When Grief Overwhelms

This past Monday marked the seven-year anniversary of what was probably the saddest day of my life.  On that day in 2011, my hometown was struck by a horrible tragedy, a mass shooting that claimed the lives of 6 innocent people and injured 14 others.  I watched the story unfold in horror, helplessly 3,000 miles away in NYC.  Horror, in part, because this was happening to my hometown, but also because it struck much closer than that.

These were my former colleagues. This was an event I used to staff.  My former boss, a public official who I idolized, was shot in the head.  She lived, but never fully recovered. Two other former coworkers were also shot and, thankfully, lived.  A third former coworker, a mentor and maybe the nicest person I’ve ever met, was shot and killed.

I learned the news in bits and pieces.  First, it was reported that my former boss had been killed.  Later, a correction revealed she was still alive.  I knew there were fatalities, but no names were released for hours.  I remember walking home from the subway after work, dumbfounded, vigorously searching the news on my Blackberry for more details.  I stumbled across Gabe’s number in my phone, and briefly thought about calling him to see if he was okay.  No, I concluded, he didn’t need to hear from a distant friend/former coworker right now.  I was sure he was busy, overwhelmed, grieving, with his family.

Back at my apartment for the evening, it came out over the TV that a staffer was among those killed.  Nauseated, I repeated to myself: “Please don’t be Gabe. Please don’t be Gabe.”  A few minutes later, they released the name.  It was Gabe.

I don’t know if I’ve ever cried harder in my life.  My husband–boyfriend at the time–hugged me tightly as I sobbed into his chest.  It hurt so bad.  When I came up for air, I started turning my apartment over, searching violently for a special pen Gabe had given me as a going away present when I left the job for law school.  I never found it.  I was devastated.

What I did find was a home made going away card where Gabe and the other office members had written nice messages for me.  I clung to it for dear life.

I tried going to work that Monday, but left halfway through the day after crying at my desk. I felt like such a drama queen. Was I allowed to be this sad? I knew this guy for a year and a half.  He wasn’t family.  I’m not even sure if he considered me his friend.  We just worked together, respected each other, and liked each other enough.

I flew home for his funeral.  It was healing to visit the memorials, to see old coworkers, to hug everyone in sight. To hear the eulogies and to learn things about Gabe that I never knew, things that made me like him even more.

Gabe’s brother got up and spoke at the funeral, and I felt like he was speaking directly to my wounded soul.  He said that maybe some of us were wondering, did we mean as much to Gabe as he meant to us?  And then his brother assured us that yes, we did mean as much to him.  “How do I know?” he asked meaningfully. “Because he told me.”  I needed to hear that more than anything.

I felt so much peace when I headed back to New York.  And I was still sad.  But the days, months, and years tumbled on.  I would be lying if I said that I thought about Gabe and the other victims of the shooting every day.  I don’t.  Not even close.

And Monday was the seven year anniversary, and though I remembered, I felt … irritated.  Irritated because I wanted to cry, to feel sad, to give the memory the respect it deserved.  But the tears just didn’t come.

Instead, I spent Monday evening talking with my father.  He was upset, confessing that he’d cried for the first time in years.  That he was inexplicably sad, suddenly grieving things that he had suppressed since childhood.  Grieving the loss of his mother for the first time, even though she died twenty years ago.

Grief is weird.  Grief is unpredictable.  Grief is frustrating.  Grief is inconvenient.  I can prepare for weeks, get myself all ready to cry on the anniversary of a tragic event, but no dice.  Instead, the tears come during a meeting at work.  Or when I finish a run on the treadmill at the gym.  Or when I see a can of Diet Dr. Pepper.

So maybe my grief isn’t the beautiful, reverent, tragic thing that I want it to be.  But it’s there.  I do care.  And I do remember.

I remember how Gabe used to drink Diet Dr. Pepper by the case.

I remember how he was the office problem solver.  How we directed difficult cases his way.  How he called back a constituent once after he overheard the constituent being rude to me on the phone.

