Wednesday, February 22, 2017

Don't Lose your Spark

Dear Young Christina,

I love how much you love school! That is exactly what will lead to the best choices of your life so keep that spark for learning burning bright. It's a treasure not everyone possesses. 

Your favorite people are your teachers and you work so hard to meet their expectations and show them that you value them. That work ethic is going to be the backbone of your education and career. It will drive you through higher education and to going after experiences that challenge you. Remember how you would cry when you got less than a B on a test, or how your face would burn with shame when you were called on and you didn't answer correctly? I hate to break it to you, but you never really outgrow that but don't worry, you'll learn how to handle it better. You cry when your mom tells you to start over because your homework isn't neat enough or you've misspelled a word but that attention to detail is going to lead to so many opportunities. Be patient with yourself. Even though you never fully learn how not to take life so seriously, your ambition to succeed will serve you well and be an asset in every aspect of your life. 

All those hours you spend telling made up stories to your friends during recess are because you were born to be a storyteller. Don't be embarrassed by that. Kids will tease you about it but forget those kids. Keep making up stories about haunted houses and kids who make magic. 

You jump from skates to your bike to a scooter and back again, and you love to play hide and seek outside. The freedom and will to do that is a gift. Kids in the generation after you will begin to lose that love of activity and exploration. Do as much of it as you can and make memories. Those will become the details that adorn your books and characters. 

Continue to be observant and curious. That doesn't make you chismosa, it makes you aware and that is key when writing. You'll have that skill through adulthood so keep looking and wondering about everything and everyone around you.

Even though you find it hard to believe, your siblings will be your closest allies. While you dream of the days when you were an only child and notice the attention they get that you wish you had, buck up. In the end, you'll see that each of you hold a special place and role in the family and you are lucky to have each other.

You are a pain in the butt now and get in trouble a lot for being a smart ass but that is just your way of creating a place for yourself and exercising your voice. You don't like to feel out of control, or like your thoughts don't matter. While that gets you yelled at by your parents and they are constantly telling you to watch your mouth, I am glad that you never lose that sass. It will serve you well when you get picked on in middle school, and when you face bullies in high school. Keep talking back, just choose an audience that doesn't have the authority to pop you in the mouth. 

Elementary school will be the most magical time of your life. Stop trying to rush through it. Enjoy it!


Adult Christina

Wednesday, February 15, 2017

My Dearest Warren

Mi Querido Warren,

Five years ago today was the last time I saw you alive, heard your voice, felt your skin near mine. In the days following I clung to your pillow, inhaling your scent. It was weeks before I washed that pillow. I left your toothbrush, deodorant and hair gel untouched as though you might be back and use them. I cried the day I got a new phone and could not save the last voicemail you left, even though I could not bear to hear your voice and still can't. Knowing it was there was comfort enough. I don't recall when I stopped reaching for my phone after work to tell you I was on my way home and ask if you would be home soon.

As with every anniversary, the days leading up to it are painful. Even after going through this four other times, it still feels unreal that I am commemorating your death. Sometimes it feels like the world conspires to make the pain worse. Just last week I was driving to work, looked up and saw the hearse that carried you away. It took me back to when I walked outside the church after the funeral service and watched as the pallbearers loaded you into the back of the car and the driver strapped in the casket. I wanted to jump in there and cling to that box and go with you. It felt terrible to see the car drive away until I could no longer see it and have to walk back into the church basement and carry that emptiness with me. It felt so definite to see the box I chose for you go in a car that was so foreign to me. I was surrounded by hundreds of people but felt like there was no one in the world because you were no longer in it with me.

In the weeks after the service, I don't know how I went from day to day. I have foggy memories of things and people and conversations but I long stopped trying to put them in order or figure out what really happened and what my mind fabricated. In the end, it doesn't matter. What I think about the most was the multitude of feelings that washed over me, changing sometimes by the minute. This roller coaster continues, although there's a more predictable pattern now. I have learned to navigate the grief and stop fighting it.

The injustice of losing you will never go away. I will never believe the people who say that everything happens for a reason and challenge them to explain how a heart as full and pure as yours could stop beating from one second to the next with no warning. Be sure that I know you would have fought had you known your life was at stake. In all the anger I have felt since your death, it has never been directed at you. You did not leave me. You were taken. Some would say that you were called but what happened feels much more wrenching. You lived for our love and the love of our family. That is not something you would have given up without a fight. I feel one hundred percent secure in that. In the end, reasons and causes of death don't heal anything. I didn't feel any more consoled after I read your cause of death than I did before. The loss remained and nothing could change that. It did not bring me any peace.

Over these five years, peace has come from the people in my life. There are some who have had nothing to do with me since your passing, and others who showed up for a bit, then faded into their own lives. But others have been a steady source of love and support. Acquaintances have grown into friends and friends into family. Our families have been my rock, my foundation when I shattered and rebuilt time and time again as life without you presented setbacks, barriers, disappointments and painful moments where I needed you. I could not ask for better people to have our backs, and guide us. They continue to do that for me and our daughter, undeterred even after 1,825 days.

