remember every little piece of it and say thank you for all the beautiful memories, stories, and smiles 2016 has given me. 

I am so grateful for everything I've experienced this past year and I'm truly excited for the year to come. I've been given so many gifts to treasure this year and I'm loving life with passion. My favorite photos of this past year are the ones of me, Jeff, and his daughters, but I don't post photos of the girls on the internet.

I did, however, say heartfelt thank yous as I chose each and every one of the following photos to commemorate the closing year.

One year ago, Jeff and I rang in 2016 at the place a mile from our house "where everybody knows our names," the Weaversville Inn. We call it "The Weave" and we have had many a delicious meal there in 2016, getting to know all the staff members even better, and creating lots of laughs.

We went to Aruba in 2016, a surprise Christmas gift to me from Jeff that came to fruition end of March. We spent Easter on "One Happy Island," talking about coming back before we ever left.

I climbed my first rock wall in Aruba, a 30+ foot challenge I wanted and an accomplishment that made me smile for the rest of the day. 

The beautiful sunset and sea in Aruba became a backdrop for one of our favorite pictures, which we blew up onto a canvas and now hangs in our living room.

In 2016, the back of my car received an upgrade at the request of the kids. I love seeing it every day. Obviously, this was before Luna (she's added too now). Accuracy is key in this house.

Call me silly, but Jeff making me the spice rack I'd always wanted was a highlight of my year. I love it!

My mom and dad got a beautiful pool this year and succeeded in bringing the family to them all summer long! Jeff, the girls, and I had many fun days (and nights) in the pool. 

We went on our first family vacation as a family, Jeff, the girls, and me. Long Beach Island was awesome and that was just the beginning of a fun summer!

Jeff worked tirelessly to build a patio for my parents' backyard oasis.  It came out great!

And Jeff took me golfing for the first time on a course. I drove a golf cart (not well, but my golfing attire was very cute). 

In May, Jeff's girls and I saw an educational clip about baby elephants who need help. We looked them up online and decided it was time for Jeff and I to adopt a baby elephant together and give Mia and Julia an elephant sister.

So, we adopted/fostered a baby (orphaned) elephant in Kenya via the Internet. This place in Kenya rescues elephant orphans whose moms and dads have been killed. We get a fostering certificate with a profile and photograph of our adopted orphan, info on the conservation project, an interactive map indicating where our orphan was found and a description of the habitat and the plight of the elephants in that particular area, monthly summary highlighting events of the previous month with a direct link to the ‘Keepers Diary’ for our elephant to read his daily entries on caring for our elephant, a collectable monthly watercolor of our elephant, and news of new arrivals and rescues with accompanying photos. We like to watch her grow up.

On our second summer vacation (can't believe we did two!), I finally fulfilled my dream (and something that scared me) of zip lining! It was amazing!

In September, we gained a new member of the family: Luna, the Italian Mastiff who has since stolen our hearts and our bed. She's 120 pounds of awesome. 

In October, I did the Great Pumpkin Run! I carried a 12 pound pumpkin the whole way, so I got a medal for finishing the race and a second medal for finishing the race with my pumpkin in tact! 

Also in October, I officially became a land owner. Jeff and I are excited to start our future together on just over an acre in Center Valley, PA. It will be a process, but eventually we'll be starting fresh in a home that's new to both of us. We're excited to begin creating our dream house in 2017. 
Jennifer and I headed to a Stars Hollow-like town to fulfill our Gilmore Girls themed Pumpkin Weekend. 

Jeff helped us end our third annual Pumpkin Weekend on a high note by providing this stuffed pumpkin masterpiece.

My favorite picture of 2016 is probably this one: a work of art by then 7 year old Julia. It hangs on our front door to welcome people to our house. After we got Luna, she added Luna in it. 

In November, Jeff and I hosted Thanksgiving. It was something we had both wanted to do, but never had. Teamwork made the dream work. This was the sweetest photo I took on Thanksgiving Day.

Christmas was magical. We had a naughty Elf for the season and I had so much fun baking and shopping with the kids. My second real tree of all time made the house beautiful every day. 

