A Swift Kick

It’s been a long time since my last post. I started this blog with the hopes of using my writing as an outlet for everything I was feeling after losing my parents. After bottling up my feelings for 6+ years over the loss of my dad, I was determined to do things differently when I lost my mom in February. My husband and I left our lives in Utah and moved to California to be closer to my family. He left a job he loved and I did the same, not knowing how much my classes and my students had become a part of me. We moved into an adorable and ridiculously small cottage in the Central Valley and essentially started over. The first few weeks were wonderful. I felt like I was myself for the first time in a long time. I was excited to be closer to my family and I felt like I was getting to know my husband all over again. I was working out and spending my time helping others get healthy. I was allowing myself to be open and really FEEL the losses for the first time. I was willing to talk about it and write about it and was working through it.

I think I had this fantasy that if I did those things, I would be stronger and I would be able to work through it. So, I was going through the process of revisiting my past in hopes of some closure. I went back to my hometown. I visited my grandparents at the cemetery, drove past my old school, and even sat in front of my childhood home for awhile. It was…weird. I felt emotionless. As I drove out town, I thought that maybe I didn’t feel much because I was okay. I had moved on. The next week was the 7 year anniversary of my dad’s death. I decided to drive to the city and visit his grave, for the first time since the service.

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I really prepared for it. I looked at pictures of us the night before, something I NEVER do. I made a play list of all of his favorite songs to listen to on the way to visit him. These songs were on my “Do not listen to” list since he left. I bought flowers and brought a blanket, thinking I’d spend some time talking to him. I was ready.

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And then something happened. On my way to visit him, I crossed the Bay Bridge. I was listening to “Sittin’ on the Dock of the Bay” and there was this moment where I looked over and saw the ocean. My mom wanted her ashes to be spread over that very ocean so that whenever we saw it, we’d think of her. I’d seen the ocean many times since we did just that, and I’d come to a place of peace with it. But at that moment, something hit me. I wanted to pretend like I was going to spend the day with my dad and that I was okay that it was a cemetery and not actually him. I wanted to feel my mom’s presence as I drove over that bridge and take it as a sign that she was with me. But I didn’t. Something clicked and everything changed inside me.

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Both of my parents are dead. Gone forever. They both suffered horrific deaths and I was the one who had to decide to let them both die. That’s just the reality. I wasn’t at peace. I was on my way to sit on a piece of grass where my big, strong dad’s ashes were buried. And I was looking over at this massive body of water where my sweet mom’s ashes had been poured into. And there was no peace in any of it. Just an overwhelming sense of fury.

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And after that, things were different. I’m not proud of it, but I fell into this ever-sinking hole of complete sadness. At first, I couldn’t shut my mind off. Images of my incredibly sick and weak parents flooded my mind, especially at night. I couldn’t turn it off. I quickly got to a point where I felt nothing. It was like my body was going through the motions of everyday life but my head and my heart were gone. I shut down. I went from crying all day to doing nothing at all. I would sit on the couch and then all of a sudden it would be 4 hours later. Like my mind would just shut off. I think it had to because I couldn’t handle it anymore. I honestly could no longer deal with the pain. I completely stopped everything. I didn’t care about how I looked or felt so I stopped working out and eating well. I tried writing but everything I wrote was so angry and I didn’t want to believe that that was how I felt. I stopped talking, to Cody and to my friends. I stopped caring. I couldn’t understand the purpose in anything. I allowed myself to just disappear.

Then one day, about 6 weeks ago, my husband came home from work and we had a conversation. I won’t share the details of it, but basically I realized that HE wasn’t happy. My sweet, patient, selfless husband who had given everything up for me wasn’t happy. And that rocked me back into reality. He is my entire world and the thought of him being anything but completely happy made me more sad than anything else I was feeling.

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And that was a swift kick in my ass. So, I snapped out of it. I was still feeling all of the things I had been feeling but I made a decision to move forward. To quit being selfish. To get my life back.

