Logan Clare: An Origin Story

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You were born in the midst of a May snowstorm, but that’s hardly the most remarkable thing about your birth story. Bringing you into this world took years of planning, hoping, and dreaming. The road to your arrival includes a tragic love story, the emergence and destruction of a superhero, a high tech scientific laboratory, a pandemic, and a myriad of plot twists worthy of a full length feature film (or perhaps even a trilogy).

For years your Father and I talked about having children. We tried, in the way many young couples do, but were somehow unsuccessful in growing our family beyond the two of us (and the menagerie of pets we’d acquired). At one point we were successful in conceiving the child who would have been your older sibling, but they were gone from the portrait we were painting for our future almost as quickly as they had first appeared. While we were still grappling with that loss, life suddenly threw us one of the most cruel and complex curveballs we could ever imagine.

At some point in your life, when you encounter difficulty, someone may say something like – “look, it’s not brain surgery!” While their point may be to belittle the extent of your struggle with a flippant retort, the remark they are making is rooted in the fact that brain surgery is really freaking hard. And it doesn’t matter if you’re the actual brain surgeon (although yes, their role is exceptionally difficult), the patient, or one of the people who has to sit by and wait to find out how successful the operation was… brain surgery is, indeed, really freaking hard. And your Dad had three of them in under a week’s time.

The first operation was largely successful, as 80% of the tumor invading his brain was ultimately removed. The second, also a success, as the massive hemorrhage created during the first procedure was repaired. And the third, also successful, as the neurosurgeon was able to relieve the swelling that developed in the days following the first two efforts. But as your Dad began to wake up, it was clear he was no longer himself. The series of operations had changed the very fiber of his existence.

Now I wouldn’t have believed it if I hadn’t seen it for myself, but your Dad, who had previously been just a “normal guy” (normal to others, anyways, I always thought he was pretty exceptional), had emerged from brain surgery as an actual, honest-to-goodness superhero. Some of his doctors brushed it off as a drug and surgery driven delusion, but I saw it with my own eyes. No tall buildings were lept in a single bound, but marathons were conquered and, with the drive and determination your Dad displayed, I think he could have taken on a building if that’s what he’d put his mind to.

For 28 months, your Dad fought everything that was thrown at him. He knew that the cancer was unbeatable, but that didn’t stop him from fighting. All the while, we continued to dream about growing our family… we continued to dream about you. As the cancer (along with the medicine he was taking to fight the cancer) threatened to destroy that dream, he did what any good superhero would do. He found a way to outsmart the villain. He called in super friends (in our case a fertility doctor and her team of scientists) so that when the time was right, you could come to be. A lot of parents worry about the day when their child will come to them and ask “where do babies come from?” My only concern about that day is that I won’t be able to accurately explain the science behind the miracle that is you!

Your Dad desperately wanted to meet you (and, maybe he did — you’ll have to tell me when you’re older). Together we imagined the person you would grow up to be. We talked about all of the fun adventures we’d have as a family. Whose eyes you’d have (they’re mine). Whose smile you’d have (it’s his). It breaks my heart to know that you will never have a photo of the two of you together. It hurts that you won’t get to squeeze him or wind your tiny fingers in to his beard and tug at it as you fall asleep in his arms. And I’m sorry that you’ll never get to hear him tell you any of the Dad jokes he’d been practicing for years. While there are so many things he won’t be here to give you, he wanted to make sure that you did have something special that was just from him: Your name.

I didn’t know if we were expecting a daughter or a son until the moment the doctor placed you in my arms. But your Dad had told me two years prior that our daughter would need a good strong name… Logan, just like The Wolverine. I told him that I would need to meet you first to know if the name fit. Not just any little girl can be named Logan, so I had to make sure that was really your name. It’s a superhero’s name after all. And I needed to make sure that you exhibited the same super strength as your Dad.

The world will forever talk about the year 2020 as a year of chaos and struggle. The history books will talk of a pandemic that swept the globe and a wave of civil unrest that swept through our nation. They’ll talk about how the economy collapsed as millions lost jobs. Baseball was shut down until July. Restaurants, theaters and public places were closed and boarded up, and families were forced to distance themselves from one another (also – murder hornets were briefly a thing). But, in the midst of all of this chaos… there was you.

You were born in the middle of a May snowstorm. I delivered you without a partner because your Dad had died, and the threat of a killer virus made it too dangerous to bring in a pinch hitter. I had a broken leg, which contributed to the complexity of your arrival. You were six weeks early and weighed less than 5 pounds. The nurses described you as feisty. There was no denying your super strength from the moment you came screaming into this world. You are a mix of the best parts of both of us. You are strong. You are super. You are Logan.

At Least

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When my husband died last year I immediately gave myself a set of daily living rules to make sure that I didn’t crawl into a hole and die right along with him (which would have been my preference at the time so the rules were, and continue to be, really important). At first there were three rules that were 100% focused on just keeping me alive…

  1. Take 10,000 steps a day. You can go back to bed and stay there the rest of the day if you accomplish this goal, but you must take 10,000 steps – no excuses.  
  2. Drink 1 gallon of water a day. You may not have a desire to eat or drink anything but you must drink water. Fill the bottle up and keep drinking all day, everyday – no excuses. 
  3. No junk food in the house. If you decide you want to eat you will eat, and you will eat everything in sight and that’s just not a good idea, so no junk food (including take out/drive thru food) – no excuses.

As the weeks went by these rules helped me to get through my house plant phase. I made sure I had plenty of sunlight and water while making a conscious effort not to overfeed myself, but had zero expectations of effort or activity beyond that. It worked for awhile but soon the danger of living too long in the house plant phase became apparent. I had to make sure to expand my efforts to stay alive before my roots took hold in the recliner that I’d bought for my husband a few months before his death. I’d tell myself that if Travis could see me he’d be livid that I was wasting my time sulking around the house instead of enjoying my life (I mean, at least I had a life to enjoy, right?), but thoughts like  that just made me feel guilty and more sluggish, so I made more rules.

4. Accept one social invitation each week. You must say “yes” to at least one social request from a well-meaning friend or family member each week. You can turn everyone else down and just stay home, but you must say “yes” once. If no one asks you to go anywhere you must do something social with strangers (yikes!). 

5. Give yourself something to look forward to. Plan for the future because odds are that you’ll have one. Plan a trip, buy tickets to a show/concert, and try to let yourself drift into day dreams about the fun you’ll have doing those activities. 

These two added rules, a bit more abstract, were aimed squarely at recognizing that I was not a house plant, but an actual living/breathing animal who needed more than just food and water to survive. I needed to engage with other people, have conversations, and have hope for the future. All of these activities were really tough because my life revolved completely around my own misery. I was (and continue to be) lucky to have people in my life who tolerate my lack of ability to filter out off hand remarks about death and despair, but I’m sure spending time with me during this anti-social-wounded-puppy-phase was draining for them as they wondered if they’d be able to reach out and touch me without me biting off one of their fingers.