Every anniversary has had its prominent feeling. Last year I felt anger. It started to rise weeks before in anticipation of the date. By the time Feb. 15th came around I was exhausted from carrying it. This year I waited for anger but it wasn't there. I feel slighted and at a loss. The urge to talk to you and be in your presence is dominant. So much has occurred in the last five years and I wish more than anything that I could have one more conversation with you and tell you my fears, celebrate accomplishments, ask your advice on so many things, and hear you encourage me in that way you did that made me feel like nothing was impossible. I want to know your feelings on my life and how your daughter is turning out. She's growing up fast and the challenges in that are numerous. They were supposed to be tackled as a team but here I am fuddling through, feeling like a failure all the time, wishing you could share in this most difficult of tasks. Feeling selfish at the moments that you would love but aren't here to experience with me.

I am not one of those who believes the deceased walk among us. I believe you deserve your bliss and that does not include witnessing my pain. You worked too hard at life to make me happy to be plagued with doing so in death as well. It is up to me to be happy with what you left, even as it shreds me to think of how much more you had left to share with the world. At a time when we need more love, kindness, and goodness - all the values you stood for and lived by, it is unjust that you are gone. My solace comes from the legacy of giving and living you left that I try to honor every day. It's tough and at times feels impossible, but I can't stop trying. You would never stop trying and that means a lot to me. It keeps me in a place of moving forward.

If I got one more chance to talk to you, to hear you again, I would want to thank you and assure you that even while I hurt, cry and miss you, I am stronger now than I ever was. Memories of our time together and the people we grew into as a couple sustain me. I would not be where I am without all we went through, all I learned as your partner, best friend, and wife. While I wish I could have had decades and decades of those titles with you, what we had taught me lasting lessons that will never fade, no matter how many of these painful anniversaries I survive.

Te amo Mi Amor. Hoy y siempre.

- Christina

Wednesday, February 8, 2017

From One Widow to Another

Since becoming a widow various people have contacted me and asked if a recent widow can reach out to me. I always say yes. I sincerely hope that the woman reaches out to me, but understand that she will not. I get that. When I first became a widow I did not reach out to anyone. I don't recall for certain, but I'm sure someone told me about some other widow I should call if I needed to talk to someone and I did not. It was too fresh and the shock too strong for that kind of action. The fog from which I operated did not allow the kind of rational thinking that would have guided that conversation. I didn't know what to say as I processed feelings that were so foreign. It was a pain like nothing I had ever faced and I had no idea how to carry it, let alone articulate it. But if I had, this is what I think would have been helpful to hear.

Yes, you feel broken and in a lot of ways you are. You have lost a piece of your soul and you must allow yourself to heal the way a broken bone would need. Give yourself time and tenderness. Allow yourself kindness. It will sting to see and receive tenderness when you feel so raw and ripped but if you do not let in the good, the bad will consume you. It will rob you of sleep and sanity. It will find every drop of doubt and grow it like a sequoia tree, with roots so deep you can't dig deep enough to rip them out.

You are not crazy, sadness is physically painful. Those aches you feel, especially in your core are truly there. Don't ignore them. You have suffered a blow that cannot be contained in your head. It spreads everywhere like an infection. Take care of it. Soothe it in the ways that pain is alleviated and take it seriously. The headaches, the knots in your stomach, the pounding heart and muscle spasms are not imaginary so do not treat them as such.

Write down your last moments with your husband. You may think that the clarity of that moment will never leave you but in time, details will fade. Was he wearing his brown shirt or was it olive? Was his hair combed or messy? Were you to his left or right when he took his last breath? Even if you never write in a journal or if your husband's last moments are too personal to share, write it down exactly as you remember it and don't leave out a single detail. Tears may drip onto the page, but keep writing until you have documented every last thing you can remember about that time. Put your writing in a safe place. You may not want or need to look at it for years, but when you do, you might surprise yourself with a detail or thought you recorded that over time you may not recall. That last moment you shared with your husband will always be yours. Honor it with your words that will last beyond your life. 

Let others help you. I thought that I could do it all as I did before because I had always done what I needed to do. That was not the case. I couldn't even step outside my house and face a world that no longer housed the love of my life. Sleeping more than two hours at a time was an impossibility for years. I slept best when my mom slept beside me and I needed my best friend to lure me out of the house. My whole life I had taken those tasks for granted. Suddenly I had to learn how to do them all over again. I couldn't do it on my own. Asking for help was tough, as was accepting it when it was offered, but it saved me. If you have the support of others, use it. They want to help.

Some days you will feel like yourself. You will laugh and enjoy something. Don't feel guilty about that. You are still alive. As much as I wanted to be with Warren, I was left on earth and even at his wake, I remember laughing with friends and smiling genuinely at the sight of loved ones who came from all over and those I hadn't seen in years. It felt unnatural to have those feelings a few feet away from the box that held my husband. Yet there was nothing wrong with having moments of joy. Allow yourself those moments when they come and don't feel bad about them. Happiness will feel wrong for a long time, but it is not bad. Widowhood comes with enough negatives, embrace when those let up a bit and a smile spreads across your lips.  