I recently read this article that my brother sent to me, “The Day I’ll Stop Grieving” (everyone who has ever lost someone or who knows someone who has should read it) and I realized that grief isn’t a process that I have to work through. There isn’t this other side to get to. And as much as I want to overcome these horrible tragedies, that’s simply not possible.

…I’ve realized that Grief doesn’t just visit you for a horrible, yet temporary holiday. It moves in, puts down roots—and it never leaves. Yes as time passes, eventually the tidal waves subside for longer periods, but they inevitably come crashing in again without notice, when you are least prepared. With no warning they devastate the landscape of your heart all over again, leaving you bruised and breathless and needing to rebuild once more… You are forced to face your inability to do anything but feel it all and fall apart. It’s incredibly difficult in those quiet moments, when you realize so long after the loss that you’re still not the same person you used to be; that this chronic soul injury just won’t heal up. This is tough medicine to take, but more difficult still, is coming to feel quite sure that you’ll never be that person again. It’s humbling to know you’ve been internally altered: Death has interrupted your plans, served your relationships, and rewritten the script for you…I’ve walked enough of this road to realize that it is my road now. This is not just a momentary detour, it’s the permanent state of affairs. I will have many good days and many moments of gratitude and times of welcome respite, but I’m never getting over this loss… The day I’ll stop grieving –is the day I’ll stop breathing.”

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I’m not back to myself yet and I don’t know when I will be. Probably never. But the “fake it ‘til ya make it” process seems to be working wonders. So yes, I’m incredibly sad. And no, I don’t know how I’ll get through it. But I know I will. I know it is easy for people to tell me what I’m going through is normal and to see a therapist or turn to God. And I appreciate the concern, I do. But I need to decide what is right for me.

So here is the silver lining. I love my husband and my big brother so much and while I’m horrified at the thought of going through the rest of my life without my parents, I know that I have so many wonderful experiences ahead of me. So, I keep going. I allow myself to feel everything I don’t want to. To be sad but to live through it. Mostly, I’m thinking about the relationships that truly matter to me and that I’ve sort of let go of and I’m trying to rebuild them. I’m forming lasting friendships and I’m getting back to who I am. I’m reading more. I’m working out again. I’m starting to pray a bit. So that’s it. It isn’t much and it isn’t pretty. But it’s okay. It’s life. This thing we call grief isn’t definable. You can’t break it down into 5 stages and you can’t control it. You just have to figure out how to live with it. And to truly love life. That’s the goal. I think I see now that “The day I’ll stop grieving – is the day I’ll stop breathing” and that I have to figure out how to live each day with that grief.

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Just a Small Town Girl

I grew up in a beautiful, quaint, little town in Northern California. After I left home, I found myself missing the trees. There is something about living in a forest that sort of takes your breath away and when you breathe in, you can taste the pine. It smells of home. Although there is an abundance of green in northern California, it isn’t until you are about an hour from my little hometown that you feel surrounded. Last week, I went back for the first time in over seven years. It was on that drive, about an hour from Burney, that I was flooded with memories from my childhood. It was the road my dad taught me how to drive. The lookout point where I’d go to make out with my high school sweetheart. The route my mom and I took some weekends to go shopping in the city. The road I drove away on when I decided to leave home. I could feel my family with me and it excited me. It was familiar.

Driving into town was so much different. The community has changed so much and many of the businesses have closed or have been replaced. I kept waiting to feel something BIG but mostly it was lackluster. I called my brother on the way home and explained how I felt but he wasn’t surprised. Our family was gone. Although Burney holds so many tender memories for me, it is no longer home. Almost everyone I know has moved on and the town is simply a blurb in my life.

