Year 4: Life is short & love is forever

Four years ago, while writing my wedding vows, I imagined a future with Bret: traveling the world, writing books together, moving to new cities, and finding adventures. I probably thought about the hardships, too. I figured we’d support each other through challenging careers and hold each other up through life’s struggles, whatever they may be. Maybe in the back of my mind I considered a far distant future after our parents had the chance to retire, travel, and live full lives when we’d have to say goodbye to them, but I never imagined losing my father so suddenly, so unexpectedly, and so young.

My dad is on the forefront of my mind all the time. I miss him so much that it hurts, and this pain impacts every aspect of my life including my relationship with Bret. Bret has assured me, a hundred times, that I’m still me and we’re still us, and we’ll survive this and continue to honor my dad and have him be a part of our lives forever. And I believe that. But still. The ground under my feet is unsteady.

One of the questions in my daily journal is: are you craving adventure or stability? Every year, I write: ADVENTURE! But this time? Stability. Stability because I feel unsettled and unsure of everything I’ve ever believed to be true. Nothing feels real and I’m not my normal optimistic, joyful, or adaptable self. And I hate that.

One thing that doesn’t feel real or make sense right now is time. I know that it’s May, technically, but most of the time, I feel stuck in those early weeks of January, and then I forget what month it actually is. I almost forgot about our anniversary, for example. I remember looking at Bret sometime in early March and saying, “Our anniversary is next week” and it was just a passing thought.

We realized our anniversary was the same day that our car, Sparky, was scheduled for service so we just went together at 7am and enjoyed the complimentary Panera bagels and coffee that Subaru serves while you wait. Then, we had typical work days. I don’t remember what we had for dinner, but after we ate, we opened a couple sweet cards from friends and family. I tried to reflect on the past year like I usually do, but it felt surreal in a bad way. It felt wrong because those past 12 months were wonderful until they weren’t.

In Year 4 of marriage, we:

  • Explored Scotland, England and Wales with new friends
  • Visited Bret’s parents’ in their new Florida home
  • Spent time with my family in a town my dad had always wanted to visit
  • Watched the Olympics (Bret LOVES the Olympics)
  • Celebrated Bret’s birthday in Asheville with friends
  • Attended the first JMU football game of the season
  • Had friends & family visit us in Boone
  • Watched the Gilmore Girls revival together
  • Spent an amazing time in Disney with my in-laws
  • Enjoyed a wonderful Christmas with my family

…but then my dad died. It still doesn’t feel possible. And my heart hearts.

One of my friends described the experience of losing her father as a “crack in the universe” where there is a definitive ‘before’ and ‘after’ and I already feel that so much. It’s impossible not to.

Since January, while attempting to navigate this life that doesn’t make sense, I’ve leaned on Bret in ways I never wanted to. He’s been there through uncontrollable tears and panic attacks. He’s brought me food and water and tissues on demand. He’s let me be angry without being angry in return. He’s dropped everything to drive me to Richmond (a 10 hour round trip), or to watch a family home video (17 of them), or whatever I’ve needed. He helped me set up a shelf in our living room to honor my dad when I decided I needed that done immediately, for example. Just, anything. I’m sure I’d be doing the same things for him if our situations were reversed. This reality we’re living: it’s just something I never, ever anticipated.

At some point when Bret was consoling me for the third time in a single day (I’ve cried more in the past few months than I’ve cried in our whole relationship), and listening to my same difficult questions, I told him I felt bad because he didn’t sign up for this, and he just said something like, “Of course I did. Remember that whole marriage vow thing?” which made me cry more.

Days after our actual anniversary, I realized we hadn’t taken our annual photo. It was snowing outside so Bret suggested we just stand outside on the deck. We set up the tripod and wore our matching JMU sweat pants:

Taking this photo felt sad and forced – completely different from every year before. I’m glad we have it now, though, that I see it added it to the collection:


Year OneYear Two | Tallahassee, FL


Year Three & Year Four | Boone, NC

Usually this is where I’d say cheers to year five, but I don’t know what I want for this year. I feel guilty even acknowledging this anniversary, to be honest.

We do have one big thing planned: we’re traveling to Japan. Bret is teaching in China this summer and I’m going to fly over and meet him in Tokyo when he’s done. Part of me wants to stay here, tucked away safe at home, but I have been dreaming about visiting Japan for years, and my dad encouraged me to take this trip from the start and again whenever I shared any hesitation in going. So I’m going for him. And for me. And to try to scrap together any semblance of hope that life can still be an exciting adventure.

