Life By Kristen

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

Archive for the category “Love”

John McCain & Grief

I met John McCain for a brief moment in 2007 when he was in New Hampshire campaigning for the 2008 presidential race. My then boyfriend (now ex-husband) was really involved in politics and after the NH Republican debate that year, we went to a few of the candidate after parties. Since it was literally a two second hello as he walked passed us, I don’t have anything meaningful to say about the interaction other than it happened.

I don’t agree with a lot of McCain’s politics, but I, like many people in the past few weeks, was struck with his death, possibly because it seems like it might signal not only loss of a good person, but also the loss of a type of civil politician that seems to be a rarity in these maddening times.

During all the pomp and circumstance that comes with the death of an American statesman, I was actually feeling more for his family. As happens when someone loses a parent, whether I know them or not, it always brings up grief and feelings related to my Dad. I commented to a few people how emotionally (and likely physically) exhausted the McCain family must be after the marathon week of memorials and ceremony– it was just 5 days from the day my Dad died to his funeral and it was by far one of the most tiring weeks I’ve ever experienced.

Seeing Megan McCain’s grieving brought back a lot of raw emotions for me and took me right back to that week almost five years ago. Again, don’t agree with most of her politics ( though I applaud her efforts on body-positive stuff for women), but felt connected with her in a weird way watching every public display of grief that the media seems to love so much. Side note: the voyeuristic nature of celebrity/public figure grief is something I will never understand the interest in, yet seeing it stirred something in me. The mind/heart is weird.

Grief is a weird life partner because even when you think you’re in a good head space, it creeps in at weird times. Songs, smells, a random memory all bring a person to mind– I like to think that’s when Dad’s spirit is with me so it can be comforting or it can be just plain unsettling. I also think grief and losing Dad has made me a much more empathetic, kind, and patient person. It’s also made me feel this urge to reach out to people who lose someone, especially a parent, because I feel like we’re in this club together. A club no one wants to be in, but there together and connecting in some way makes the situation easier to handle.

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Be Kind

The deaths of Kate Spade and Anthony Bourdain last week came at a time when suicide was on the mind of Q and I already. A year ago, Q’s brother-in-law took his own life, and it’s changed so much of our family since then. Not just the actual physical loss of someone, but dealing with the pain of knowing they chose to leave this world and trying to make sense of it all. It’s been really hard for Q because he was incredibly close to his BIL, who often was the only person he’d talk to about some tough things. They were fishing buddies, and it’s something they did together, so much that Q hasn’t even fished since.

The saying that’s been going around all week “everyone’s fighting a battle, you don’t know it, so be kind,” is very true. This December marks 5 years since my Dad died, and I’ve felt his loss more this year than probably the previous few. I think part of it is because I’m in a transition- planning about moving somewhere new (who knows where!), possibly a new career, and hoping to expand my family with Q. I think a lot about Dad when I’m doing yard work or things around the house, something we often did together. Father’s Day is always a tricky time that brings up a lot of sadness because he isn’t here to celebrate and there is so much all around reminding me he is not here. I actually had to stop buying Q a Father’s Day card because I was having crying fits in the card aisle. This year feels particularly touchy because Q likely won’t see Little Man. It’s a long story, but we haven’t seen Q’s son in quite some time and I honestly don’t know when we will again. It’s another layer to our grief battle, just another kind.

All of this is to say to remember to be kind to people and to tell your people you love them.

Via LifeofTheKind

 

 

June

I almost didn’t realize June began because I was entrenched in a conference in Maine last week that I was co-organized and helped to run. It was a success, but it was a blur of activity, moving boxes, running around to check on projectors, and various other duties that left me tired and more than a few days without seeing the outside of the hotel.

When I left my house on Memorial Day, I said to Q that I couldn’t wait for the conference to be over so we could finally have some time for us. We’ve had a stressful spring with some work woes for both of us, the fire next door to the house, deaths on both sides of our families, and this conference. We were looking forward to doing some vacation planning, buying new outdoor furniture, fixing our grill, and many other little things that bring us happiness.

Life, of course, has other plans.