Over time I got a job (one that still allowed me to take things slow by working mostly from home), began reaching out to others a bit more, established some semblance of a routine, and stopped biting people (for the most part). The rules I created for myself kept me breathing, initially, and eventually helped me start to enjoy life again. The last rule, which had been the hardest, suddenly became the easiest a few months ago as bits and pieces of my future started to take place. I was looking forward to events, activities, and celebrations, most of which centered around the exciting turn my life was going to take as I prepare for the birth of my first child. 

But then, suddenly, everything came to a halt. I, along with much of the world, was forced into house plant mode. My coping mechanisms were stripped away one by one as the rules that were keeping me alive became impossible to follow. There were no social requests to accept, and as the days ticked by each of the things I’d been excited to do were cancelled. The no junk food in the house rule went out the window as restaurants closed. I was once again left with sunlight and water.

I focused on walking my dog obsessively, setting a slightly higher target of 5 (socially distanced from everyone else on the trails) miles each day. As I approached my third trimester in a world without public restrooms this goal became more challenging so I had to break up the 5 miles into those smaller chunks spread out through the day. Drinking a gallon of water became equally challenging, but I was making it work and holding it together, until this week when I was tossed another curveball. As I set off for a hike with my dog on one of our favorite trails I took a funny step, fell to the ground, and heard a crack that I hoped was a stick breaking under my foot. A few hours later an x-ray would confirm that, unfortunately, it was not a stick.

And so went the last rule. After consistently and obsessively meeting my 10,000 steps a day goal for over a year I failed for the first time managing only a few hundred steps, most of which were taken as I dragged myself back to my car with a worried and confused dog in tow. I felt incredibly defeated as I examined the current state of my life. I was already an 8 months pregnant widow living alone in the midst of a global pandemic, and now I was all of those things… with a broken ankle.

I’ve gone over the list of “at leasts” in my head a few dozen times. At least it’s not a really bad break and will heal nicely on its own. At least you didn’t hurt the baby when you fell. At least you were relatively close to your car and didn’t have to hobble 5 miles back down a trail. At least you have loving and supportive parents who will drop everything to take care of you at a moment’s notice. And my favorite… At least it’s not a brain tumor.

But while I’m grateful that all of those things are true, I’ve come to realize over the past several years that the least comforting statements (whether they come from myself or another person), begin with the words “at least.” When Travis’ battle with brain cancer began and he was given a less than 10% of surviving for two years we heard… at least there’s a chance, at least you have each other, at least you don’t have children. And when he died I heard.. at least you had time to prepare for his death, at least you know he’s in a better place, at least he’s not suffering anymore, at least you’re young and can find someone new, and again… at least you don’t have children. At least, at least, at least.

But the reality of my situation right now is that it’s incredibly hard. I’m still grieving the loss of my husband, anticipating bringing his child into the world without him here, doing so at a time when that world is in total chaos, and now my ankle really hurts and I can’t do the one thing that has consistently brought me comfort and joy for the past year… walk my dog. You can tell me to count my blessings as much as you want (which is just a fancy way of saying “at least”), but you know what, I don’t want to and I don’t have to because things just really fucking suck right now.

And I hope that as you read this you aren’t thinking to yourself “wow, at least I’m not 8 months pregnant, widowed, alone, with a broken ankle during a pandemic!” because I bet things are pretty hard for some of you right now as well. If taking stock of all of the things that you are blessed to have helps you, by all means, do it. But if not, don’t try to cheer yourself up by telling yourself how much worse things could be. Be mad. Be hurt. Be frustrated and bothered by all of the challenges you’re facing. Own it and let yourself feel sad that you’re missing out on things that bring you joy.

Don’t compare your challenges to others. If things are extra hard for you right now don’t tell others whose lives you perceive to be somehow less difficult that they should be grateful for what they have. And if you perceive other’s lives to be more difficult than your own, don’t force yourself to count the blessings that may not be worth counting at the moment. If the hardest thing for you to deal with right now is the fact that you can’t enjoy a baseball game (and trust me, there are days where that’s hurt more than my broken ankle), then that is still pretty damn hard. Try not to live and wallow in the reality of the hard things, but still, let yourself feel them without forcing yourself to push them away.

I don’t believe that there really are differing degrees of difficulty (outside of the realm of olympic sports, perhaps). If it’s hard for you, it’s hard, and that’s all that matters. And I’m sorry if things are hard for you right now.

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An Ode to My Subaru (and the man who bought it for me).

I hate shopping. No, hate is not a strong enough word. I despise shopping. I can handle shopping out of necessity, but shopping for fun has really never been my cup of tea (drinking cups of tea in places where others shop, specifically for books, is something I quite enjoy, however). In this way my husband and I were a bit of a mismatch from the start. My perfect Sunday involves watching football games I care about, and napping through football games I don’t care about, as well as walking the dog at halftime and/or in between games to get some fresh air and offset the calories from all of the football snacks I like to eat.

Travis was generally down for the snacks and the naps (and not completely opposed to the football), but he also had this strange compulsion to spend his Sundays going to places where they sell things, looking at those things, and maybe or maybe not buying those things. He’d then spend even more time thinking about all the things he’d looked at, comparing the cost of related things online and then, on a subsequent Sunday, he would want to return to the places that sell the things and look at them again (and maybe or maybe not buy them). This is a process he would want to repeat over and over and over again with just about every possible purchase you can think of.

At first I was fascinated by this behavior, then frustrated, and finally I decided to use it to my advantage. If I married this guy I would never have to shop for anything, ever again! Sure, there were other reasons that I said “yes!” when he proposed, but the luxury of being the only wife sitting in the “husband seats” that are conveniently placed in between the stores in shopping malls, and relaxing in my car in the Target parking lot playing Words With Friends on my phone while listening to a baseball game on the radio… was a pretty sweet perk. When we needed a new stove I gave him the basic features I was looking for (cooks food and won’t catch the house on fire), along with a general budget ($0 would be great but there’s a little wiggle room, I suppose), and he delivered the perfect stove/oven that did those things and even some more things that I didn’t realize a cooking appliance could do. Paint colors for the bathroom he’d just finished remodeling? I just handed him a blue t-shirt and said “I like this, but as a paint and maybe not quite so loud” and he sourced out the most perfect color combo that gave me the feeling I was showering seaside (and he found it on sale!).

In the months, now turning to years, since Travis died I can’t count the number of times I have appreciated his careful and thoughtful shopping skills. Most of the winter coats I’ve purchased for myself have holes and broken zippers while his look like the just came off of the store rack, and so I have taken to wearing his old coats. I used to think socks were just something you wore as a necessary barrier between your feet and certain shoes, but thanks to his collection of Smart Wool summer and winter hiking socks that I started stealing while he was still alive, I haven’t had a blister in at least 5 years (even while walking multiple marathons during that time). And I think I cook 90% of my meals in his cast iron skillets, which I am pretty sure are older than I am. But, in spite of his best shopping efforts, many of the things he bought for himself/me/us are wearing, breaking and fading. Dishes are chipped and cracked, blankets have holes, and sadly, my beloved 2014 Subaru Forester is showing signs that the year 2021 may be her last in my possession.