I remember how I lied to him to get out of staffing an event.  How I told him I was going apple picking with my family.  And how he asked me about it the next day, and I continued to lie (badly) about all the apple picking we did.  He knew.  I could see it on his face.  But he let it slide.

I remember making fun of him for being super old, even though he was only five years older than me.

I remember running in to him at a fundraising event.  He was there with his dad, and he introduced him as his best friend.

He was a really special guy.  He deserves to be remembered.  And maybe I don’t always cry on the anniversary of his death, but I do remember.

 

Until next time,

Vee

The Finish Line (#NaBloPoMo Day 30)

I did it!  Today is the last day of NaBloPoMo, and I managed to blog every single day in November.  Day 30 is upon us, and my final theme is … Books.  Wait, what?  What on earth inspired me to pick something so anticlimactic after such a momentous (for me, probably not for you) month?  Well, what I was thinking was, dreaming up thirty different themes is hard, and November 30th is Lucy Maud Montgomery’s birthday.  So I’ll just write about books on that day. 

How weird is it that I: a) ever knew Lucy Maud Montgomery’s birthday, and b) still remember it to this day?  What important, life-saving information am I forgetting because I’m using up so much crucial brain space on menial LMM trivia?  Clearly I had a slight Anne of Green Gables obsession in my adolescence.

If you’re dying to know about me and books, I’m kind of a David Baldacci nerd (#basic).  But, I don’t intend to write any more on the subject today, because I’d rather use the rest of this post to reflect a bit on what it was like to blog every day over the past month.

So how did it feel? Honestly, it felt really good.  If you haven’t already guessed from the flavor of my writing and my own outright admissions, I struggle with anxiety.  It’s not crippling, but it is a significant part of my daily life.  When we first moved to upstate New York and I became a stay-at-home-mom, my anxiety surged in response to all of the unknowns.  But having this blog and forcing myself to write every day over the last month has strangely calmed my nerves.  I’ve been much happier, more organized, and more patient with my children.

I guess you could say frequent blogging has been an anxiolytic for me.  It’s forced me to reign in and synthesize some of the silly parenting thoughts bouncing around inside my head.  It’s allowed me to reflect on and put words to some deep-seated issues with certain family relationships.  It’s given me a platform to bitch about petty stuff and then move on, when I would otherwise be obsessing.

While it was hard to have “homework” every single day, it was alternatively nice to have a bit more purpose beyond mom-ing my kids and keeping house.  That’s not to say that I don’t think both of those things are incredibly important and fulfilling in their own way.  But neither is something that I do for me.  It felt nice to take care of myself and pursue my own interests with my blog this past month.

So all to say, I think I’ll keep going with this whole blogging thing.  But probably not every single day.  Because mommy needs to catch up on her shows.

Until next time,

Vee

#NaBloPoMo Day 29: Hair Today, Gone Tomorrow

It’s November 29, and there’s only one day left in this year’s NaBloPoMo.  Today’s theme is Hair, because who wouldn’t want to read an entire blog post dedicated to that?

If you could change one thing about your appearance, what would it be?  For me, there’s never been a question: my hair.  My stupid, awful, life-ruining hair.

When I was a toddler, I had kind-of adorable hair.  It spiraled out of control, straight up from my scalp.  I looked like a cute little lion, rawr! But that shit was not cute or acceptable when I got older.  No, as I got older, I realized that I lost the hair lottery.  In so many ways.

Worst things first, my hair is not straight.  Notice that I did not say that my hair is curly, or wavy.  It’s none of those lovely things.  It’s just this fluffy, frizzy, poofy mess, with some straight parts here, some curly parts there, and some wavy parts over there.  It never dries the same from one day to the next.  You know how when you’re watching ’80s movies, you have to laugh and wonder, what the heck were they thinking with that hair?  Let’s just say I would have been a lot more popular if I went to high school in the ’80s.

I feel like I’ve tried everything.  Expensive hair cuts.  Expensive hair products.  Pregnancy hormones.  Praying to sweet baby Jesus.  It never looks better.  It looks so bad, in fact, that I’ve spent at least 5 million hours of my life blow-drying or straightening it.  That’s good for me, right?