And my Christmas Eve present from Jeff is definitely the most beautiful bouquet of flowers I've ever had. I just love looking at this picture.

2016, you've been good to me. The most wonderful thing is that I know 2017 is going to be even better. How that's possible, I'm not sure... but I know. I know it will be. Thank you in advance for an awesome year. I'm the luckiest woman in the world. 

Sunday, November 20, 2016

Lorelai and Rory: a Prescription for Grief

When I lost my husband in May of 2014, my friend Jennifer had the idea that we should start watching the Gilmore Girls together because it's light and witty and a perfect escape from reality. It was hard for me back then to find shows or movies that wouldn't hurt me in places, or that were predictable enough to ease my fear of getting blindsided by story lines of suicide, violence, or tragic loss since I had little bits of PTSD symptoms.

Anything too sad or dramatic also seemed to be wrong as a mood lifter. It was amazing to me that my usual go-to shows could trigger the pain of the trauma I'd experienced when my husband completed suicide. Watching characters on cop shows experience a violent loss hit me in the gut. Watching characters turn the gun on themselves when faced with a terrible turn of events had me reaching to change the channel or squeezing my eyes closed. I had a significant startle response for a while and shows that kept me on edge were never best. Even when nothing specific in my usual shows hurt me or startled me, the tone was all wrong. Nothing felt right.

I had never watched the Gilmore Girls. I knew it was a popular show from about a decade earlier and I knew it had a big following. I knew some of the actors in it from snippets I'd caught on TV when passing through channels. That was all. So when Jennifer brought over the Gilmore Girls on DVD that first night almost 2 and half years ago, I was new to the show.

In the days following Rick's death, I never imagined that something as simple as a TV show could help me heal. My time with Jennifer was sacred to me and brought with it something extra to anticipate - a bright spot in my week surrounded by friends.

It wouldn't be a stretch at all to say that early on what got me through each week was the friendship of three women: Jennifer, Lorelai, and Rory.

It felt good to smile at the characters on the screen... to laugh at the antics of the plots... to lose myself in the town of Stars Hollow. I initially felt much the same way I always felt reading and re-reading Anne of Green Gables... there's an idyllic comfort in Stars Hollow, like a modern day Avonlea.

That's the thing about the show - it's like a place. You're there. Home. Happy. Invested. Content. And so, as time went on for me and my new life, we kept watching...and season after season, the Gilmore Girls became like home.

What made the escape better was being able to share it with my friend, though actually it was quite the other way around: my friend was sharing it with me. In a way, she wrote me a prescription for grief. "One dose of Lorelai and Rory at least once per week."

It seems funny to credit a TV show with healing powers, but the fact of the matter is my heart hurt less when I watched it.

So we ate junk food with the Girls, we celebrated every town festival, we drank coffee at Luke's, and we lived.

When we started, I had no idea the show would transport me in such a perfect and emotional way. We  laughed imagining what Rick would say about us, snuggled with cats in my living room every week with our special TV show. We penciled in days on our calendars as though Lorelai and Rory were a serious commitment...because they were. We toasted to Rick when I reached the first anniversary of his death.

Our time together with Lorelai and Rory waned as we gained different jobs and juggled new schedules, but still we made the promise to finish every season. I met Jeff along the way and explained the importance of our commitment to the Gilmore Girls like I was sharing a beloved and hallowed tradition. We hit the 2 year mark of my widowhood. Much later, when Jennifer and I made the trip to Connecticut to experience a town like Stars Hollow, Jeff wasn't even surprised. He had known it would come to fruition, because the weekend away was on par with a serious job meeting or event. We had a mental appointment there.

Believe it or not, it was only AFTER Jennifer and I had arranged our stay at the inn in Connecticut that the Gilmore Girls Fan Fest came into play. They announced it and sold tickets AFTER we had booked our own weekend. When we saw that the Gilmore Girl Fan Fest was not only in the same area of Connecticut, but on the same weekend we'd already booked, we knew it was all meant to be.