Please don’t be mistaken. I LOVED that town. I had an amazing childhood with parents who loved my brother and me. I had great friends and I worked hard in school and sports. I truly loved my life. I feel blessed to have grown up in a small community where I felt safe and loved. I spent my childhood playing outside until dark and then reading books until I fell asleep. I learned the value of a strong work ethic and held my share of responsibility. I watched my parents struggle financially and in their marriage. I fought endlessly with my brother. I made close friends and spent weekends staying up all night talking about life. I spent hours on the school bus traveling to volleyball tournaments and basketball games. Most afternoons I could be found at practice or at a school related function. I served my community. I worked as a lifeguard in our tiny little town. I learned to love myself unconditionally and be confident with who I am. I developed a relationship with God and we truly became best friends. I said goodbye to my dad as he left for months for work and ran to him when he came home. I watched my mom suffer from depression and insecurities but continue to hold it together. I used writing and sports as outlets to deal with the tough stuff. I played cops and robbers and then house with my brother. I helped my dad quit smoking at least a dozen times. I danced in the living room with him and brother as the 49ers scored a touchdown and stood on the couch to yell at the stupid kicker who missed a game changing field goal. I struggled with being overweight and was picked on for it. I listened to my dad sing Otis Redding and Elvis Presley songs and talk about his big brother who died in Vietnam. I walked to my grandma’s house to help her pick out fish for her giant tank and listened to her stories about her husband who died when I was little. I learned how to throw a football through a tire. I caught frogs with the neighborhood kids in the pond across from my house. I read to little kids at the library. I watched my best friend fall apart when her dad died. I felt a pang of guilt when I took a sip of alcohol at a party after my dad told me he trusted me. I had my first kiss. I fell in love. I learned to always be honest and real. I learned that family is absolutely everything.

So naturally, I thought that I would be bombarded with emotions as I spent time in my hometown but I didn’t feel much of anything. Sure, I felt sadness because my parents are gone and I wondered what it would be like if they were still here and still lived in our little house on Cypress. But I was okay. I knew that I had a wonderful husband waiting for me in our home and I have a lifetime to make more memories. I realized that although this place was magical to me as a child, it is no longer home and that’s okay.

The hardest part was driving by my old house. My dad took so much pride in our yard and we spent many hours on the weekend weeding, planting flowers, and watering. I can still hear him whistling as he’d water the trees by hand each night. Sadly, the house is now abandoned and run down. The rose bushes have dried up and weeds run wild. My bedroom window where my high school boyfriend would come tell me goodnight is covered in overgrown plants and weeds. The paint has chipped off and the roof looks like it is about to fall in. The carport that I watched my dad put up is now dented and damaged. How strange to see something that was once strong and full of love look so broken. The house reminded me of my dad, my big, strong, stubborn dad after cancer took away his strength.

That was hard. And I cried as I drove through town and thought about all of the what-ifs. And then I stopped myself and thanked God for the childhood I was given. For two parents who loved their children more than anything else. For a big brother who always protected me and continues to be my idol. For the love I felt, the friendships I made, and the memories that can never be taken away from me. And I drove out of the beautiful, little forest and back to my new home.

Bakeries, Spiders, and BIG Dreams

Wow. The responses I’ve received from my first post have seriously warmed my heart. It is terrifying to put myself out there for the world to see and I was nervous about how my blog would read. I didn’t want it to come across as sad and depressing but I also didn’t want to sugar coat things. As I stated at the end of my first post, I want to show the world that that it is okay to be sad and happy at the same time, that it is possible to experience the worst pain and still live each day with a sense of pride, a desire for growth, and a fresh and positive outlook on life. I’m thankful for those who read my post, for all of the kind messages I received, and for the opportunity to keep going. But I have to be honest, I’ve been scared to post again because really, how do I move on from the last one? Here goes nothing!

We’ve been in California for almost a full month and we are LOVING it. It is so pretty here. The trees create sort of a tunnel as you stroll through the streets, the sound of the distant train is beautifully comforting, and the sense of possibility is unbelievable freeing. We’ve spent lots of time exploring and just hanging out. I am definitely a small town girl and we lived in a ridiculously small town together for the last 6 years. But I missed good restaurants, live music, new people, and bustling streets. We definitely found that here! We spent a couple hours walking around downtown, checking out different places, and just enjoying our time together.