My Forester is my first car that was just mine. All of my prior cars were family hand-me-downs acquired by calling my Dad and saying “hey, I need a car, do you know anyone that has a car they’d like to get rid of?” My actual first car, a Ford Escort mini-wagon, was sourced in just this way. My Dad got it from his brother Tom, and when I was done with it (moving to a place where I wouldn’t need a car for at least a year) it went to my cousin Maddie. It’s one of many cars I used to drive that I’d see in the driveway at a family Christmas party and think to myself “wait, am I already here?”

I had a new job with a daily commute of about 100 miles roundtrip, (it was also up hill both ways in the snow and that’s not hyperbole, just google “Cherry Valley, NY”), and my little Hyundai just wasn’t cutting it. I needed something with a little more oomph. But as I reached for my phone to call my Dad and ask him who may be looking to get rid of a car with some oomph, Travis stopped me and informed me that there was another way to acquire cars. A method people without a giant family have been using since the dawn of cars… something called “car shopping.” I cringed at the thought but begrudgingly agreed to go on a few test drives. After dragging me to a couple of dealerships where I rolled my eyes and whined like an ungrateful teenager, we both decided it would be best for me to just give him my list of wants (stick shift, cruise control, can go up hills without dying, unlikely to catch on fire spontaneously, and most importantly, longevity, because I don’t want to be doing this again in two years!), and a general budget ($0 would be great but there’s a little wiggle room, I suppose).

Travis always loved the cars he drove and felt a connection to them, but that had never been my experience. They were just transportation. But my Subaru was different. I could see our future when I looked at that car – kids in the backseat and dog in the rear cargo area, driving to Thanksgiving in Delaware, or on a cross country trip visiting all of the National Parks on our bucket list. I envisioned us bringing our babies home from the hospital in that car, driving them to their first t-ball practices, and I saw myself vacuuming dog hair and goldfish crackers out of the seat crevices. These humble dreams were exactly what Travis had in mind when he lovingly selected this particular car after meticulously reviewing everything that was on the market.

Unfortunately, we didn’t get kid miles. No, we got chemo miles. The car was everything we needed as we drove the 110 mile roundtrip loop to therapy appointments and various treatments on an almost daily basis for the better part of two years (often uphill both ways in the snow). It was safe, reliable, and never failed to get in or out of our insanely steep hillside driveway even after a snowstorm (who knew shopping for a car that had 8 inches of ground clearance was so important??). Instead of bringing babies home from the hospital my Subaru brought Travis home from the hospital after three brain surgeries and a month in the ICU. There were no spontaneous family road trips with our kids, or cross country adventures, but it did deliver us safely to meticulously planned last vacations while comfortably carrying a dog in the backseat and a wheelchair in the rear cargo area. It moved us from New York to Ohio when I needed more help taking care of Travis in his final months of life. And it picked up Travis’ ashes from the funeral home and carried them from Ohio to New Hampshire, and the final resting place he had selected for himself.

For the second time this year my Subaru is in the shop for some pretty major and costly repairs (not surprising for a car with 200,000+ miles). I sadly fear its time to start… shopping. It breaks my heart to think about the joy he would have taken in selecting the right features for our next phase of life. But, harder still is watching the pieces of him that do still exist in my daily life slowly fade and disappear. His coats no longer smell like him because I wear them so much, and his socks now just look like my socks on my feet. The last of the pieces of furniture he picked out for our old house are now in my house, a place where he never lived. The puppy he gave me for our first Christmas together (who he hand picked from a shelter after a painstaking search because I said I wanted a dog who would go on long hikes, and was big but not too big ) is now approaching 13 years old and needs to be helped up onto my (not our) bed at night. And his cat, well the vet assures me that his cat is the kind of cat who is just ornery enough to live forever so I guess some things don’t change…

But the car, my car, has been a bit of a safe space for me these past two years as I have navigated life without Travis. I have kept his sunglasses on the dash right where he left them, since the day he died, because I just can’t bear to take them out (and because the medication he’s on makes him light sensitive so he needs them whenever we go anywhere). I still put my hand on the seat where his legs should be because when I put my hand on his knee he’d put his hand on top of mine and rub my thumb with his thumb, and I swear I can still feel it when my hand is in that spot on the seat.

I was returning home from delivering Christmas presents to the home of a fellow brain cancer widow when the odometer ticked up over 200,000 miles this past December. The baby he never met but that we had always hoped for was sleeping soundly in the backseat, the dog in the rear cargo area. I cried and patted the passenger seat next to me right where Travis’ knee was for the majority of those 200,000 miles. I double-checked the center console to make sure his sunglasses were still there, just in case he needed them, and continued cruising on to mile 200,001.

For this child I prayed.

My daughter was a preemie. At 4.5 lbs she was by far the tiniest baby I had ever held, but she was among the bigger babies on the block in the NICU. The doctors called her an “easy baby” when they’d round on her, a process that took no more than a few minutes because she really didn’t have too many major challenges. She hadn’t yet figured out that food was delicious (which made me question whether or not she was really my child) and thus had to be fed through a nasogastric tube. And when she did eat she’d occasionally get so into the experience that she’d forget to breathe (which sounds a lot more like me as anyone who has ever seen me go to town on a plate of nachos can attest). She just needed a couple of weeks to catch up, weeks she should have still had on the inside but that were stolen from her by her total lack of patience (another trait she acquired from me).

Now don’t get me wrong, having an “easy” baby doesn’t make living the NICU life any less terrifying. I have yet to experience anything more difficult than the pain of walking away from a hospital after giving birth and leaving my baby behind (and I’ve been through some stuff). But looking around at the other babies, several of whom had 100+ day badges pinned to their cribs, gave me an appreciation for just how easy my little girl was. We were home in under two weeks which means the majority of my sleepless nights in the past 3.5 months (which is just over 100 days) have been spent with her by my bedside rather than in a hospital several miles away.

I got to know some of the other NICU parents during our brief stay, even though COVID restrictions kept us from congregating and chatting in common spaces. The 100+ day parents had clear routines down pat. Moms and Dads would come and go in shifts often working around the needs of other children at home as well as their work schedules, having long ago run out of maternity/paternity leave at their jobs. Their not so easy babies received a lot more attention than mine. Many were recovering from operations or waiting to see if they could gather enough strength in their tiny bodies to undergo another procedure (and another and another and another). I was in awe of the strength each parent had, and couldn’t help but get caught up in their stories as they talked about the challenges their itty bitty babies had already faced in their very short lives.

But there were no parents visiting the little girl in the bed next to my own child’s. She was a baby who was born nearly six weeks ahead of my Logan, but was still only about half her size. I marveled at the tiny hand that would occasionally reach up and seemingly wave at me from inside the isolette. I longed to touch her and ached for her to receive the same loving embraces that the children around her were receiving. It’s not that she wasn’t getting any attention, quite the opposite actually. Unlike my easy baby this little girl was anything but. She had round the clock 1:1 nursing coverage, generally with the most experienced NICU nurse on the shift from what I could gather, so the chair next to her crib was almost never empty. When her alarms would go off, which was often, an entire team would gather to attend to whatever need had arisen. And there were no fewer than four hands on her for every diaper change so that no wire or tube was out of place for any longer than necessary.