Aside from general appearance, my hair is also cursed because it falls out at an alarming rate.  Alarming, you guys, it’s not normal.  I can’t touch it without coming away with somewhere between 4 and 100 loose strands in my hand.  Don’t worry, I’ve asked a doctor.  I’m not balding, and I’m not dying.

Our floor, our carpet, our bathtub, our car, our kids, the Hubby — all completely covered in my hair.  It is impossible for me to look down at my body without spotting two or three stray hairs no longer attached to my head.  I’ve even had self-described touch-a-phobes reach out and brush loose hair off of me.  Ugh, gross.  It’s embarrassing.

The last thing that’s wrong with my hair, well, I can barely even talk about it because it makes me nauseated.  Let’s just say, without expanding any further, that there may be some gray hairs on my 32-year-old head.  Ew.  Ugh.  I just gagged a little bit as I wrote that.  It’s only a sprinkling of gray, but still, I don’t know what I ever did to my hair to make it betray me so.  (Maybe the decades of heat abuse?)

I can only hope that my kids have better luck with their hair than I do.  And they probably will.  My stupid mother-in-law has straight hair and almost no grays at 67. Whatever.

Until next time,

Vee

Losing It with the Whole30 (#NaBloPoMo Day 25)

The end is sort of nigh, my friends!  It’s NaBloPoMo Day 25, and today’s theme is Diet.  Don’t forget to read yesterday’s post if you want to know more about my gluttonous shopping habits.

Thanksgiving is over, and the massive stock of leftovers in our fridge is slowly dwindling away.  Honestly, I’m happy to see them go.  If you’re anything like me (aka, have no portion control and eat all the things), you won’t be stepping on the scale for a few days.

Let me just say that I’m all about body positivity, and I’ve worked hard to be happy about my weight over the years, even after my once fantastic metabolism fizzled out at 26.  But! It’s nice to have a diet to resort to here and there when you want to reverse the damage of a particularly gluttonous period, or shave off a few unwanted pounds.

For me, that diet has been the Whole30.

After I had K-Man, I actually lost the baby weight pretty quickly.  The problem was that before I got pregnant with K-Man, I had gained an embarrassing amount of weight.  I’m talking like 20-30 lbs over the course of a year.  Oof.

So I wasn’t happy at my weight and wanted to do something to shave off at least some of those extra lbs.  Exercise wasn’t working, and I didn’t feel awesome about cutting back on the quantity of food I was eating.  Because I was breastfeeding and I was hangry ALL THE TIME.

That’s when I stumbled on the Whole30, a diet that doesn’t restrict how much you eat.  When K-Man was about 8 months old, I decided to give it a try.  It was only a 30-day program, it couldn’t kill me, right?  (Spoiler alert: it didn’t kill me).

Fact: The Whole30 is not easy.  It’s an elimination diet where you pretty much cut out everything that tastes good. I mean everything.  No added sugar.  No dairy.  No grains. No legumes.  No alcohol.  Basically, you’re just eating meat, fruit, vegetables, nuts, and sweet potatoes for 30 days.  (Blech, sweet potatoes, am I right?)  And if you really want to lose more weight, you take it easy on the fruit and nuts.

I struggled epically with the diet, because my normal go-to meals consist of some combination of bread and cheese.  Obvious no-nos on the Whole30.  But I kept going because one rule of the diet is that if you slip up and cheat, you have to start all over again.  Uhm, no thank you!

The first time I did the Whole30, I lost 15 lbs in a month.  Not the most unbelievable amount of weight, but decent considering my frame and how much I had to lose overall.

I did the diet again when Ell-Bell was about 8 months, and it was equally effective.  But this time I threw two cheat days in there.  Because I’m human and because oh my god there were freaking deep fried Reese’s peanut butter cups when we went to the state fair you guys! I’m still fantasizing about those puppies.

On paper the diet is a little inflexible and hippie dippie, but you can take or leave that stuff.  Obviously, the stricter you are, the more weight you’ll lose.  But if you can’t find sugar-free bacon, I don’t think it’s the end of the world if you partake in the real deal. Because bacon.