While we are loving it here, there are a few downsides. It is HOT. We are definitely going to need a pool! Also, there are spiders EVERYWHERE. Our little cottage is adorable and the patio is beautiful but if you look closer, you will see what I’m talking about. I went outside to water and I seriously felt like I was going to be mauled by spiders. Have you ever seen the movie, Arachnophobia? I felt like I was in that film. I immediately called the bug guys and they LAUGHED at me. They said that this area is known for bugs. I WILL DIE.

Another downside is that this place has a delicious bakery on every corner. I sort of forgot that bakeries even existed. Donuts just come from grocery stores, right? Not here! And I am not even a sweets person but oh my goodness. We found this cute little bakery and I’m sad to report that we went there THREE DAYS IN A ROW. You guys. The chocolate brownies are rich and delicious and evil.

But, I’m proud to report that it was just a brief phase and we have been bakery free for the last 10 days. Whoop!

Another adjustment has been dealing with all of the time I now have. I have all of these hopes and goals and dreams and I am just trying to figure out how to facilitate my days so BIG things happen. I have really loved spending my time helping others set and reach goals. It definitely fills the hole I’m feeling from not teaching. Yesterday was the first day of school at my old job and my students were texting me all day. It was such a strange feeling.

I miss them so much! So although I’m excited about this new journey, my heart is definitely still with them!

Those of you who know me or follow me on Facebook or Instagram know that I LOVE home workouts. T25, Cize, The 21 Day Fix, Body Beast. I love them all. Sadly, we don’t have room in our little cottage for a weight bench so we can’t do Body Beast, which is a weight lifting program. So, we decided to join a gym. I have never really been a fan of them because of all the sweat and germs and heavy breathing. But, we found a place that is crazy cheap and decided to try it out. I’m doing cardio at home in the mornings and then we go to the gym together in the afternoons. So far, so good!

I feel like there are one billion things I want to write about, but I’ll save the details of our first day trip, an update on how our fury littles are adjusting to a new place, and my various reunions with old friends for another post.I’m actually going on a road trip to Oregon with a new friend on Thursday and I am SO excited! I’m also nervous. She lives in my hometown and I haven’t been back there for 7 years. I took Cody there when we were dating. The thing is, both of my parents were alive. It’s going to be pretty emotional to go back to the place I grew up knowing that they are both gone now. I have such fond memories of that tiny little town and I hope that I am flooded with joy and love. I’m sure you’ll hear all about it next week!

I’ll leave you with a quote I found from Emily Dickinson that has been on my mind a lot lately. I love that WE choose how our lives play out. I spent too much time letting life pass me by and just being a statue in it. I’m so excited to steer my own course, create new paths, and experience each day with a sense of wonder and possibility!

Choosing Happy

I guess there comes a time in your life (hopefully) when everything seems to stop. Suddenly, you are watching yourself live your life and you finally see what it really looks like. This moment came for me as I sat next to my mom in the ICU for the umpteenth day in a row, nearly 7 months ago. I was going through all of the usual feelings one goes through when they are about to lose a loved one. Mostly, I was in bargaining mode.

I’ll do THIS when she gets better. I’ll do less of THAT. I’ll be better. I’ll give more. I won’t be so selfish with my time. I’ll do whatever it takes, no questions asked. I’ll be so lucky to have my mom with me and I’ll do everything I can to help her get healthy and be happy. I won’t lose another parent.

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Of course, we don’t really get to choose, do we? As much as I wanted to believe that I’d have another chance, I just didn’t. I think I held on to hope so much because I’d been there before and I knew how hard things would be after she left. I couldn’t deal with that reality. I couldn’t lose her like I’d lost my dad. So, I held onto her and I tried to make the best decisions for her that I could. But she was gone. She fought so hard and I kept her on life support because I really thought she would be okay. But she wasn’t. And all at once, the harsh reality came down on me that I’d be without both of my parents here on earth for the rest of my life.