I had a lot of time to think in the hours I spent each day holding and rocking my new baby. I wondered why the little girl in the corner was alone (or at least as alone as a baby can be with such amazing and extensive care). I thought about my own struggle to have a child and how long I’d waited to become a mother. I thought about how my little girl was going to grow up without her Dad, how heartbreaking that was for most people to grasp, and yet here was a little girl who was beginning her life without either parent at her side. And I thought about people in my life who were waiting to adopt, who had hoped and prayed for a child of their own, and how they too would ache to see such a sweet tiny soul lying alone in a tiny hospital bed.

Each morning as I walked by her crib I would say hello and good morning, and say a prayer that she would overcome each obstacle that was placed in her way while waiting patiently for whatever parent or parents God had planned for her. Before heading home in the evenings I’d remind both little girls to behave, mind the nurses, and not stay up all night giggling. And then, after kissing my little girl goodnight, I’d smile at the baby girl in the corner and say another silent prayer before leaving both babies behind.

On the day I left the hospital with my little girl in my arms I cried happy tears mixed with a few sad ones as I watched that tiny hand in the corner reach up and wave one last time. It broke my heart not knowing what would become of her. Was she strong enough to fight through all of the challenges that face the world’s tiniest babies? Would she be adopted into a loving home? Would the world be kinder to her as the years went by than it had been in her earliest days of life?

A month or so after our homecoming one of those friends who was waiting to adopt posted on social media that she’d finally gotten the call she had been waiting for. She and her husband were the proud new parents of a beautiful 6 lb baby girl, who just needed to spend a little more time growing in the NICU. My mind immediately went to that little girl in the corner isolette. I was thrilled for the new parents, and for the little girl they were adopting, and their story filled me with hope that the little girl I’d prayed for had found her happily-ever-after story as well.

But as I read the details of their adoption story it all seemed a little too coincidental. The birthdate. The timeline. Sure, she weighed 6 lbs now, but she was already nearing four months old so she had to have been one of those itty bitty little preemies at one point. I didn’t want to pry, but I just had to know and so I sent a message to the new mom asking for a few extra details, and to my surprise and delight, confirmed that the newly adopted baby girl was the same child for whom I had prayed. She was alive. She was growing, more than three times the size she had been the last time I saw her. And she had finally made her way into the loving arms of her parents.

In addition to the prayers for a long, happy life and loving home for this little girl, I had also asked for a sign that she was ok. The worrying part of being a new mom came very naturally to me, so it feels great to no longer worry about whether or not she’ll be cared for. I feel privileged to be able to watch her grow up through the magical lens of social media. And maybe one day I’ll even have the chance to drop Logan off for a sleepover and before heading home remind her to behave, mind Sophia’s mom and dad, and not stay up all night giggling, before saying a silent prayer for both little girls.

“For this child I prayed, and the Lord hath given me my petition which I asked of him.” 1 Samuel 1:27-28

All of the Questions You Wanted to Ask…

There is this strange cultural phenomenon that takes place when you become pregnant. When you walk around visibly carrying another human in your womb, a large subset of the population seems to think that you’ve completely given up your right to privacy and personal space. People stare at you, touch you, and ask you a whole bunch of unsolicited questions. Most of the questions tend to be pretty harmless, but it’s not uncommon for friends, family members, and even complete strangers to just strike up conversations about your future parenting choices, how you conceived your child, and even ask you very specific questions about parts of your anatomy.

When telling someone that I’m expecting my deceased husband’s baby (while there is generally a period of stunned silence), more often than not I’ve found that I’m inundated with even more questions. In the interest of transparency and simplicity I’ve created a list of actual questions that I’ve heard in one form or another from people with a lot of curiosity surrounding my very personal decision to pursue becoming a solo parent via ART (assistive reproductive technology), following the death of my husband. I’m considering getting an “everything you think you need or have the right to know about my pregnancy” pamphlet printed to distribute rather than repeating many of these answers, but for now the magic of the internet will have to suffice.

Now, I can’t stress this enough. It is perfectly ok to ask people not to touch your belly and decline to answer their questions about your cervix, nipple size, and whether or not you’re going to sleep train your infant. Got that pregnant people? A perfectly acceptable answer to all of these questions (or any other question you may encounter) is “it’s none of your damn business!” With that being said here is a list of questions that you may have wanted to ask about my very personal decision to have my dead husband‘s baby.

You’ve said that this is Travis’s baby, but I mean, is it really Travis’ baby? 

Yes, this is really Travis’ baby. If I went on the Maury Povich show for a DNA test he would say without a doubt that Travis is the father. Conceiving this child was a three year process and Travis has been with me every step of the way, even after he physically left my side.

You seem to have waited a long time to tell people about this pregnancy, why the big secret? 

There are a lot of reasons why I’ve kept my pregnancy pretty private up until this point (more than half way through). First and foremost, it’s a pretty complex situation and so I wanted to make sure that I was comfortable discussing everything before I let a lot of people into this part of my life. It’s just not as simple as “we’re expecting!” when half of the “we” isn’t there to revel in the news. Things were further complicated by the fact that in the beginning of this pregnancy there were initially two heartbeats that unfortunately became just one around week #10. When you couple that with a previous miscarriage that means that I have lost 2/3 of the babies that I’ve ever carried. Anyone who has experienced pregnancy loss knows how painful it is to un-tell people who have already started to love your baby right along with you, and so I became pretty apprehensive about sharing the news.

Consequently, it’s really taken this long for me to feel truly connected to this pregnancy. I liken it to Sandra Bullock’s character in Bird Box referring to her children as “girl and boy” until she feels like they’re safe. I love and want this child more than I’ve loved or wanted anything in my life, but until recently when I started to regularly feel them wiggling around I just wasn’t ready to let them be real. Now that I’m there, I am pretty excited to be sharing this news with the world. Also, no one was buying the “I ate a lot over the holidays” excuse anymore so I guess it’s time…

What are you having? 

Well, I’m pretty sure it’s a human baby but Travis was pretty hairy so I guess part-bear-cub is also a strong possibility.

Ha ha… that’s funny,  but seriously, what… what is it? 

Oh, right, you and everyone else seem to be oddly curious about my child’s genitals. I’ve decided to be surprised, but rest assured that the doctor feels that whatever genitals this baby has are developing normally. I’ve also heard those ultrasounds can be pretty inaccurate anyways. I’ve had a few friends and family members who have been unexpectedly surprised in the delivery room, and a couple more who have told us all a few decades after their birth that we were dead wrong about their gender.

Aren’t fertility treatments expensive? How could you afford this, especially after the insanely high cost of your husband’s cancer care

Fertility treatments are very expensive. We were fortunate enough to be eligible for assistance from Livestrong Fertility, a program that helps cancer patients and survivors become parents. Although, I’m pretty sure from reading the fine print that I’ll forever have to introduce this child as being “made possible in part by a grant from the Livestrong foundation…,” I am incredibly grateful to be starting my life as a parent without the financial burden that can come with pursing fertility treatments. After all, I’ve heard actual babies are pretty expensive, too.