So what does a day on the Whole30 look like?  Well, there are a ton of officially sanctioned recipes in the book by the people who invented the diet: The Whole30: The 30-Day Guide to Total Health and Food Freedom.  If I’m being honest, while most of those recipes are tasty (my favorites are the Chicken Chowder and the Shepherd’s Pie), I don’t find them super accessible for someone who is cooking challenged or has little free time.  But, still a good source of ideas for fun ways to jazz up meat and veggies.

The more I do the diet, though, the more ok I am with bland, boring food.  It’s only temporary! So I’ll usually just have eggs and avocado or eggs and bacon for breakfast.  A salad with tuna, tomato, avocado, and hard boiled egg for lunch.  And a meat with two veggie sides for dinner.  A Larabar or a handful of almonds with a banana are my go-to snacks.

Skeptical? You should be.  Diets suck! But if your fear is tinged with interest, give it a try! You can always do a Whole7 or a Whole15 to get your feet wet.

Until next time,

Vee

#NaBloPoMo Day 16: I Keep Up with the Kardashians

It’s November 16th, which means we are officially more than halfway through NaBloPoMo.  Over the hump! And since we’re already heading downhill, today’s theme is Reality TV.  Whatever, you know you watch it.

Alright, this is the one where I lose you.  I’m just going to come out and say it.  I keep up with the Kardashians.

… Is anyone still there? No?

I wish I could help myself, but I can’t.  The whole family is just so fascinating to me.  I need to know what they’re wearing.  I need to know what they’re eating.  I need to know who they’re dating.  And if I have to wait another freaking day to find out if Khloe and Kylie are actually pregnant, I might die.

Am I alone in my obsession? Um, obviously not.  Millie Bobby Brown (of Stranger Things fame) is also into it.  And in case you’re thinking I have the same taste as a 13-year-old-girl, I’ll have you know that J-Law is a crazed fan too.  In fact, rumor has it her Kardashian obsession was the reason Chris Martin dumped her.  If that’s true, I might have to stop listening to Coldplay.

And don’t even come at me with the whole “they’re talent-less fame monsters” deal.  You won’t change my mind.  First, who says you have to be talented to be famous these days? (Have you even seen the Bachelor?)  And second, I actually do think the Kardashians are kind of talented.  They found a way to make millions by branding their personalities.  I wish I was that smart (and had a personality worth branding).

Anyway, in case you’re wondering (and you’re not, because you stopped reading and unfollowed my blog five paragraphs ago), I do enjoy some of the more respectable reality TV out there, too.

Like The Amazing Race.  I’ve watched all 29 seasons, and I could probably watch 29 more.  I fantasize about being a contestant someday, but I know Hubby and I would be that insufferable bickering couple that everybody is rooting against.

The Voice. I love it. Watching gets me all motivated to practice singing into my hand microphone in front of the bathroom mirror.

Before it was canceled, I was totally into the Biggest Loser, too.  No show has ever made me cry more.  I did feel like a bit of a hypocrite, though, as I usually watched with a trusty side of pizza and cupcakes.

And if we’re going way back, I used to be a total ANTM fanatic.  America’s Next Top Model?  But I have yet to perfect my smeyes.

What are your reality tv faves?  Share in the comments so I can get hooked too.  Must. watch. more. TV.

Until next time,

Vee

 

The Frenemy of My Frenemy is Probably Also My Frenemy (#NaBloPoMo Day 15)

I’ve been blogging every day for two weeks straight, which means we’re on to Day 15 of NaBloPoMo.  Today’s theme is Frenemy, that devious portmanteau.  

As I’ve said before, I’m kind of a jealous person.  So it probably goes without saying that I’m prone to frenemies.  You know, friends that are also enemies?  My most memorable frenemy was a girl named Jackie.  Is it me, or are they always named Jackie? (No offense if that’s your name.  It just means you are stunning and perfect and I’m jealous of you).