Man, that’s heavy. I know it is. And although this is stuff I think about all of the time, I am absolutely not one to share it with anyone. I am a very positive person, an optimist. I try to live each day as a new beginning. I do pretty well putting everything that hurts into a neat little box that is rarely opened. In fact, after my dad died, I completely shut out the entire experience. I wouldn’t talk about it. I wouldn’t allow myself to think about him or picture him at all. When I’d start to get upset, I’d push the feelings away completely. I buried myself into whatever I could to escape the feelings of sorrow. And I created this amazing life. I was married shortly after he died, I went to school and became a teacher, and I invested 100% of my time and energy into my career. And I loved it. I loved teaching and connecting with my students. I was recharged by the changes I saw in them and by the relationships I formed. I was making a difference and I had something to channel my time and energy into. Unfortunately, in the attempt to not leave any time for that little box of memories and feelings, I also didn’t leave any time for new memories with my loved ones. I spent years of my life being the BEST student and then teacher I could be, while I pushed my mom, my husband, my friends, and even myself aside. And I had no idea.

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I’d spend some time on the weekends hanging out on my mom’s couch. We’d talk about the week and I’d pretty much tell her everything about what was going on with work. She was always so interested in my stories and she’d ask me about my students, their parents, and my coworkers. But that was mostly all we’d talk about. It was my life; it consumed me. I’d go to her when I was sad about my dad, but I’d just cry for a minute and then change the focus back to work. She really tried to get me to open up. She told me that I needed to, that it would be hurtful to her if I didn’t talk about her after she left. But I just couldn’t. I was SO focused on my life that I couldn’t be held back by my grief.

So, as I sat in that hospital holding her hand, my life came to a screeching halt. I looked back over the last 6 years and I couldn’t believe it. Yes, I had established a career that I loved and I was truly able to help my kids. But I also stopped being me. I’d completely taken those I loved the most and even myself out of my life. WE weren’t a priority in my life. And I did this to avoid feeling anything. And now I was about to go through all of the pain I’d been hiding from again, with this added regret.

Now I know that grief causes an overwhelming sense of regret and guilt takes over. It is probably the toughest part of losing someone. It’s that “Why didn’t I do more?” mentality. And I get that. But the reality is, I didn’t do more and I don’t have another chance. At least not with my mom. I received a message that really spoke to me soon after I lost my mom.

“I’m so sorry Diannah. My heart breaks for you. I know you work so hard on positivity and optimism, but I just want you to know that you are allowed to be soul crushingly sad right now.”

I realized just how detatched I’d become and I knew that I needed to handle things differently this time. How many loved ones would I need to lose before I changed?

It has been nearly 7 months since I lost my mom. My heart is shattered. But instead of pushing my feelings aside and going back to my life, I’m hitting pause. My husband Cody and I quit our jobs and put our house up for sale. We moved back to my home state and have decided to completely start fresh. I’m fulfilling a promise that I should have made my mom to talk about her and to allow myself to open up and truly grieve. My friend was right. I need to allow myself to be sad, to learn to deal with it. And I know that this doesn’t mean that I have to lose myself in my grief, but I need to allow it to be a part of my life.

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So, I’m starting fresh, each day. I’m making my husband a priority. I’m putting more effort into my relationships with friends and family. I’m reestablishing my relationship with God, which is pretty much nonexistent at this point. And I’m starting over with me. I’m allowing myself to become stronger through the grief. I’m learning that exercise is my therapy and that being healthy (mind and body) is the best way to deal with everything. Yes, I’m an optimist and I truly believe that happiness is a choice. But it is time that I learn to allow sadness to be a part of my life.

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So, this blog is my way of keeping the memory of my parents alive. Of missing them and remembering them. I want to show the world that it is okay to be sad and happy at the same time, that it is possible to experience the worst pain and still live each day with a sense of pride, a desire for growth, and a fresh and positive outlook on life.

And I’ll write about it all.

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