We were on the last season of the show when we traveled to Connecticut last month. We sat in our room at the inn, smiling, relaxing, and knowing it would soon all come to a close. We played the theme song in the car as we entered the town and laughed. We talked fast. We drank a lot of coffee.


When we heard the Gilmore Girls revival would come out on Netflix the day after Thanksgiving this year, we knew we had to finish the series in time. So yesterday, stocked with donuts, coffee, candy, pizza, and Chinese food in true Lorelai and Rory fashion, Jennifer and I sat in my living room from 9:30 am until 7:15 pm and watched the remaining episodes of the Gilmore Girls.

We laughed and we cried. And we ended where we began, back in my living room together. When we started, I was a young widow in a sparsely furnished living room, crying with my friend and my cats in the dark. When we finished yesterday, I felt my house was bursting at the seams, Jeff talking football scores and feeding our new dog, as Jennifer and I sat on new furniture in a newly painted living room in a space I'd somehow been able to clear of the kids' piles of art supplies.

I'm grateful for Jennifer and her idea that changed my life and my grief. I'm indebted to Lorelai and Rory for their part in my healing process. I'm not sure I can truly ever explain what the show means to me. The world and the people around me may change, but Stars Hollow will always be home.

Sunday, November 6, 2016

The Gratitude in Loss

Every new loss I see in my hospice work is another opportunity for gratitude. Every death is a chance to be thankful for the people I have in my life. As I meet new people and watch them let go of someone they love, I am reminded of the wonderful relationships I have. I invite the emotions to swirl around inside of me, sadness stirring, empathy seeping from my pores, and I say silent thank yous.

If a wife says good bye to her husband, I can remember too well what it was like to say good bye to mine and then I smile on my drive home to my significant other who is most likely making me delicious food or waiting to tell me about his day. If adult children are saying good bye to their mother, I take it as a cue to call my own mother on my way home to tell her I love her and am so glad to have her in my life.

If these losses are cues to be grateful (and to express my gratitude) for my own relationships and the people close to me, the daily interactions that are full of impending loss are cues to be grateful for my own health. I never want to take my health for granted. I may sit regularly with fabulous people who are living with (but dying from) any number of conditions - various cancers, ALS, heart diseases, MS, etc. And as I sit with them, traveling through their thoughts and memories with them, I am reminded to be thankful for my own vitality, mobility, independence, and wealth of wellness. I get in my car and sing to the radio, cognizant of the air filling my lungs and the power behind my voice. I walk, aware of the spring in my step. I go to sleep each night with the promise of a new and beautiful tomorrow. I am lucky.

Is it possible that I can leave a trail?

I'd like to think so. I'd really like to believe that amid grief, I can leave something behind. I think we all can. Sometimes, I feel like the world doesn't give me what I need. Things are not offered that I wish were offered. And when that happens, I sigh really loudly and become upset/dejected/irritated for a moment...then, I make the first move. When I want to feel better myself, I send things out into the universe.

How do you welcome a life-altering event with open arms? How do you relinquish control and give yourself over to the process? How do you move forward each day without expectations, just gratitude?

Those are the very questions I asked myself in the past few years since my own life-altering event. I still ponder them every day, holding fast to the belief that gratitude changes everything.

I may have a baby face, but I have an old soul. And I know that we were put here on this earth to live life to the fullest. "The fullest" means something different for each of us, but we are not meant to live for fleeting moments of amazing, resigned to status quo the rest of the time - we are meant to turn those fleeting moments of amazing into hours and days and weeks and months and years. That is the secret to this thing called life.

When you're shown a slice of amazing, it's a gift. It's okay to stand in awe of it for a little while... but then you have to let gratitude show you the way.

Every time I'm shown a slice of amazing, I soak it up and carry it with me. Then when I go to sleep at night, I say to myself: How can I make more of this happen? How can I have more of this in my life? How can I treat this as something precious so it never goes away and actually multiplies?

I'd like to think that's why my life is not a mess of misery and pain. It's not that there's not misery and pain in it at times... it's just that I choose not to ignore the amazing... in fact, I am beyond thankful for the amazing... and in asking for it to multiply, the misery and pain diminishes considerably.