Sadly, Q’s brother in law passed away unexpectedly over the weekend, and once again, we’re putting our plans on hold as we help his sister and niece. Things are still shocking and fresh right now and I think will be for the foreseeable future.

 

I’ll still be posting on here and have some book reviews coming down the line, but the big blog revamp I had in mind for June may get pushed back a bit, depending on how things shake out with life. Despite the curveballs that seem to keep coming our way, I’ve realized over the past few months that writing is the one thing I want and need to be doing and won’t abandon this space, even if it’s only my mother and aunt who still read it ( hi Pat and Cindy!).

Be well, friends.

Traditions, Old &New

For as long as I can remember, my mother and I have been making cookies for Christmas, as so many others do this time of year as well. Growing up, we almost always made them on Christmas Eve Day so there would be fresh cookies for Santa, and for family and friends who came to our house for Christmas Eve, and later for the many houses we would go traveling to on Christmas Eve. It was often just her and I who baked, with my brother frequently helping with the decorating. My Dad was usually out last minute Christmas shopping that day by himself, as that was a tradition of his own that he enjoyed.

As adulthood as crept in, we now make the cookies usually on the weekend before the holiday, bringing them to our coworkers and saving the rest for ourselves. It’s been a lot of fun in the past few years as now my sister-in-law joins in the fun. I think we made 7 different kinds of cookies this past weekend- all delicious and almost gone!

cookies

a small sample of our cookies, decorations by my brother!

Q and I are still working to establish our own holiday traditions with Little Man as each year it always depends on how Christmas falls and when we’ll end up seeing him to celebrate. In the past two years, we’ve made sure to decorate the house together and buy Little Man a new ornament every year for our little tree that he gets to pick out himself. We watch Christmas movies on the weekends we have him in the month of December, trying to expose him to new ones and favorites of ours that he has not yet seen ( he really liked Home Alone).

This year, it’s just the three of us for Christmas and while we’ll miss the rest of our family who are spending it in other places, I’m also very excited that we’ll have Little Man for Christmas Eve and a portion of Christmas Day. Seeing the fun of Christmas through the eyes of an 8 year old boy has brought a lot of joy to me this year that has been missing since my Dad died. I might be more excited about Christmas morning and the excitement of seeing what Santa brings than he is! We’ll continue a tradition from my family’s Christmas mornings too– cinnamon rolls for breakfast.

As a lover of history and family, I find traditions- no matter the holiday or time of year, fascinating. I’d love to know some of yours! As life changes around us, our traditions are often the things we hold onto for the memories, but the new ones that emerge bring excitement too.

 

3 Years

There’s no rule book on grief. If you ever lose someone and people try to tell you there’s some timeline to stick to, that “things get easier,” or whatever platitudes they think you want to hear, it’s totally fine to be polite and say thanks, but to know that it’s absolute krap.

People say things like that because they honestly don’t know what else to say. Often times those people haven’t ever lost a person close to them, someone they talked to every single day and relied on for so many aspects of life. I used to be that person who tried to find the right words, but mostly sounded silly and felt inadequate and uncomfortable around people who have lost someone.

Dad&me001

And now that I’ve solidly been in the category of losing someone who was in my inner circle of life, I can say that things don’t get easier– they get different. And they will continue to get different. Every day that you live is a day away from the person you lost. Every new thing that happens, every possibility of life is something that you can’t go and call that person or ask their advice. And that’s the tough part of grief. The loss isn’t just about changing life circumstances, though that can be huge. But it’s about not knowing what the person would say to you, how they would react, or what they might do to help a situation.

Three years after unexpectedly losing my Dad, after having our lives shot out of a confetti gun, I’m still trying to grab at the pieces. I think this past year has been the hardest for me since his death. The first year was all about working through the ‘grief-stones’– the birthdays, anniversaries, holidays, etc. and figuring out the various bits of life like finances, belongings, etc. The second year was about supporting my mother and family as they made decisions that came as a result of losing Dad.

And this past year, the third year which I felt was finally time for me to figure out my life– that I felt I finally was settled financially after my divorce almost left me broke, secure in my new relationship, and certain that my family was all going to “be OK”– that it was time for me to make my changes, my move, and do what I wanted. And it’s been the hardest thing I’ve ever experienced.