Speaking of finances, at least you’ll be able to get social security benefits for your child on their late father’s behalf, right? 

Unfortunately, it seems likely that will not be the case. Conceiving children after the death of one’s partner is not super common, but happens often enough that the Supreme Court has made a ruling to leave this decision up to the states. My state is among the few who have weighed in on the issue and have decided not to extend benefits to biological children conceived after the death of a parent. While I can certainly understand the argument from both sides I would of course appreciate being able to have this child benefit from the system that my husband paid into for 20+ years only to die before being able to benefit from it himself. With that being said, Travis was a very responsible guy and was able to provide some financial means for his wife and the child he hoped we would have. I’d love more stability, but I have so many more advantages than other solo parents starting out.  I’m grateful for that and I think we’ll be ok.

Have you picked out names?

Travis and I picked out names together but I reserved the right to meet the child and make sure the name fits before officially signing any paperwork. This part will be a surprise as well.

Why didn’t you do this while Travis was alive? 

That’s a tough one. We both wanted and expected children to be a part of our relationship. We experienced one miscarriage before his diagnosis and were unsuccessful in conceiving through the fertility program we worked with while he was still alive. Many people think fertility treatments are a slam dunk, especially given the financial investment most individuals/couples must make, but the reality is that it often takes many attempts to successfully conceive a child and success isn’t a guarantee. We tried, but unfortunately it just didn’t work out in time for his children to be a part of his life.

Have you had any cravings? 

Not really cravings, but this kid has definitely made their voice heard when it comes to food preferences. I want raw vegetables and grilled fish about 90% of the time. I’ve tried to talk the kid into iced cream, cookies or a big juicy cheeseburger on numerous occasions, but thus far they just keep telling me to make us another kale salad and a bun-less salmon burger. I don’t think I started disappointing my parents for at least a few years after my birth, but this kid is really sucking the fun out of what I’ve heard are the more enjoyable parts of pregnancy.  I guess it’s a good thing that Travis isn’t here for that part… he would be so disappointed to find that his kid, at least for the moment, seems to basically be a vegetarian.

I have a friend going through IVF right now. Any advice on how to make sure she’s successful? 

Well, I had two failed embryo transfers before this one decided to grab on to my uterine lining and try to make it in the real world (there’s a lot more science behind it but I’ll leave it up to you to consult with Dr. Google for as much information on the process as you’re interested in acquiring). The only thing I did differently in preparation for the third one/only successful one was complete a marathon the day before the procedure. That’s right, 26.2 miles seems to be the ticket to a successful implantation for this sample size of one! And please let me know what your friend says when you tell her that’s all she has to do if she wants to conceive.

You’re 35, isn’t that a little old to be having a baby? 

Well, medically speaking I am of “advanced maternal age,” and my pregnancy is classified as “geriatric.” But no, no I don’t think I’m too old. The baby is developing beautifully. And, I’m just not going to say any more about this one.

The other age question — You’re only 35, you’re so young! Isn’t this kind of a panic move? I mean, you really just freaked out and did this on a whim because you think you won’t meet someone that will want to have a family with you…

Well, what can I say… I did meet someone. As a couple we were a very happy family of two for more than a decade. We wanted children together. We tried to have children together, and then he died. Maybe I will meet another someone at some point and we’ll mutually want those things together as well, and maybe I won’t. Regardless, I am ready for this next step now and while it would never be my first choice I am ready to take on this challenge of solo-parenting.

And let me be clear when I say that nothing about this decision was done out of panic. There were doctors, counselors, faith leaders and trusted friends who helped me understand the gravity, timing, and preparation for this decision. My husband and I made the choice to go down this road knowing that he was terminal upon diagnosis, and that if we were successful in conceiving the most likely outcome was me raising our child as a single parent. I put my body through months of tests, medications and self-administered injections, and I can tell you that no one would be able to get through that experience on a whim. This process was at most a decade and at least three years in the making, and I’ve never been more confident in a decision than I am in this one.

And yes, a stranger on the internet actually said this to me when I was visiting an online chat group. Beware the trolls. 

Why don’t you just adopt? 

I’ve always wanted a big family and Travis and I often talked about adoption. I’m very open to a life with more children whether they’re biologically my own or someone else’s. With his cancer diagnosis we made the decision to preserve our ability to create children together. With a post-surgical break before beginning chemotherapy we had a window of opportunity to make those preparations before his contribution to the process would have become unviable (something not all cancer patients have the opportunity to do). We were then blessed to be given the financial means to complete that process (again, thank you Livestrong Fertility), and then among the lucky ones (less than 50% by most statistics) for whom assistive reproductive technology resulted in what has thus far been a healthy pregnancy. The stars aligned for me for this particular means of becoming a mother, and if they hadn’t I would likely be looking into alternative options including adoption.

Do you know what the Catholic church says about IVF? 

I do. I was raised Catholic and my faith is a big part of my life. I was also raised to question, pray, and discern my own path. I’ve made choices in my life that are counter to the Church’s teaching, and the Church currently teaches many things that are counter to the beliefs that my prayerful discernment has led me to. So I’ll just say this: I am always grateful to have the guidance and wisdom of my faith behind me when I make a major decision in my life. I didn’t approach this decision lightly and have spent many hours reading and considering both scientific and faith based writings on in vitro fertilization and other assistive reproductive technologies. I am confident in the decision I have made, comfortable with the process I used to help create this pregnancy, and hopeful that the life I have been given the opportunity to develop, and God willing bring into this world, will be welcomed by the faith community in which I was raised.

Isn’t it kind of unfair to bring a baby into this world without a father? 

Yes, it is completely unfair that this child will never have a chance to meet their father in person. But I hate to break this to you, literally every single person who was or will be born after February 6th, 2019 has been given a bit of a disadvantage in life because they will never have the opportunity to meet my amazing husband. But the world has kept on turning and presumably will continue to do so. I believe that there is so much good in this world and I am excited to have the opportunity to share that good as a parent. I will do everything in my power to help my child know the man who helped make them and who wanted so desperately to be their dad.

The magnitude of his absence was already quite palpable, but it has absolutely been compounded by his absence during this pregnancy. Travis would have loved this (and not just because my boobs are bigger than they’ve ever been). He loved taking care of me, and especially after years of being the patient he would have been thrilled to have the opportunity to support me through this experience. I would give anything to have him back in this world for me, for our child, for everyone who loved him, and for everyone who never had the chance to know him. Everything about this is unfair.

Aren’t you scared to do this on your own? 

I wouldn’t say that I’m scared. I have no illusions that this will be easy but I’ve gotten pretty used to life being hard. If suddenly something was simple that’s probably when the fear would kick in. And I also wouldn’t say that I’m doing this alone. You’ve probably heard the saying that it “takes a village to raise a child.” And if there’s one thing I’ve learned in all of the challenges that I’ve faced in the past 4 years, it’s that Travis and I have a pretty damned good village.