Some days that does feel like a distant possibility, other days it doesn’t. For now, I’m just going to stay grounded in the truth that has never felt so true: life is short and love is forever.

Grief is Love

The days and weeks and now months after losing my dad have been filled with pain and sadness. My head and heart physically ache. My emotions are inconsistent and unpredictable. Time keeps passing, but I don’t feel it. Is it 9am? 11pm? January? April? It all feels the same. It is difficult to describe: how I can see one of my dad’s belongings and fall into uncontrollable tears, how an unexpected phrase can cause a panic attack, or how I can forget, for a moment, and then feel intense heartache over the fact that my dad isn’t physically here. Nearly every morning, when I wake up, I feel a reset of tremendous pain as the reality sets in. It’s been unimaginably difficult.

My dad’s memorial service was a sharp contrast to all of that. It was incredibly comforting to be in the presence of so many people who love my dad. Through tear-filled eyes and sleepless nights, my sister and I had written a tribute to my dad to share with everyone. Before I spoke, I remember pausing and just gazing at the crowd. The balcony’s were full, and there were people standing in the aisles. Hundreds and hundreds and hundreds of people paused their day to honor my dad, and that meant so much. You’d think it would have been difficult to stand up and talk through the grief, but I found strength and comfort in sharing these stories and I knew my dad was right there with us. I have been wanting to share an excerpt of what I read, and in time I probably will. Right now, all I want to share is one small thing I’ve learned in this horrible journey: grief is love.

As I’m re-evaluating everything in my life, I’m so grateful for my friends and family and my dad’s friends and colleagues who have reached out and who continue to reach out with cards full of happy memories of my dad and so much love and support. On my hardest days I re-read them. I love being reminded of the impact my dad had and continues to have on so many people. And I love knowing that I am not alone on this grief journey. It has made all the difference.


 

Stronger Better Faster 30

Well hello faithful readers! It’s been too long. Truthfully, it’s been difficult for me to write post-election. Seven weeks later, I’m still experiencing waves of shock. Every time I begin to feel a bit better, I learn that another under-qualified person with dangerous or degrading messages has been appointed by our president elect. I’ve grieved and allowed myself to feel angry and now I’m channeling that into action. I called my senator and a few offices in DC to voice my concerns, and I’m supporting organizations who still care about women + LGBT rights. I’m also looking for new opportunities to volunteer. I may not be able to change much on my own, but I can’t sleep if I don’t try.

All that’s to say, it’s a good thing that I started planning my 30th birthday before the election because otherwise, I probably wouldn’t have had a party at all. And that would have been sad because thirty is a big milestone and I love birthdays and I love parties.

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Great Britain Adventure: Days 5-7

It’s been a rough few days. Ever since I learned that Trump was elected, I’ve felt stunned. I respect our election process, but I’m heartbroken over this outcome. I feel hurt and abandoned and angry and scared. I know this horror story is going to be on the forefront of my mind for a while, but sometimes, you need to take a break from it all, practice some self-care, and find some healthy distractions. For me, that means doing yoga, watching Gilmore girls, talking to friends, and… reliving the incredible trip to Great Britain that I had this summer.

With that in mind, I’m going to go ahead and wrap up the last 3 days of our trip in one blog post. It’s going to be a long one so grab a cup of coffee or tea and get comfy. Here goes…

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2016 Election: Shaken

As I watched the 2016 election results roll in on Tuesday night, I was uneasy. Early results trended Trump. I went to sleep around midnight, feeling nervous, but with so many states too early to call, I had a sliver of hope.

I woke up at 3am, checked my phone, and I froze.

I texted some of my friends who were also awake and in shock. I was shaking. I had a panic attack. I’ve only felt this way a few times in my life. My chest was aching, I had trouble catching my breath, and I was too stunned to cry.

When I look at Donald Trump, I see every man who’s ever sexually assaulted me. Continue reading

This is Boone | Starry Night edition

A few weeks ago, I spent a Saturday night on my friends’ back porch. We were rocking in rocking chairs, staring up at the stars, and drinking beer and homemade moonshine while there were guns and/or firecrackers firing in the not-so-distant distance. We were enjoying a good conversation and I had one of those moments like I did when I first put on snow boots or that time I wore flannel to brunch where I thought… this is Boone. This is my Boone life.