My heart often hurts for the grief, loss, and pain I see. But rather than carrying it with me in a way that internalizes that ball of sadness, I do my best to turn it into something else as I make my way through my own daily life.

When loss incites gratitude...when loss invites're doing it right. At least that's how I choose to think of it.

Friday, October 28, 2016

No More Why

A long time ago, on my original blog The Cat Widow, I talked openly about death questions and my experience.  I'm not sure you could find a person who is more open than I am when it comes to my personal life and my experiences, and I don't mind being a voice amid confusion on certain topics. That said, I think it's important for me to explain that I don't ask why this happened to me or why Rick took his own life. And I need to write an open letter on the subject.

Early in my grieving process, I found myself asking "Why?" It's a question typical of grief, but even more typical of suicide grief.

I have stopped asking why.

Let me say it again. I have stopped asking why. 

I will never know why. I will never fully understand why. I may be able to tick off on my fingers the reasons Rick may have felt. I may be able to guess. I may be able to assume. I will always miss him. I will always wonder. I will never completely know.

So... I have stopped asking why.

I hope, if you're reading this, that you will stop asking me "why?" too. For the most part, the folks who talk to me or read what I write make statements of comfort or offer consolation, friendship, and love. They do not ask questions. And I'm not saying that questions are bad. Most questions are 100% fine with me. I'm okay with it. But I can tell you that even now, 2 and a half years since the death of my husband, people still ask me why.

"But I don't understand. Why did he do it?"

I do NOT know any more than you do. 

I can reply that he was in excruciating physical and emotional pain. I can reply that he was depressed. I can reply that he felt he was out of options. I can reply that he felt he was doing me a favor. I can say all those things or nothing at all, but I don't really know WHY. Please, please, stop asking me. I have asked myself over and over again. I do not have the answers.

I know it is shocking, even heartbreaking, to hear of my husband's death. I realize that people who know me, or who have followed me on the web for a period of years, who have heard me speak or read my writing feel surprise and sadness when they learn of Rick's death. I understand that they feel for me. That they just can't imagine how Rick could leave me.

I have no malice, no meanness, no scolding to offer. I get it. I can barely wrap my head around it myself. It's almost unbelievable to hear that my husband took his own life and left me alone. I get it.

But it hurts me to hear those kinds of questions. It catches me off guard (and I'm a pretty collected individual). It makes me tell the story. It makes me go back. It puts the responsibility on me.

I had so many questions floating around in my head. So many pressing upon my heart. And finally, stopped asking why. There is no benefit to asking and re-asking such a question. Not for me. Not for you. I have not come up with a comforting answer in all the minutes, hours, days, weeks, months, and years I have asked myself why. I have stopped asking why. If I'm sad rediscovering a memory or upset in the dark of night, I prefer to tell Rick I'm sorry he's no longer in the world rather than asking why. I prefer to tell a funny story rather than asking why. I prefer to explain what's on my heart rather than asking why.

There is no more why. There is only now.

Grief is grief. It hurts. We all feel pain deeply no matter the cause. We all feel that pain differently. We all cope differently. I will never compare my grief to another's and I will never say my loss is greater. What I can say is that I sometimes feel the stark contrast of my widowhood compared to other forms of widowhood. It doesn't make me worse off than another widow or in more pain than another widow. But it has made me feel more alone at times. Generally speaking, there are a lot of things that make grieving a suicide death different from other kinds of death. Not sadder...not necessarily more difficult...but different.

When losing a loved one to suicide, the grieving process is often longer than with other kinds of death. I have read countless items, both in my previous studies and in my personal quest for enlightenment post-Rick, that say this. There were times I felt very impatient to move forward more quickly, but my physiological reactions and grief bursts did not allow it. 

When losing a loved one to suicide, the survivor is roped into/tied into the "story" in a way that does not happen when someone dies another way. For example, if your husband dies of a terminal illness, strangers, acquaintances, and friends do not say, "Wow. What happened? What went wrong?" as they do with suicide. It isn't necessarily that people want to know the details (though sometimes they do), it's that they can't fathom a suicide loss the same way they can fathom other loss. We know that different kinds of cancer can kill. We even understand that being a soldier or a police officer, for instance, is a dangerous occupation and puts people in harm's way even though the loss can be tragic. We know that saying "It was a heart attack," leaves little to the imagination.