I’m Ready to Love Again

I was 23 when I met the man who would become my husband. A few months after we started dating, a close friend of mine asked me if I thought he was “The One.” I had no concept, at the time, of who I wanted to be as an individual person let alone how to work another human being into that equation. I thought about it a bit and I said the only thing that made sense to my still developing, young adult brain…  “I don’t know if he’s ‘the one,’ but what I do know is that he is someone I want him to be in my life for a very long time.” Four years later I said “I do” when asked if I would love him for as long as we both shall live, idealistically converting “a very long time” into forever, and thereby declaring him “the one.” But just six years after that I watched him take his last breath, in that moment realizing that we wouldn’t get forever or even “a very long time” (although as a 23 year old I may have considered a decade to be just that), and if he was “the one” his departure meant I could be living without love by my side for an actual “very long time.”

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They say that to have loved and lost is better than to have never loved at all. And while I’ve come to believe that may be partially true, the full truth is that losing a love is so cripplingly painful that avoiding it all together often seems like it may have been the better choice to begin with. While you are grateful for the time spent in love and the memories you made, the reality is that each of those memories has become colored by the loss you eventually experienced. An entire epoch of your life now defined by the tragic way it ended.

And these losses are not just limited to experiences with death. Anyone who has been through a difficult breakup knows that feeling of despair as you grapple with the major changes in your life that come with saying goodbye to a relationship. You were two, and now you’re just you, and it’s scary and confusing and just plain hard. Food tastes different. Songs you once loved now make you cry or scream or roll your eyes. And every plan you made for a future together has now been erased and you alone have to discern what comes next.

Likewise, losing love is not limited to just partner loss. My husband was in a sense “the one,” even if he was only the one for an unfairly short time in my life. But I have a mom who is also “the one” and only one of those I’ll get. My sister is the “the one” and only one of those I’ve ever had, and although my dad actually has six sisters I’m sure he’d say they are each individually “the one” in their own unique way. My brother, my father, each of my grandparents, family members and friends have been “the one” version of that individual that I will get in my life. Those that I have already lost have proven themselves irreplaceable, and as I inevitably say goodbye to others through the twists and turns that life brings my way I’ll have to grapple with the devastation that comes from saying goodbye to the love I have shared with each.

The impact of losing my husband instantly made me want to shut out the possibility of any new love from my life. His manner of death made the grief exceptionally hard as for more than a year we were practically joined at the hip as the cancer gradually took away his eyes, his legs, and his ability to form complete sentences. Everywhere we went we walked in lockstep with my left arm around his waist and our right hands clasped together. I could guide him away from something that was not within his field of vision using only gentle touches, a perfectly understood code that we developed seemingly overnight without any conversation or coordination. And without fail I could somehow read his mind and complete his sentences when the words weren’t there for him. The cruelty of the disease required us to become more than just partners. He needed me and I needed him as this supporting spouse role gave me a sense of purpose like I’d never felt before.

I have never experienced any greater love than to be trusted to care for someone in their most vulnerable moments, and yet the agony of getting to that point is something I’d never wish to experience again. How could I possibly let myself get close to someone else knowing that it could lead to this same type of pain? But gradually over the last year the incredible weight of this loss has become bearable. It’s still there. It hasn’t gone away or even lessened. But there are little rays of sunshine poking through the clouds hanging over the decade of life we lived together. I smile when I think about him and my still frequent tears are now, more often than not, ones of joy rather than despair. And in spite of the potential for pain, I’m confident that I’m ready to love again.

Now you may think that what comes next is an announcement that I met someone, and that I’m crazy head over heels in love with them, and that I think they may just be “the one.” And, that’s partially true. I have fallen in love with someone, but I haven’t actually met them yet. If all goes well, I will be meeting them on or around June 10th.

image0This isn’t how Travis and I imagined welcoming our first child into the world, but nothing about my life for the last 3 or 4 years is in any way how I imagined it would be. We started a pre-chemo family planning process not long after his initial diagnosis in hopes that he would somehow beat a seemingly unbeatable cancer, or at least be here long enough to meet his children. Watching and feeling this child grow over the past five months has been an incredible experience. I can’t wait to meet them and shower them with all of the love that I am so ready to give. I can’t wait to hold them in my arms and tell them that they are truly, and without a shadow of a doubt, The One.

Read my next post for answers to many of the questions you may have after reading this post: https://staringintothesun.home.blog/2020/02/08/all-of-the-questions-you-wanted-to-ask/

 

 

She’s not Megan

My dog recently suffered a loss. It was the kind of a loss that I know a little something about. The loss of a partner. The loss of the one you used to “do life” with. The loss of a best friend.

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Megan & Duncan, December 2008

Duncan first met the love of his life in 2008, about an hour after Travis and I adopted him from a shelter in Ohio. Megan, my parent’s black lab/golden retriever/who the hell really knows mix was about three at the time, and just aching for some canine companionship. And Duncan, an abandoned puppy who never knew his mother was in desperate need of some maternal guidance. Their eyes locked, their tails wagged in unison, and in that moment they both discovered exactly what had been missing from their lives. Each other.

While Duncan would go on to spend most of his life in New York, and Megan lived out all 14 of her years as an Ohio resident, the pair spent a significant amount of time together. My parents, who regularly traveled the I-90 corridor en route to visit my sister in the greater Boston area, would drop Megan off for days or sometimes even weeks at a time. She’d settle in to our menagerie with ease, somehow even co-existing peacefully with our cats in spite of her overtly murderous nature. Likewise, when we were scheduled for extensive travel, we’d make arrangements for my parents to care for Duncan. When we’d split them up after a long, or even a short visit both would spend the subsequent days pouting before eventually returning to their individual routines.

When Travis was diagnosed with a brain tumor in 2016 my parent’s asked if there was anything they could do. “Can you come get Duncan?” I asked, knowing that dealing with the impending chaos would be easier without worrying about our dog, and knowing that they’d be at our door step as fast as their Hyundai could carry them. Duncan would remain with them throughout much of the 28 months of Travis’ illness. Even during the periods where Travis enjoyed relatively good health it was nearly impossible to juggle constant medical appointments two hours away and properly care for a dog (especially one as spoiled as Dunc). He missed us, that was apparent each time he visited, but living with Megan was hardly a consolation prize, as he flourished with her by his side.

As the end of Travis’ life neared I let both of my parents know that I was going to need Duncan to help me get through the immediate aftermath of losing my husband. I worried a bit that he wouldn’t come willingly, that he’d spent too much time bonding with Megan (not to mention bonding with my Dad’s running schedule, and my mom’s endless supply of dog snacks) to leave and return to a life with me and the cats. Much to my surprise and delight, he immediately fell into my routine (or lack there of). It may have had something to do with the fact that in those early days after Travis died I walked, a lot. I didn’t know what else to do so I just wandered. I’d grab Duncan’s leash and we’d just go. My step-counting app would read 6 miles, and I’d have no idea how it got there. Duncan was far from reluctant in helping me through this particular manifestation of grief that I was experiencing, he likewise had no trouble assisting me through the long naps that followed the long hikes. We were a good team.