And then I picked up my rental car the next morning and I drove up to DC for the week.

Sometimes I feel like I’m being pulled in different directions: working in DC and living in North Carolina. Continue reading

Great Britain Adventure: Loch Ness + Ben Nevis

In June, Bret and I spent one week in Great Britain. I planned on summarizing that week in a few blog posts this summer and I’ve really fallen behind on those (sorry!) but I’m back. Here’s Day 4! (You can catch up on the first few days here).

After a completely perfect day exploring our new favorite city: Edinburgh, Scotland, we woke up early as usual, packed our backpacks, and enjoyed a traditional Scottish breakfast in the hotel. Then, we boarded the bus and began our drive up to Inverness! Continue reading

James Madison and Me

Weekend before last weekend was the best weekend.

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Bret and I knew we wanted to take a trip to enjoy Labor Day weekend. I wanted the beach – any beach – but Wrightsville and Myrtle Beach are the closest and they are still 5+  hours away. Bret wanted to go to Knobels and Hershey Park with his friends in PA. That is about 8 hours away. Nothing seemed ideal and we couldn’t decide, and then we learned that it was JMU’s opening football game, and instantly, the decision was made. Continue reading

Great Britain Adventure: Edinburgh, Scotland!

The first thing you need to know about our experience in Edinburgh is this: Scotland is usually cold and gray and dreary. It often rains. We were prepared for a chilly, gray day.

Instead, we got this:

Edinburg Castle

The weather was BEAUTIFUL and warm and sunny, and everyone was in an extra joyful mood because of it. Bret and I got to spend half the day with a local who was a friend of a new friend we met on our tour, and he was completely in awe of the weather, too. Everyone was eating ice cream cones and lounging outside. All this is to say, my Edinburgh experience was not typical. Continue reading

Balconyfest 2016

It occurred to me recently that I have wildly different relationships with different friends.

I have my Boone/DC/Richmond friends. These are my local friends who I talk “everyday” life with: work, politics, family. We relate through our every day joys and concerns.

Then, I have my grad school/college/summer job Harrisonburg friends who I knew at a magical stage of life. A rare message from one of these people can light a spark in me. I miss these friends, and I’m grateful for our occasional chances to reconnect.

I also have my long-distance friends. Friendships tend to untether when life carries us in separate directions, but I’ve managed to hold on to a few long distance friends by writing letters. These friends are my interactive journals, essentially. I can reach out to them for advice and reassurance and be my real, unfiltered self. Letter writing is good for the soul.

And finally, I have these women right here.

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Great Britain Adventure: Bus Drives to Edinburgh!

We spent most of Day 2 on the bus traveling to Edinburgh. When we first looked at this trip’s itinerary, we were most excited about visiting Edinburgh (and we loved it so much!) but the journey there was grueling. I mean, we were chilling on a bus listening to music and talking so it wasn’t awful, but it was long. The drive was still a great experience in itself, though, because we made several incredible sightseeing stops along the way including:

Hadrian’s Wall. Hadrian’s Wall was constructed in 122 AD to defend the Roman province. Real history, y’all! That wall is nearly 2,000 years old.IMG_3905

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Great Britain Adventure: Cambridge & York

Hello! Thank you to everyone who has expressed kind, encouraging words over the loss of my Europe photos. I wish I could say I’m over it, but, clearly, it’s taking me a while to get these out. I wrote about our first day in the UK before the dreaded factory reset, and I keep meaning to write about the rest of our trip, but every time I start to compose another recap, I think about a lost photo that I want to include, and then I feel sad, and angry, and then I don’t feel like writing anymore. It’s a pointless cycle that must end. So, never fear, Day 2 (Day 1 of our official tour) is here!  I can share my experiences on this trip without an endless photo reel. Let’s work with what I’ve got…

After spending the night in London, we found our bus tour easily in the morning. I felt nervous and excited, but also relieved knowing we were in the right place. We started talking with fellow passengers on the bus, and Bret and I were delighted to discover that we were the ONLY Americans in the whole group. There were a few Canadians, but everyone else was from Australia, New Zealand, South Africa, Hong Kong, the Philippines, …all over. And there was a huge age range as well: 17 to 74! When the bus started rolling, I couldn’t help but smile because our adventure was officially underway!

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