In some ways, I feel like this past year was the first time I really faced the grief. I’m a task master, a planner, and a to-do list maker. The pragmatic, practical side of myself worked through Dad’s death by making lists, organizing food, plans, people. I did this for year one and year two. But year three was just me. And as I faced questions of what next? and possible moves, I have never felt so lost without my Dad.

I realize I might always cry when there’s something on TV or a movie when someone says “I love you Dad.” I know that he’s with me and I talk to him on a regular basis. It kills me to think that he never met Little Man or any potential grandkids. I know that feeling isn’t going to go away. I know that it might lessen with time and that as things happen in life, I’ll figure it out.

It’ll never be the same, it will never be better, it’ll just be different.

Harry Potter

Almost 10 years (!) later, I finally read Harry Potter. Only the first one, but I’ve already got the next 2 from my coworker and they’re on deck after I read a few library holds.

What took me so long? The books came out when I was in high school and I had no interest in fantasy or magic. I probably thought the books were silly since a lot of young readers were into them, though I can respect and appreciate that the series and J.K. Rowling are the reason so many younger readers fell in love with books and reading.

sorcerers-stone

And why now? Partly out of curiosity to see what the hype was all about, especially as this year brought some new Harry Potter related books and movies that brought the subject back onto my social media feeds and had many friends and coworkers talking about it. I originally thought it might be something Little Man and I would read together, but he didn’t have much interest yet ( he is very clearly a Star Wars kid and not much else right now). I also have realized in the past year or so that I do have some interest in fantasy, as I’ve expanded my cultural horizons with the movie interests of Q.

Of course, I loved it. It took me longer to read than I would have liked, as the busy pace of the month of November took over. If I had an uninterrupted weekend to sit down, I likely would have read it in one or two sittings. As it was, when I had 150 or so pages left, I let Little Man watch an extra hour of cartoons on a Sunday morning so I could lose myself in the book ( a perfect way to spend a Sunday morning in my opinion).

And the funny/weird/amazing thing about the timing of my reading it. With the Thanksgiving holiday and the upcoming 3rd anniversary of my Dad’s death, I was particularly emotional last week. I found myself missing my father more than I have in awhile and feeling a bit lost in grief and life. Sunday morning I was emotional and thinking a lot about my Dad after spending Saturday night at La Salette Shrine’s Christmas display (more on this tomorrow), I got to the end of the book, and this passage below. It gave me goosebumps and made me teary, but made me feel comforted in a way I needed.

potter-passage

“…To have been loved so deeply, even though the person who loved us is gone, will give us some protection forever.”

I’ve always believed in the power of books for many things, but at that moment, it was exactly what I needed to read.

 

Opposites Attract

3.5 years ago, Q and I “met” on OKCupid, about a week before I was about to cancel my account. I was post-divorce, trying to be open about meeting new people, even if they didn’t seem like ‘my type.’

If you wrote down our various interests and traits between us, it would look like we’re mismatched. He doesn’t read a lot, isn’t super into traveling, and isn’t a huge fan of social get togethers outside of close family and friends. He likes sci-fi, watching the Weather Channel, and would eat the same meal every day if he could ( likely beef). I’m not exactly the polar opposite of all those things, but we have our differences for sure.

But what we share the most (other than a love for each other and who we are as human beings) is our value of respect and honesty. We both came from marriages where we didn’t feel like we could be ourselves with the person we were with.

We’re together because he’s kind, compassionate, and an amazing listener. When I’m hyped up about something, I literally can feel my muscles relax and my blood pressure come down when I’m in the same room as Q. We’re together because he makes me a better version of me- highlighting all the awesome Kristen things and challenging me on my bad habits and quirks. He supports me- and all my crazy ideas.

Q and me

Maybe it’s because we both have been married before or maybe it’s because we’re in our 30s and aren’t interested in the games. We let each other be ourselves- he’s picky about some things and I let him make those decisions on his own because he’s an adult.