Jackie and I met in law school.  I was unbelievably threatened by her because she was basically the upgraded version of me.  A more brunette brunette, with bluer blue eyes, and whiter white teeth.  Thinner than I was, but not so thin that it didn’t look good.  A runner like me, but she ran farther and faster.  She was smart, she was funny, she could sing.  And socially, way less awkward than me.  Honestly, I don’t even know why she was friends with me.  Deep down, ugh, I just kind of wanted Jackie to fail at things a little bit.  Nothing serious, of course, maybe she could just gain 20-30 pounds and develop some acne?

After law school, Jackie and I both joined the same law firm.  Needless to say, she was a pretty big hit.  One day, she got drunk at a recruiting event and accidentally replied-all on her blackberry to a firm-wide email, sending a “$” in response to a message about our recent deals and cases.  Everyone thought it was adorable.  Classic Jackie.

And while we were working in New York together, Jackie got into the NYC Marathon through the lottery system.  And when she crossed the finish line, she threw her hands in the air and flashed her toothpaste-ad-worthy pearly whites.  I know this because her picture ended up on the cover of the online edition of the New York Times.  Classic Jackie.

We don’t talk or see each other much anymore, but I still find myself jealous of Jackie all the time.  Is that pathetic or what?  It doesn’t help that her Instagram game is on point. Like, can you please stop traveling to Iceland and Zimbabwe so I can be satisfied with my life?

Therein lies the problem with frenemies, at least for me.  It can’t be healthy to get so worked up about what someone else has, especially when what you have is pretty freaking good.  I’m 32 now, it might be time to learn how to be happy with myself, my life, my choices.  Honestly, who cares if my friends are running marathons and starting charities in Africa.

Until next time,

Vee

#NaBloPoMo Day 9: A Tale of Two High Schools

We’re 9 days into NaBloPoMo already, wow!  Today’s theme is High School, because who doesn’t want to relive those glory days?

What is the one thing you’ve done that you are most proud of? You know, excluding marriage and kids and all that obligatory stuff?

I think my proudest moment came in high school.  I started off attending my local public school in my home state in the American southwest.  And I hated it.  There was this girl, Katie, who I was friends with already through extracurricular soccer.  She was pretty much the only person I knew when I showed up Day 1 of Freshman year, so I think we became better friends than we should have been.  She introduced me to these two other girls, and we became this little alternative clique.  You know, dark eye make-up, wanna-be skater clothes, ditching class, drinking on the weekends.

And I was so uncomfortable, because that wasn’t me.  But how do you switch social groups in high school?  I felt really stuck, and I was depressed because I just wasn’t having the high school experience that I wanted.

So I did something drastic.  Junior year, I enrolled in a prep boarding school in New England.  I picked myself up and moved clear across the country; away from my parents, my siblings, my friends, every one and everything I ever knew, all because I really wanted to start over.

And it was everything I wanted it to be.  I took full advantage of the opportunity:  I made the varsity soccer team, joined the a capella group, and even auditioned for the hand-bell choir! (But I didn’t actually join the hand-bell choir because that’s social suicide.)

social_suicide

Even though I was the weird new Junior from really far away, other students welcomed me with open arms, and I made a really nice group of diverse friends.  I won’t go so far as to say I was majorly popular, because that would be a bold-faced lie.  But I never felt lonely or dissatisfied with the people I surrounded myself with.

I also really loved living in New England.  It was a welcome change from the desert where I grew up, even if I didn’t know how to dress for the cold.  (Flip flops in the snow, anyone?)

Of course, moving across the country came at a high cost.  Quite literally, because boarding school was not cheap.  I have to acknowledge how incredibly lucky I was to be able to take advantage of the opportunity.  It was certainly a financial stretch for my parents to send me for those two years, but they made it work so I could realize my dream.  Beyond the financial cost, the move was also emotionally taxing: I missed my family A LOT.  But I absolutely do not regret doing it, and I am still so proud of myself for taking control of my life when it wasn’t going my way.  I think that’s a pretty bad-assed thing for a 15-year-old to do.

Until next time,

Vee