Your grief isn't about anyone else. People will judge you for so many things. Don't take it personally. Chances are that the people judging you have never faced what you are facing. Find your tribe that lets you grieve at your pace and in your way. There is no right way to do it so don't try to make it fit some description that you read or hear about. It is a rollercoaster so be prepared for highs and lows. On days you don't cry you will feel a mix of emotions from relief to guilt. That is OK. On days you can't stop crying you will feel weak, ashamed or silly. Cry anyway. You are none of those. You are hurting and surviving the best way you know how.

People are curious. People who have never even asked you how you like your coffee may ask you to tell them about the most intimate moment and most horrific day of your life. Answer as you wish. Some days I was honest, other days I told people to mind their business. I came up with a canned response that was detached yet polite. It was my go-to answer when I didn't want to deal with people's nosiness. Even though it's upsetting, they don't mean any harm, but be prepared because their curiosity may spark triggers. That is normal and expected. 

Speaking of harm...some things people say when they try to comfort you will hurt. There are a few in particular that I hate.
  • "God needed him more than we do." - How the hell does anyone on earth know how much I needed Warren and who are you to say that it wasn't enough?
  • "He's in a better place." - What can be better than in my home, my arms and my side?
  • "You have an angel watching over you and your daughter now." -  We never asked for or wanted a damn angel. I need and want a husband, my daughter needs and wants a father.
  • And the kicker of all: "Everything happens for a reason." - I have actually challenged people to tell me what reason could possibly justify Warren being taken from this earth. I am still waiting for an acceptable answer that makes sense.
There will be triggers. Some are obvious, like photos, songs or their belongings throughout your home. In the beginning, triggers will be everywhere. You will feel like they are haunting you. Over time they will change. Sometimes something completely unexpected will be a trigger that brings on a wave of emotions that catch you off guard. Don't fight it. I have had to excuse myself from others to have a moment when a trigger came that I had not expected, and I have been taken aback by triggers so strong that I was blown away. The world continues to spin even if you take a moment to react to the triggers so don't feel like they are setbacks. They are normal parts of the grief journey.

Lastly, when nothing makes sense and you don't know how all this pain and sadness can live inside you so healthily while you struggle to breathe air, know this: You will survive. You are strong enough to make it. Allow yourself kindness and help from those who love you, and when you are ready, reach out to me, or a support group and surround yourself with grief warriors who will listen and understand and who are as valiant as you are. 

Wednesday, February 1, 2017

Rules and Expectations

I grew up in a house full of rules and high expectations of how I should behave and what I could accomplish. Mediocracy was never acceptable so I felt that I had to be great at everything I attempted. When I wasn't, it was a huge blow to my ego and shook my confidence. I recall feeling like a disappointment to my family when in fifth grade I could not master how to play the violin. I expected to catch on really quickly and be playing it like a pro by the spring concert. Instead, I never learned to read a single musical note and my wrists hurt from holding it. My mom expected that I practice it an hour every day so I would pretend to read the music sheet while playing whatever notes happened to come from moving my fingers up and down on the strings. It was torture for me and everyone around. I don't know how my family could stand it. I would play a few notes and then tell my mom it was part of a song I was learning. It was all bullshit, but I knew she didn't know any more about the violin than I did, so I said it to make her think I was making progress. I was absolutely terrible. I even tried leaving that damn thing on the school bus but the bus driver ended the route, got in her car and returned the instrument to my house. 

In band class, I would pretend to play and let the viola player next to me make all the music. To this day I don't know if the band teacher ever noticed. But, I wish he had. Perhaps he would have offered to give me some tips, help me learn to read the sheet music, maybe offered some one-on-one help. Since he thought I knew what I was doing, I continued to pretend, to chastise myself for not being good, and began hating the class and the instrument that I had always wanted to play. Pretending that I knew what I was doing got in the way of me asking for help. I didn't want my teacher or my family to know that I was failing at playing the violin. They expected me to excel and I did not want to let them down. 

Since I was good at most things I tried, I didn't know how not to be good. I found ways to hide my ineptitude in class, at home, and on stage during the dreaded band concert. At the end of the year, I was asked if I was planning to take band again in sixth grade. I could not be more adamant about saying NO. To this day, I have not touched or attempted an instrument. Looking back, I wish I had asked for help.

I truly wanted to play the violin. I had admired that instrument and was excited about the chance to try it. My fear of disappointing my parents and teachers led me to stay quiet and grow to hate band class and the instrument. In time, I got over it and returned to enjoying the sound of a violin playing, but it still reminds me of the damage I did to myself when I allowed my insecurity to rob me of the chance to learn something that could have brought enjoyment to my life. In all honesty, I would probably never be as good as I wanted to be, but I wish I had at least allowed myself to become proficient.

In a way, I cheated myself out of the experiences that being in band and playing an instrument could bring. It feels like a missed opportunity. For years I didn't see it like that. I saw it as a failure that I didn't want to think about. But, over time it became a lesson. I learned that I will not excel at everything I try, but that shouldn't stop me from wanting to give it my all. Even if I fall short of excellence, it will have taught me something about whatever it is that I tried, and about myself.

Contact Me


Email *

Message *