Life By Kristen

Go, and embrace your liberty. And see what wonderful things come of it. – Little Women

Archive for the category “Family”

Heart Walk

If you’ve been around this neck of the world, you know I lost my father to a heart attack at the age of 57 on December 16, 2013. We also lost my grandfather to a heart attack on February 18, 1998 when he was 67, after having had previous attacks.

It’s probably no surprise to people that heart disease is the number one killer of women and men in the United States. The statistic is something like one in four people die from heart disease related deaths. It’s a huge problem in our family, particularly the men– two of my great uncle’s ( my grandfather’s brothers) have had major heart attacks, bypasses, and so on, as have a few of their sons. Other heart issues affect the women in the family on my grandmother’s side. My father and grandfather were both genetically predisposed to heart disease- my Dad had even had a clean bill of health at this doctor one week before he died. Heart attacks can happen to even marathon runners who are the picture of health, so it’s important to raise awareness about the importance of knowing family medical history as well.

My family decided to walk this year in the 2015 Southern New England Heart Walk not only to raise funds for research and awareness about the disease, but also as a way to honor the legacy of the two great men who we have lost too early. If you feel so inclined and are able, we’d appreciate a donation (tax-deductible) to our team. You can find our page here.  Even if you don’t, I hope you’ll raise awareness of the importance of heart health within your own circle of the world.

Thanks in advance.

Dad& Grandpa

Grief, Continued

Of course grief never goes away. It changes. Just like life after losing a loved one changes. I said to so many people after my divorce and after the death of Dad that things don’t get better, they get different. Grief, it turns out, gets different too.

It changes from the all encompassing heavy feel of sadness to the sense that something is missing to the random moments where it feels like nothing has changed. That random moment is of course always followed by the sobering reality that EVERYTHING has changed and you feel like such an idiot in that brief moment for forgetting how life is so incredibly different than it was before that horrible thing that happened.

Grief these days comes in weird ways, but often it takes its form in worrying. Am I doing enough for my family members? Am I honoring my father’s legacy in the right ways? To I think of him often enough? Am I doing the things he would want me to do? As we deal with the horrible winter in New England that will not let up, I think so often of how he would be dealing with this all, worrying about all of us and complaining with us too. It seems I’ve picked up his traits of worry and watching over my family in the same way he did- something that at times feels like an honor and something I want to do, other times like I can’t do enough and worry more.

It seems grief has become worry, guilt, sadness, anger, and fear all together. I feel the sense of loss and miss him fiercely when I want another creative mind to talk over my life/job angst with. I want another trained Portuguese taste tester to tell me if my kale soup is seasoned properly or not. Mostly, I just want to hear his laugh and see his smile, and for him to tell me everything is going to be okay.

One Year

A year since the world stopped turning. A year since everything we knew about life changed.

As I’ve said a million times before, grief is the strangest thing in life. It’s random, odd, and overwhelming. It comes in at the most inconvenient times ( like looking at Christmas ornaments in Target) and other times when you’d expect grief to be like a heavy cloak, it isn’t there at all.

My father was one of the most compassionate people I know. He would help out anyone, volunteer his time, serve on committees– you name it, he would help out with it. As this year has passed, there have been so many times when people I barely know tell me a story related to my Dad- maybe he remembered something random about them when they were younger, or asked how their parents were doing. Whatever it was, he went out of his way all the time to say hello to people, offer a smile, and good wishes. It’s remarkable to me who is often introverted or just plain clueless when I’m out at the supermarket, for example, how much he put himself out there. I’m amazed at how he remembered people’s names and faces– it truly was a gift.

I try to keep these things in mind all the time as a way to honor him. The other day I was at a workshop about leadership and a question was asked about who influenced me as a leader. The answer was of course my father, but in that moment, I couldn’t say it because I knew it would bring tears. He taught me so much about life and work– there hasn’t been a day at work that has gone by where I haven’t wished I couldn’t ask for his advice. He always had the best things to say. He truly challenged me to think about a situation or to be aware of how I was putting myself out there.

As I said with my brother in Dad’s eulogy a year ago, the world may not have known who my Dad was, but to the people in his world, he was everything.

To be completely honest, today feels like almost every other day of the year has felt. It has its sad moments, but I just keep on ‘keeping on,’ because there is no other alternative. It’s not that I don’t honor this day; this marks the full circle of a life without my Dad, but we live every single day honoring and remembering him because he was such a huge presence in life.

I could go on for pages and pages about Dad, but I’ll close with the biggest lesson I’ve learned over the past year: Love is all that matters. Tell the people in your world– your parents, your partner, your kids, whoever- what they mean to you now. Make sure they know the love, the respect, the gratitude you have for them. Dad&me001

Holidays These Days

Thanksgiving has come and gone. The moments of sadness were there, but overall, it was a day filled with love and family, which is how it should be.