Unfortunately, Megan didn’t fare so well. My parents reported that she didn’t want to take walks or really even leave the house. She was approaching 14 years old and with the large quantity of lumps distributed throughout her entire body she seemed, at that point, to be more cancer than dog. They feared her end was nigh and asked if they could bring her for a visit. Her visit would end up lasting the better part of three months as she suddenly perked up once Duncan was back in her life.

Her vision and hearing seemed to be significantly impaired, which explained her hesitance to take walks without Duncan by her side. He displayed an incredible amount of empathy and patience for his companion as she slowed down.  Our six mile days ended as Megan couldn’t quite keep up with that pace. Duncan didn’t seem to mind slowing down for her, adopting her schedule, and giving way to her needs. The dog who regularly stares me down at 6:00am, demanding that we walk now (right now!), was instead patiently waiting for Megan’s aching joints to wake up each morning, as shorter mid-day adventures became our new routine.

I was perfectly equipped to handle this sort of doggy-home-hospice situation, having just been through it with my own human companion. I was working mostly from home making me available to walk Meg whenever she was awake enough to go. I was occupying a house with which Megan was familiar, having spent the majority of her life there. And I was dealing with significant grief that included feeling a lack of purpose having spent the better part of three years providing care for a man who was no longer in need of anything from me.

Each day Megan seemed a bit slower, and a little less capable. But she was eating, drinking, playing and smiling so it seemed best to just let her live her life rather than providing any intervention. And then, on a warm Sunday evening in June, Duncan watched helplessly as the love of his life suddenly lost the ability to stand up on her own. Just hours before they’d hiked a solid two miles and danced in a river together, and now this. He stared at me, his eyes begging me to do something to fix her and make it better, while somehow knowing that there was nothing that could be done. He said goodbye in the same room where they’d first met nearly 11 years prior, and stood by quietly as my dad and I helped her into the back end of my Subaru for her last ride.

Duncan’s grief seemed to manifest itself in much the same way that mine had a few months prior, with a need to wander. We’d find a trail to hike and he’d insist on taking every side trail we encountered until the miles began to rack up. It was 7 miles that first day, 6 the next, we’d hit 8 on Wednesday that week. We’d get home from a walk, he’d nap for a few hours and then begin asking for another walk. How could I say no? Each time my parents visited he looked for Megan hoping she’d get out of their car. Instinctively he knew she wouldn’t be there, but he still looked, just in case.

A few weeks back a dog did emerge from their car. You see, while the options for finding reliable human companionship after you lose your life partner are few and far between (and sometimes creepy and terrifying), there are shelters and rescue organizations that can help you find new four-legged friends pretty quickly. They’re just there, waiting, wagging and wanting your love. And while they can never replace what we’ve lost, they seem to need us as much as we need them.

Ms. Halle Berry, my parent’s recently adopted awkward, gangly, chocolate lab/who the hell really knows mix, immediately locked eyes with Duncan and embraced him as the mentor she’d been waiting her whole short life to meet. Duncan’s greeting was less than enthusiastic, but not entirely unfriendly, and he’s even allowed himself to enjoy her company on occasion during their brief time together. He’s approached his relationship with this new recruit, in a manner similar to most of his other dog encounters. Duncan can be friends with other dogs on Duncan’s terms and when it’s convenient or desirable for Duncan. It’s often confusing for the other dog especially those for whom Duncan assigns the status of “outside friends,” which is exactly what it sounds like. Duncan’s “outside friends” are dogs that he will only play with outside, immediately ignoring and shunning them as soon as they step inside a building.

Halle is a wonderful companion and has started to fill in small pieces of the Megan-sized holes that were left in my parent’s hearts. She seems bound and determined to make Duncan fall in love with her, courting his affections in every way she can think including punching him, dropping toys on his head while he sleeps, chewing on his face, and body slamming him as she runs full force across the yard. Mostly he ignores her, occasionally acquiescing to her advances with something that resembles friendship. Unfortunately for Halle there’s just not much she can do to change Duncan’s opinion of her (although less face biting might help some). In Duncan’s mind there really are only two dogs who have existed in this world aside from himself – Megan, and everyone else. And thus she suffers from the same fatal flaw as every dog he’s ever met. She’s not Megan.

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Duncan & Halle – 2019

 

I Never Expected Apathy

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We’ve all heard of the five stages of grief – denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance – originally presented to the world by Elizabeth Kubler Ross. While never meant to represent a comprehensive and linear road map of the grieving process, the stages do give those dealing with grief some manageable expectations to work with. Her book was sort of a What to Expect When You’re Expecting (a Death) type guide to what comes next. No two death experiences are the same (just like no two birth experiences are the same), but there are enough commonalities in our emotional and physical symptoms that a written guide can certainly give us a bit of a “heads-up” on what to expect.

When your spouse is given a terminal cancer diagnosis, the grieving starts long before they’re actually gone. You grieve losses both big and small from the moment you realize that you’re likely dealing with borrowed time. I grieved for our future, our big plans, and the life I thought we’d have together. I grieved the sense of security we once had; that naive belief that nothing truly awful would ever happen to us because those things only happen to other people. I grieved the loss of his quirky smile (the one that used to kind of annoy me because it made his tongue show up in every picture we took) that seemingly disappeared overnight as the tumor on his brainstem began to alter his ability to control his facial movements. There were days when I knocked out all five stages of grief before we’d even had breakfast, and then hit them all again during my afternoon walk with the dog.

I’d promise whoever may be listening that I wouldn’t ask for anything else as long as I lived, if only I could keep Travis, and then think to myself, “oh that’s what they mean by ‘bargaining’!” I’d shake and cry in the shower making a combined show of anger and depression that would have terrified the cat watching from the sink if he actually had the capacity to care about anything besides me getting out to fill his food bowl. And I’d volley between denying what was truly happening and reaching total acceptance on an almost daily basis as I watched Travis decline, and began to think that he was reaching a point where the life he was living wasn’t really a life at all.

With all of this anticipatory grief surrounding me on a daily basis I felt pretty prepared for what was to come after he was gone. But just as Mothers-to-be who read all the books often find out that they actually have no clue what they’re doing, I would quickly discover that I wasn’t as prepared for grief as I thought I would be. In the past three months while I’ve hit (and hit and hit) all of the milestones that I expected, there was one key emotion that I didn’t expect. Apathy. I never expected to be so apathetic.

I’ve always been a doer. I get an idea in my head and I run with it. When I have a goal in mind I dive into it and carefully craft a plan for executing every detail of that plan. When Travis was diagnosed with brain cancer I researched treatments, drew up calendars to keep everything on schedule, and balanced his medical needs with his quality of life needs by managing his personal bucket list. It was the challenge that I had unknowingly been preparing for my entire life, and I like to think I rose to the occasion.