As I’ve learned so many lessons from being a ‘bonus mom’ to Q’s son, being a partner to Q also has helped me grow as a person. It turns out, I like some sci-fi and he likes some history! I have taught him that vegetarian meals can be just as delicious as a big steak and that making a list for the grocery store will make the trip less annoying. There are the big things too of course, as he is a constant reminder that getting angry in any situation is often the worst thing to do as he is one of the most even-keeled people I know personality-wise.

Sure, we drive each other nuts sometimes, mostly because we’re both stubborn and often very independent people. I like to do things my way, no matter the mess or trouble, but he’d rather be practical and do something once. I’m a clean, organized person who gets joy out of order, while he has piles of paper and clothes ( what I call the ‘floordrobe’ these days), and would never make a to-do list to save his life. We balance each other out in a way that makes being with him the easiest part of my life.

So we may rarely mutually agree on a movie to watch and I might have to push and plead to get him on a plane, but we work. And I wouldn’t have it any other way.

The Wisdom of a 7 Year Old

Excuse me, 7 1/2 year old. I’m told the half is very important.

This past weekend we had Little Man and Saturday night’s dinner conversation somehow turned to the presidential race because Election Day occurs a week after Little Man’s 8th birthday. Here’s pretty much how the convo went, paraphrasing a bit.

Little Man: And then after my birthday, we elect the first woman president.

Q: Well, we hope to elect the first woman president. There is someone running against her.

Little Man: Is he the guy who yells all the time?

Q: Yep. Not everyone likes him, but not everyone likes Hillary, the woman who is running against him. The same thing happened with Obama.

Little Man: Obama is our president now.

Me: You’re right, and he was our first ever black President. It’s a big deal for him and for Hillary because women and black people didn’t always have the right to vote.

Little Man: That’s not fair. Why?

Me: Because a long time ago white men thought they were the only ones who had the intelligence and ability to make decisions.

Little Man: Well that’s just silly.

Oh the wisdom of a 7 1/2 year old.

****

On a related note, I was incredibly surprised how moved I was last night when Hillary’s nomination became official. I don’t talk about politics often and have tried to keep a lot of the noise and media rants out of my head the past few weeks, but between Michelle Obama’s speech on Monday night and the official nomination last night, I have found myself tearing up on more than a few occasions. I think it’s because I see the perspective of the very special 7 1/2 year old little boy who doesn’t even question a woman being president and the prospect that I could someday have a little girl of my own that could change the world when she grows up now that this barrier has been broken. Whatever your politics and where you stand on the issues, it’s an amazing thing to see happen, no matter the outcome.

Life Partner

 

As  Q and I celebrate 3 years together today, it’s amazing to look back on the life we’ve built together in such a short period of time. We’ve supported each other through our fair of challenges and while I feel strongly that this year is for us and making our dreams come true, I know that whatever craziness comes our way, that we will face it together.

JOhn & me July 2013

Thanksgiving Week

 

The anticipation of Thanksgiving is more exciting to me than Christmas.

I love all the planning and preparation that goes into a day that is solely focused on family, friends, and food.

A day to be openly grateful, even though I am that way the rest of the year too. But it’s a great reminder to take the time to remember gratitude and blessings. I’ve been particularly negative with a few aspects of life lately and I’m making the conscious effort to combat that negativity with kindness and positive vibes. It’s not easy, but the alternative is making me miserable ( and yes, I’m being vague on purpose).

I’m looking forward to making our family stuffing on Wednesday night, a recipe passed down from my grandmother, and until last year, made almost every year by my grandmother, aunt, and myself. Even though I do it solo with Q’s help, it still makes me feel connected to my family in important ways.

In my own soapbox moment, I think it is completely ridiculous that some stores are open on Thanksgiving. Massachusetts, with its Puritan beginnings, has some strict “blue laws” about holidays and retail (liquor too), so no stores can be open until midnight of Black Friday. The idea of getting more deals on a holiday that is supposed to be about taking time to reflect and give thanks makes me feel yucky and shake my finger in shame at even my favorite retailers. I will never shop on  Thanksgiving.

I have to work on the day after Thanksgiving ( it’s one of the most quiet and productive days of the year), but even in the past when I haven’t, I’ve never really taken part in the Black Friday early morning shopping festivities. It’s just not worth it for me, plus I like sleeping in late!

 

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