My Christmas spirit hasn’t quite kicked in yet. We’re waiting to decorate the house until Little Man is with us, which won’t be until the second weekend in December. My office mate is listening to Christmas music and decorated our office Christmas tree, but otherwise, there isn’t a lot of Christmas around me yet. I adopted a needy family from the local child and family services again this year, so have been doing some shopping, but mostly online. After our huge house cleanouts this past summer, we’ve all decided we have enough stuff so are not doing Christmas presents;, so the only shopping to be done is for Little Man.  I am looking forward to seeing the holiday through a child’s eyes , so decorating with him will be fun. I think we may even do gingerbread houses together, which I’ve never done before!

Last year, the shock of Dad’s death 9 days before Christmas was numbing. What was to be a quiet Christmas with my parents, Q, and me turned into everyone being home and  supporting each other through a devastating time. We spent Christmas Eve and Day at home all together, something that hadn’t happened in years- so while it was sad, there was this amazing feeling of love and support from so many people that really helped us get through.

This year will be quite different. It’s just Q, Mom, and I, with only a little bit of Christmas Eve with Little Man. So we’ll see some of Q’s family and spend Christmas Eve and Day with close friends of the family ( or as I like to call them, family by choice). I’m taking the day after Christmas off from work. Overall, I think the holiday will pass without a whole lot of fanfare, which I appreciate since in the last 5 years or so, I’ve always felt so frantic this time of year. I’m coming to accept that every holiday will bring changes in the next few years, which isn’t a bad thing. I’m hoping we can maintain some old traditions, while making new ones for our family as a whole, and my small family with Q & Little Man.

Mostly, I’m thinking about how fast the year went by, but probably not in the same sense that everyone else is. It’s hard to think it will be a year since we lost Dad on the 16th of this month- it is both amazing and shocking still that it happened, that it has been that long, and that there are still days when life gets busy that I forget for an instant that it happened at all. Grief is so strange at times.

In the midst of all of this emotion, we’re adding another level to all of the feelings with the sale of my grandmother’s house. It was tough over the summer as we cleaned it out, knowing the only reason it was all happening was because Dad was gone. Now that the house has finally sold and we emptied out the last of the things we wanted over Thanksgiving weekend, it didn’t feel as sad because the house was pretty bare bones and disheveled, so it almost helped it feel less like a home. Maybe that’s just my way of containing emotions in a very overwhelming time. It seems almost fitting that the sale coincides pretty close with the year anniversary of his death. Maybe with one less thing off of the family’s mind, we can all work a bit more on our new phases in life. I’m hopeful.

Life with Little Man

Looking back on my marriage and my lack of interest in procreation, I think most of that attitude stemmed from the lack of confidence in myself and in my marriage. I knew things weren’t great and I wasn’t fooled into thinking that maybe a baby could make our relationship better. I’m sure deep down in my gut I knew that having a child with my ex husband would make a bad situation worse, and as hard as my divorce was, I am grateful everyday that it did not include a child in such a heartbreaking situation.

As good as it felt to have made that right decision for my life, I wondered from time to time if that meant I was taking a possible child out of the situation. I know families are made in many different, non-traditional ways, so even though I had no prospect of love on the horizon from a new partner, I knew at some point in my life, when I felt ready, that I would have a child in my life in some way.

When I began dating again, I tried to be open minded in meeting people and giving men a shot. My list of must haves and requirements for dating had not gotten me very far with the guy I married, so casting a wide net seemed to be the right decision. I also knew that at age 30 a lot of eligible men might be divorced or have kids- all of which I was comfortable with.

When I met Q, I knew early on that he was a special person. I like to keep so much of my life private from the internet and haven’t written much about Q, but after our first date was just five hours of talking about everything in life, I knew I was smitten. When I learned he had a son, it was just another wonderful aspect to him. Because of Q’s divorce and wanting to make sure we felt solid as a couple before I met his little man, we were dating almost a year before I met his son. And ever since then, life has been different, but in a way I couldn’t have ever imagined.

We only see Little Man ( who will be 6 at the end of the month) every other weekend, but from the moment he walks in the house on Friday to the minute he leaves on Sunday, time goes slower, things are simpler, and just in general, life feels great. He has a great creative spirit and enthusiasm for everything from Curious George to race cars.  I never tire of his endless questions or stories, but I definitely tire from trying to keep up with him!

I won’t lie– it’s been exhausting and I tip my hat to parents who have more than one child to race after at the playground- I don’t know how you all do it! But having him around is the best reminder to live life fully. I’ve never been so happy to have a messy house with random drawings and Legos thrown about. We’ve spent hours playing with cardboard boxes, running around playing tag or blowing bubbles, all great reminders that some of the best fun comes with the simplest things.