With suicide, people say, "But why would he do that?" They say, "Did you notice anything?" or the even worse version of that question: "Didn't you notice anything?" They say, "Was he depressed?" or "Did something happen that day?" And the person left behind is right there in the death again, up to her elbows in trauma, pain, and questions. You can choose not to answer the questions, of course. But it doesn't mean they aren't asked. The person left behind is constantly roped into being part of the tale. Like they had something to do with it, because they were the bystander in the life, the other occupant of the house, the one who found the note. Like they had some knowledge of the reasoning. Like their job is to make some small sense of the horror for the person asking.

When losing a loved one to suicide, happy memories are constantly questioned in a way that does not happen with other kinds of death. Things aren't taken at face value. Reminiscing about good memories or looking at photos is just not the same when suicide is the cause of death. When looking at a photo, the person left behind might smile and think of the good memory displayed in the picture, but she is also wondering, "Was he happy here? Had he already decided to end it? Was he remembering this moment as 'the last time' we would ever do that? Did he know?" For people dealing with other loss, happy memories are happy memories, times they miss or wish they could relive or always want to remember. No over-thinking. No philosophical ponderings that re-break the heart.

I've pushed through the grief, the conversations, the questions. I know the drill. But the more I grieved, the more I learned...and I am always learning...and the more I learn, the more I want to share.

I do not ask why. Instead I say thank you for everything I have been given along this journey. 

Thursday, October 13, 2016

Hello, 32

32 is a fairly nondescript age, not special and not exciting. It is, however, going to be a great year for me. I can specifically recall my 30th birthday, 2 years ago. It was my first birthday without Rick and it was peppered with both sadness and hope. I remember when I wrote this post 2 years ago today: Thirty.

Last year, Jeff took me up in a hot air balloon for my 31st, allowing me to cross a very special "wish" off my List. He often says he won't be able to top that, but I feel like every day with him is better than the last. I frequently consider how lucky I am.

I love my job. I help hospice patients and their families complete unfinished business, get plans and affairs in order, provide them with counseling and support, and walk with them through the process of grief and loss...all with the understanding that while people are dying, they are still living. I help with anticipatory grief, financial concerns, complicated family dynamics, and advocate for patients and families in all aspects of life.

I drive around home to home, going into skilled nursing facilities, assisted living facilities, and hospitals too. I have the privilege of sitting with people in their own environment. I have the honor of being part of a sacred and private time. I drive around independently in beautiful areas of the Lehigh Valley with my music as a guide and mechanism to help me process each patient before moving on to the next. I am lucky to have the position I have and I am lucky to do what I do.

If I ever complain, please remind me that I am blessed. I drove around in the rain today, cornfields all around me, smiling and singing along with the music in my car. I talked to people, I learned from people, I felt useful. It was my birthday, but it could have been any other day. I'm this happy every day. I have the same daily routine no matter the date on the calendar.

Jeff fed me delicious food and gave me so much love. As we plan for a magical and awesome future, my heart is full and I feel good - no, great - about 32. I feel certain the coming months will bring positive experiences, fun, good news, more plans, and lots of gratitude.

I have a fantastic life. I'm so excited.

Monday, June 6, 2016

A Phoenix

Today, for some reason, I was remembering the day I decided to be a phoenix. I sat in my house in June of 2014, a month after Rick died, and I wrote this:

I'd be lying if I said that I didn't feel a sense of pride knowing that I did, in fact, begin again. 

I know that to some bystanders, it could seem as though I fell into a beautiful life, luckily and fortunately. And don't get me wrong, I am lucky and fortunate. But I fought my way to get here. So many things occur by happenstance, and my life is no different. There were many things I could not have predicted, like the entrance of love or various random opportunities. Yet I feel we create a certain force field around ourselves at times, letting in great things and keeping bad things out...and we do this by staying positive, keeping our light shining within, and hoping for good things but also creating them. 