The moment he died I felt as if an incredible weight had been lifted from me. Although I never felt particularly burdened by being his caregiver, the magnitude of what I was living was never lost on me. The feelings associated with carrying a person through their final days are not just emotional, but physical and the relief that came with his departure from this life was palpable. A wave of calm washed over me and in the days that followed absolutely nothing bothered me. At first it was kind of nice, I was so carefree. But in hindsight I realized that being “free of cares” is really just another way of saying that “I don’t care.” In my mind the worst thing that I could imagine had already happened, so what did I have left to care about. I was truly apathetic, and that’s just not me.

I’d like to say that I was totally stoked when I heard about the Head to the Hill event sponsored by the National Brain Tumor Society. An opportunity to advocate for a cause I believe in on Capitol Hill? Old Julie would not have given a second thought to signing up. Apathetic Julie wasn’t so sure, but she forced herself to sign up as a part of her commitment to doing things that make her uncomfortable.

So I’m here in DC, ready to advocate and hoping to find the part of myself that knows that there are still things in this world that are worth caring about. I spent the day with about 300 people from around the country who each have a personal connection to brain cancer and a story to tell. We collectively prepared ourselves to advocate on behalf of our individual states in front of our congressional representatives, and together I’m confident that we can make an impact. I’m grateful to be in the company of people who really give a damn, and desperately hoping their collective passion will rub off on me, and help me find that piece of myself once again.

She Already Knows

On my 33rd birthday I wrote an open letter to my 23 year old self discussing the crazy twists and turns my life had taken during the decade of time that had just passed. I woke up on my 35th birthday with a similar desire to write to 25 year old me, but just couldn’t bring myself to tell her what her (0ur) life looks like today. How do you tell someone who is just about to get engaged, buy a house, and land her dream job that exactly ten years from that day she’ll be single, unemployed, living in her childhood home, and checking virtually all of the boxes on the crazy cat lady score card? While I seem to be falling short on providing proper guidance to my younger self at the moment, there is no shortage of advice being sent my way. With plenty of wisdom to choose from I thought perhaps I could cobble together something for her (me) from the advice of others, but I wasn’t quite sure where to begin.

I could start with the friend of a friend who told me that she was “a mess when her husband left her” but that she “reclaimed her life” by doing all of the things she couldn’t do when they were together. Even though my husband didn’t exactly leave but rather died, I put her advice into action and tried to think of things that the confines of my marriage had prevented me from doing. All I could come up with, however, was watching movies with Ashton Kutcher in them and wearing colorful pants. Travis and I were so insanely compatible that those are literally the only two things I could think of that he despised, that I might actually like. And after perusing the Kutcher compendium on Netflix and browsing the vast world of floral leggings available in online stores, I’ve come to the conclusion that he may have actually been saving me from myself with these two very reasonable deal-breakers.

There was also the more practically focused advice from the 91 year old widow who cornered me after a church service and recommended that I invest in a life alert button since I’m “all alone now and could fall and be on the floor for days before anyone knew.” While being seen as a peer by a nonagenarian could be a shock to 25 year old me’s system, at least then she’d know that she’s not alone in all of this. My new friend had further offered to help me gain residence in her retirement community, but I had to stop short of filling out the application when she told me I wasn’t actually eligible to live there until I was 55. Perhaps someday 65 year old me will be able to reach 55 year old me and let us all know if this gels with our future plans.

Of course I also need to consider the potential impact on the cosmos if one of these letters were to somehow actually reach her (me). I’m not exactly sure how time travel works, but I’ve read enough science fiction to know that confronting one’s younger self with bad news is a recipe for disaster in the form of disrupted timelines and alternate realities. 25 year old me was a real go-getter. Who knows what calamities she’d inadvertently set off in pursuit of changing her fate. Worse yet, what moments of joy she may have caused us to miss as she sought to avoid her (our) own sorrow.

No, it’s better not to try and reach her. It’s better not to warn her of the things that lie ahead. After all, she already knows everything she needs to know to get through what’s to come. She knows she loves Travis and that being his wife is something she both wants and feels called to do. But she also knows that he’s not her better half (and she is not his). She knows that considering herself to be only a fraction of a person in need of finding her missing piece is at best a tired fairy tale, and at worst a socially imposed mandate that makes those living a life without a partner feel somehow incomplete. She absolutely loves the life they’re building together, but she knows that what makes their relationship work is that they are both entirely whole people who don’t complete, but rather compliment each other extremely well. She already knows that if she is ever without him she will miss him terribly, but that she can indeed go on without him because she’s strong and will only become stronger with the love and support he’ll provide during the years she has him by her side. 35 year old me may require constant reminders of all of this, but 25 year old me is a lot smarter than she (I) thinks (thought). She already knows.

Staring into the Sun – One Month a Widow

I’m ok. Taking it one day at a time. Some days are better than others.

If you’ve spoken to me in the past month you’ve probably heard these responses to your questions about my general health and well being. If you haven’t spoken to me please rest assured that – I’m ok, taking it one day at a time, and that some days are better than others. Also, don’t feel bad if you haven’t spoken to me because I’m not much for talking at the moment – mostly because people keep asking me how I’m doing and I’m sick of saying that I’m ok and taking it one day at a time because some days are better than others.

I’d like it if we could be as blunt with each other as Mike the Verizon guy and I were when I finally had the energy to have my husband’s line disconnected after three weeks of paying for a service that he was decidedly no longer using.

Mike: Will your husband be keeping 
the line and activating service
with us or another company?
Julie: No, he's dead. 
Mike: Ok. Understood.

But, that wouldn’t be polite. Social convention dictates how our conversation should go. You ask me how I’m doing and I respond with one of the aforementioned platitudes that falls somewhere between the oft spoke – I’m good, great or well (there’s no way you’d buy that anyways)and saying anything that would result in you asking more questions about how I’m actually doing.

The reality is that I’m not really ok. I am taking things slowly but it’s more like one minute at a time, and although some days are indeed better than others, most days during this past month have been pretty terrible. Losing my husband was the most painful, traumatic, horrifically terrifying experience I have ever had, and being forced to rebuild my life from the scraps of what once was, just plain sucks.

With 28 months to prepare for this moment you would think I would have been more prepared, especially since a grade 4 brain cancer diagnosis does not carry with it much hope. Even with the most aggressive course of treatment available we were told to expect no more than another year together, so the fact that he lived for two years and some change was somewhat miraculous. But still, we hoped. We hoped he’d be the odd one for whom all of the treatments worked. We hoped he’d be part of the mere 10% who live 5 years past diagnosis. We hoped he’d be the one who gave others hope spending the rest of his long life inspiring them by standing up and saying “look, I made it and you can too!”

We balanced our hope with reality because we understood that the odds were not in our favor. We talked about dying and funerals, what he would want his legacy to be, and discussed me moving on without him. But we couldn’t linger in those moments for too long. We had to keep hope firmly in our sights while giving only an occasional glance to reality. Staring at reality was like staring into the sun – a blindingly painful reminder of what was to come.

A month after his death and glancing at reality is no longer an option. While hope still exists it has now been banished to the periphery, and exists in a form that no longer matches the life I once knew. Glancing at this new version of hope hurts almost as much as staring at reality. And so I find myself just constantly staring into the sun.

But… I’m ok. Taking it one day at a time. Some days are better than others.