A few weeks ago, the three of us were in a parking lot, and as Little Man grabbed Q’s hand as we got out of the car, then he grabbed mine too. The three of us walked in a line, all joined together, and it was all I could do to keep myself from crying tears of joy because at that moment my heart was bursting for these two guys in my life.

Thinking About Dad

There are times it feels like it happened yesterday– each moment of that horrible day etched into my mind, and then there are times I can hardly remember how it all happened, like it was years ago, not six months. Passage of time, memories, feelings can be so strange sometimes.

I don’t think there ever is an end to grieving. It comes out of nowhere for me- last night it was thinking about the busy two weeks ahead with family things and how this month SHOULD have been so much different had the world not stopped six months ago. I get sad at the weirdest moments, but also find myself laughing or remembering a random memory at odd times too like the other day when I was dusting a family photo and remembered when my Dad would bring Portuguese sweetbread up to college not only for me and my roommates, but also for a local-born Portuguese professor who shares our last name and the college president.

It’s easy for me to ready and arm myself for what I know will be a tough day on Father’s Day. But I’m also trying to be positive and think of it as a day to honor the amazing man my Dad was, as well as to celebrate Q and the great father he is as well. Even as we cleaned out the basement and shed at my parent’s house this past weekend, we all just tried to keep in mind that memories are in our head, not in the objects of life or a house ( ps this NPR piece and this one on the topic of experiences/memories/photos could not have been better timed). We honor him by moving forward in life and trying to lead by his example- by helping others when we can, being kind, etc. Every time I let someone take a left hand turn or let them pull out in front of me in traffic, I think of my Dad– either because he often did this small act of kindness or because he would yell at someone for being slow/silly.

It also makes me happy that a lot of people randomly tell me things about my Dad that make me feel good. The other day the lady who owns a business next to my house told me I was so nice to say hi to her all the time, “just like your Dad did.”

To me, that’s the highest compliment anyone could ever say.

The “Process” of Grief

Before my Dad died, I wasn’t really comfortable- really didn’t really know how- to talk about death, grief, or the process of grieving. I didn’t really know what loss meant in my life. Through some miraculous luck of life, the first big loss that ever really affected me was when my Grandpa died in 1998. Prior to that, I attended a funeral mass for a great aunt when I was small, but had never been to a wake until Grandpa’s.

Since losing Dad in December, I’ve thought a lot about death, dying, grief. Not in any morbid or depressing day but just as a means of coming to terms with what it all means, how life has changed, how things could be worse. As a family we talk a lot about how, with something so horrible as losing Dad too early, it was sort of the best situation with all the factors being right- he knew enough to call for help, was able to get to the hospital, my mom, brother & I were able to get there to see him and say we loved him, etc. So many people who lose a loved one too early and suddenly don’t get those blessings and spend so much of their grieving process asking why? or if only. I thank God everyday that we know it truly was out of our–and medicine’s hands.

The “stages” of grief are funny ( funny odd, not funny haha) because the way they are written and understood is that you pass from one to the other and at some point, you come to this point of acceptance and calm that it’s over. But it’s not ever over. I watched a HBO documentary of Ethel Kennedy the other night ( highly recommend by the way) and she still can’t talk about/cries when thinking about the night her husband Robert Kennedy was assassinated. That’s almost 50 years ago. Grief is a process, sure– there are days when I don’t cry or get mad at God for taking my Dad too soon, but there are days when I miss him in ways I couldn’t ever imagined missing another human being, days when all I want is to hear his laugh or when I still think ” I’ll have to tell Dad that.” It doesn’t get easier– it gets different. That was my mantra when  my life got turned upside down with divorce,  and it’s true again now.

Before losing Dad, I personally didn’t like mentioning people’s losses/death of loved ones because I felt uncomfortable AND didn’t want to make them feel uncomfortable. It’s one of those things in life that people don’t know exactly what to do until they have been through it/are going through it. It’s uncomfortable because it very often involves the most sensitive and vulnerable feelings a human being can have– even if you have a horrible relationship with a loved one who died, there are still raw emotions there, whether they are anger, sadness, or something more ambiguous in the middle. And those emotions- that open sensitivity- is the weird thing that so many people don’t know how to handle. Even when I talk about my Dad with some people, there is often a weird look or something that suggests the uncomfortable nature they have with the idea of death or talking about it- no one wants to think about losing a loved one or worse, their own immortality, but that’s life.

So as far as this “grief” process goes, losing my father will always suck and be heartbreaking. There will never be a day I don’t think of him, talk to him, or mention him in conversation. I have accepted his death, but that doesn’t mean I have to like it. Coming to terms with the ‘new normal’ and different life is an everyday thing and something that evolves in it’s own way in response to my missing of him too. It’s the work of life to try to figure out what the heck is going on and how to proceed ahead– as I have often said ( and maybe it was my Dad who told me this to begin with): Life happens- adjust accordingly. 