A few months ago, one of Jeff's daughters asked me, "How old are you?" 

"31," I replied.

"Do you remember when you were 10?"

"Yes!" I briefly recalled my childhood.

"Do you remember when you were 21?"

"Yes." I thought about finishing college.

"What was your favorite age to be? What was your favorite year ever?"

I looked at her and smiled, almost getting a little choked up in the process of forming my response. "This year," I said. 

"Really???" She seemed surprised. 



"Because this has been the best year of my whole life. I've had the most fun this year. I'm the happiest."

Wednesday, May 18, 2016

Dear Rick...

Dear Rick,

You've been gone for 2 years now. I feel as though I've already lived a lifetime without you. And at the same time, it doesn't seem possible that it's been 2 whole years since I last saw your face.

I remember clearly this day 2 years ago. I remember the shock, the pain, the horror, the terror, the indescribable confusion, and the heaviness of the reality that you were in fact gone. I remember what I was wearing when I collapsed on the ground with your suicide note in my hand. I remember the sound of my own frantic voice as I told the 911 operator that my life was changed in a single instant. I remember too much, my brain still triggered at times by the trauma of that day.

So much has happened since I last saw you, Rick. Tumbler made nearly a full recovery from his kidney failure. He didn't die like we thought he would.

I put the house up for sale. Then after six months, I took it off the market and decided to stay a little longer. 

I went back to Maine with my mom last year and showed her all the places we went. 

I got a new job working in Hospice. I drive around all day...and I love it. You'd be shocked. I'm good at it and I learn so much. I also have a lot to share.

I found an amazing man when I wasn't even looking and he loves me. I feel like I won the lottery when I get to drive home to him. We have fun every single day and he helps me live life instead of just exist in it. He's finishing the basement and building a patio out back. He cooks for me. He listens to me. He talks to me. He holds me. He dreams with me. His name is Jeff and he makes me happy.

I painted the house, Rick. The living room is a beautiful gray. The downstairs bathroom is a cool teal. The kitchen is a sun kissed yellowy orange. We have new furniture. The cats didn't ruin it yet. 

There are colored drawings on the refrigerator, Rick. Kids live here part of the time now. Two amazing little girls who make me laugh and ask me to do their hair and ride their bikes with me while I go for a run. 

My parents got an inground pool, Rick. You'd love it. I know you'd be the first one floating on a raft in the sun even if it was only 65 degrees out.

I'm finally learning to play golf. I went to Aruba. I ran a 5K. I became an adjunct instructor at Marywood University graduate school of social work. I went up in a hot air balloon. I got a real Christmas tree for the first time ever. I gave a presentation at Kutztown University about grief and loss after suicide. Downton Abbey ended. 

I still lead the eating disorder support group, but now it's only once per month. I don't visit your mom as much as I used to, because I think it upsets her. Joella is 5 and Harriette is 3 and they're hilarious. Beth got married. So did Libes. So did Lindy. Libes just had a baby girl.

I've seen your brother a few times. In fact, I saw him in Wegmans one Saturday, which was kind of funny and totally unexpected.

My mom has painted so many paintings since you've been gone. I have two new ones I didn't have before. The house definitely isn't as clean as when you were here, but I bought a better vacuum. We planted flowers and a tree out front. The neighbors still look out for me. You still get mail. 

Sometimes, I still have nightmares about what happened. Jeff wakes me up and holds me. Sometimes I still wonder what to keep and what to throw away. Sometimes I still wonder what you'd say if you were here. But usually, I know.

Love, Arielle

Saturday, April 2, 2016

One Happy Island

Here we are, now in April of 2016, and I just returned from the best vacation I ever had. My big surprise Christmas gift from Jeff was a trip to Aruba and we actually went this past week! I say "we actually went," because for the past few months I've been sort of going back and forth between being super excited and thinking that perhaps something could still happen to prevent the trip. It all just seemed so built up and too good to be true. Part of me I think was used to being disappointed. But as we lifted off in the airplane, Jeff said, "See, we're really going." And when we got to Aruba, he said, "See, we're really here."