 

 

 

Brother

This weekend, my older (and only!) brother got engaged to his girlfriend of a few years. I couldn’t be happier for them both. The two of them are so well-suited for each other and she has been part of the family for so long now, this next step for them is just wonderful.

My Dad knew before he passed away that my brother was thinking about asking her to marry him and he loved her like a daughter. She helped my Dad clean 2 turkey carcasses after Thanksgiving this year ( his most hated Turkey Day task) and that simple act alone made her golden to him. I know my father smiles down on all of us everyday, but I have no doubt he was extra proud and excited this weekend for my brother and my soon to be sister-in-law 🙂

My brother and I are barely 2 years apart; growing up we argued about the usual brother/sister things- who had control of the tv/remote control, who got the last cookie, or who was sitting to close to the other on a long car trip. We argued in the stupid silly ways that teenagers do and my brother was my frequent chauffeur when he got his license and a car. He was there the night I turned 21 and drank far too much, and has helped me move furniture, hang ceiling fans, and set up electronics more times than I can count. We have become closer as we have grown older, something which I will always cherish.

A lot of divorced people are cynical about love and marriage after they come out of a failed one. I’m not. I believe in love more than ever and know to appreciate it when I see it. On Saturday when my brother text me to tell me he bought the ring, I was at lunch with Q. I am excited for my brother– we both were ( although Q called it saying he didn’t think bro would be able to wait to ask her!). We long joked that my brother would be the eternal bachelor- he even dislikes holding babies still.

It’s a bittersweet time for the family so close to when my Dad passed, but it’s exciting too to think about the celebration of the love of my brother and his lady coming in the future. I’m so proud and happy for my brother.

DaveMe

Dad

I’ve started and stopped this post a few times in the last week or so as I try to find the words adequate enough to express my heartbreak, sadness, shock, and grief over the devastating loss of my Dad. I realize today that there aren’t actually any words.

A lot of what my family and I are going through is difficult to even comprehend in my brain, let alone write down in cohesive, coherent sentences. There are moments of levity and laughter among the tears and heartbreak. There are moments of happiness filled with memories and good stories that are followed immediately by ugly cries and lots of swearing at God and the universe for this pain and tragedy.

This is the kind of loss I know I and my family, my Dad’s friends, and people in our universe will never get over. When a person has such a big personality and kind heart as my Dad, it is irreplaceable. I know with time things will change, the tears will be less frequent, but the feeling that a part of me is gone will always persist. When I was getting divorced people kept telling me all the time that “things will get better.” I know from the loss of a marriage that things actually don’t get better– they get different. So like that loss, I know that someday things will get different and it won’t hurt as much as it does now, almost a month from his death.

The thing about losing a loved one- no matter the relation or time you know a person- is that it really is one of the rare times in life when the goodness and beauty in others comes out. In the hours, days, weeks following my Dad’s passing, my entire family was just overwhelmed with the amount of love and support for us from far and wide. Food, notes, phone calls, messages written on Facebook or the funeral home website- all comforted us and gave us some peace. People stood hours in line at my father’s wake to pay their respects to us- he touched more lives than we really ever knew. I have been absolutely humbled by the number of cards, notes, and messages of love and support not only telling me how much people respected and liked my Dad, but for how many people I have to lean on as I walk through the fog that is grieving. It certainly doesn’t lessen the pain of losing my best friend, but it made his passing seem to feel more peaceful as a celebration of his life and how his memory and legacy will live on. It’s certainly something that has helped carry me through some of the darker moments and stand strong.

I’ve also learned that love’s all that matters- and telling the people you love is crucial. It was a blessing that my brother, mother, and I were able to tell my father we loved him one last time in the hospital, but he knew it already because every single interaction we ever had as a family for all of my years ended with ” I love you.” That is one of the biggest blessings in my life and such a gift to be able to say that about my relationship with my parents, brother, and family.

I can’t guarantee that going forward in the next few months that this blog will be as it was before with cheery updates on what’s going on in my life, house, job, or random things I find on the internet. I do vow to keep this space going not just because it gives me the outlet to work through my feelings in my own way, but also because my Dad believed in my writing and encouraged me to pursue it more vigorously and I don’t want to disappoint ( even if he didn’t read it as regularly as my mom and aunt 🙂 ).

Dad&me001

Blog Break

I’ll be taking a blog break as I deal with the sudden and unexpected passing of my father, who died nine days before Christmas.

Thank you to those who reached out on Twitter and Facebook to send your support and prayers. I can’t even begin to express how much it has meant to me and my family.

Best wishes to everyone for a happy and healthy 2014. I promise to be back soon, but in the mean time, please go tell your parents, siblings, friends, and people in your life that you love them- because that’s all that really matters.

 

 

 

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