And then we proceeded to have the best vacation ever.

We met great people. We ate great food. We saw beautiful things. We had a beautiful time.

There were so many highlights. I felt spoiled every day. I had fun every day. There were special little moments and epic adventures.

On Sunday morning we had Easter brunch at a beautiful place called Windows overlooking a golf course. We watched iguanas parade about on the green while we were served course after course (and mimosas) and spent the holiday in a completely different but satisfying way. 

That same night, we went to dinner at the Flying Fishbone and ATE WITH OUR FEET IN THE WATER. The servers were barefoot and the table was out in the sea. There was a little rack for our shoes and tiny fish swam beneath blue lights that danced on the water in the moonlight. It was unlike anything either of us had experienced before. 

I climbed a 3 story rock wall on Tuesday morning and made it to the top. Jeff got it all on video and I spent the rest of the day saying, "I'm a climber now."

We took sunset photos, danced (impromptu) in the moonlight before dinner one night, enjoyed the biggest and most festive-looking drink ever (a Pelican-rita) at a local pier bar, did lots of walking, and met cute Aruba cats.

On Wednesday, we went deep sea fishing out on a local boat with a crew of 2 where as Jeff says, "My rare catch caught the rarest fish in the sea." I CAUGHT A BLUE MARLIN. Not only did I catch the FIRST fish of the day (a big yellowfin tuna), I caught the rarest fish in the Caribbean sea and the fishermen were so super psyched they couldn't even contain themselves. They bragged on their radio, they screamed and cheered, and they were amazed. They won a bet and yes, we threw it back because it's not an eating fish and is super special. It was about 5 feet long and strong as can be. I could barely hold onto it for the photo. 

Of course, very shortly after my amazing Blue Marlin skills, I got epically sea sick and threw up about 8 times before the boat ride was over, but hey, I caught a Marlin and spent the rest of the day saying, "I'm a fisher now."

One of our awesome days found me at the beach, out in the ocean, praying. I stood out there in the beautiful, warm water up to my shoulders and thanked God for my beautiful life and my beautiful trip. I breathed deep breaths, moved my arms in the water around me, let the unique Aruba wind blow my curls around my head and shoulders and back, and I said "thank you" for everything that came to my mind. And I reminded myself out loud, "No matter what happens moving forward, no matter if I am faced with more tragedy or pain or sadness, no one can ever take this moment from me. And no one can ever take this trip from me. I will always have this. I am truly lucky. Truly blessed. Truly loved. And truly happy."

I could write a whole blog just about all the wonderful food we ate in Aruba. I wrote down every menu item I could remember. I wrote down the name of every server. Everyone seemed to have his or her own flair. Every restaurant had its specialty. I could write a whole blog just about all the little moments, the sweet, the funny, the random - like the violinist who played Ed Sheeran's "Thinking Out Loud" or Jeff's way of not getting sand in our hotel room (throw the shoes off the balcony to the beach before heading out of the room and throw them back up onto the balcony before heading back in). I could write a whole blog just about the average Aruba things we did, because nothing was mundane on that happy island. But there's simply not enough time or space to do it all. I did cross something new off The List, but I subtly updated it in that tab so as not to draw too much attention. :-)

Our last morning in Aruba, Jeff and I woke up at 5:45 am, rolled out of bed onto the beach (which was right outside our door), and swam out to into the ocean to watch the sunrise together. It was a cool feeling being the only two people out in the aquamarine sea as the sky went from dark to shades of pink to morning's first light. 

We left Aruba refreshed and content with our experiences. We left with stories. We left with photos. And probably the most exciting thing of all, a resolution: We'll be back.

Saturday, January 30, 2016


"Life shrinks or expands in proportion to one's courage." - Anais Nin

The truth to this quote astounds me at times. It's sort of been the catalyst behind this blog. My life expands constantly, a vast and inviting landscape of rolling hills and lush fields of opportunity and awesomeness...all because I vow to live bravely and with passion. 

I sat down this morning to pull another crossed off item from The List and tell you the story of how I came to do it. But as I sit here, sipping coffee and wrapping a blanket more tightly around me, I realize I'm smiling. And I realize that this is not unusual for me.

I often find myself driving along in the course of my day, smiling. Alone but smiling. I often find myself getting ready in the morning in front of the mirror, smiling. Alone but smiling. I often find myself curled up in my living room, comfortable and tired, smiling.  

I have no list of disappointments. I shocked someone the other day when in the course of our conversation he discovered I was a widow. It reminded me of the time at my old job {link is to that post from my old blog The Cat Widow} when someone who knew I was widowed actually FORGOT during a conversation with me only 3 months after Rick died. Well, just the other day someone who only met me after the commencement of my widowhood, found out and was shocked...simply because I'm joyful and complaint-free. The look I got began as sheer surprise...which quickly changed to pity...which was replaced with curiosity. And we told stories...and we smiled. And yes, my husband is dead, but life is good.

My old blog The Cat Widow may have chronicled my daily grieving process, but the tagline was always: Tomorrow may bring pain, but it cannot steal my joy.

But back to courage. It's a strange thing to say, but even I almost forget I'm a widow sometimes. It's not that I forget what's transpired in my life. It's just that the word doesn't seem to describe me anymore. It's a label that's still accurate. And it's the box I have to check on legal forms. But it just doesn't fit the woman typing this sentence right now. It has nothing to do with being young. It has nothing to do with having a truly fantastic significant other. It has to do with courage.

Being a widow made me braver...and now I often have the courage to leave the word behind. 

Friday, January 1, 2016

Auld Lang Syne

I just had the best Christmas of my life followed by the best New Years Eve of my life. I could list all the amazing material things that made these holidays wonderful (a surprise future trip to Aruba, delicious homemade food dishes, a pile of presents, massive personalized stockings filled with goodies, etc.), but what really made these last two weeks so meaningful were the simple, special moments I've tucked away in my heart forever.

I got a real tree this year, an experience I shared with my great guy. After the tree made its debut in our living room, we decided to start from scratch and buy all new ornaments rather than decorating with ones from his past or mine. Instead, we looked forward to accumulating a few ornaments that would mean something to us. I bought him a 2015 crystal train ornament he wanted; he bought me crystal ornaments of the 12 days of Christmas - the turtle doves and a partridge. My mom bought us a glass hot air balloon to hang on our tree to remind us of the awesome ride we took together in October. On Christmas morning, one of the gifts I opened from Jeff was our personalized First Christmas ornament.

For the first time ever, there was a train surrounding my Christmas tree, 1500 lights on the 8 foot tree, and literal piles of gifts. I can't say I won't remember those things...they made Christmas different for me in a very good way. But what I remember most about the day is waking up in the arms of the man I love, his smile as he filmed me opening his creative gift to me (the Aruba trip, literally spelled out in wooden letters),  laughing hysterically as we watched Four Christmases together in our pajamas while waiting for his kids to come for the day and weekend, playing with his two little daughters (silly string fights, backyard football, arts and crafts, car racing, etc.), and falling asleep in a big pile of tired gratitude. 

After some of the things I've been through, Christmas had the potential to always be a little sore, a little sad, and a little lonely. Not this year. 

And I have a confession to make: I've always hated New Year's Eve. There are a lot of reasons why... But this year, it was great. Really great. I remember last New Years, how glad I was that 2014 had come to a close... How I felt I had survived... 

And I had... But what a difference to end this year feeling like I've really lived... And to look forward to 2016 with so much passion and hope and love. 

I've laughed so much this year. I've laughed and laughed and laughed. And all the broken pieces of my heart connected again a little more with each laugh. 

2015 brought new love, new friends, new thoughts, a new job, and new opportunities. I sit here in a house I wanted to leave and I feel comfortable for now, ready to make firm plans instead of itching to run away. I look at this man in my life, currently fast asleep on the couch spooning my cat, Tumbler, and I feel joy. I write on a new blog, and I'm so happy every day there are times I actually almost forget I was the Cat Widow

Not because my past or my stories are gone...or hold no meaning...or are hidden away, but because I used to feel so much pain...and that pain is almost gone.