What to Say to Someone Who is Grieving

In these last ten weeks full of sadness and support, people have said some truly wonderful things to me, and I'd like to share a few, in case you too are looking for the right words. 

A brief disclaimer though: there are no right words. 

Nothing can take the pain of grief and loss away, try though we might. And lord, I wish that weren't so. After we lost Jake, in the immediate next few days, it was very important that people keep talking to me. My fear was that people would be afraid of saying the wrong thing and so they wouldn't say anything at all. 

I worried about this, because I have done it myself. Keeping my distance from the intensity of grief. The pain is so incredible and so raw and unrelenting, I had a tendency to stay back. I can see now that this was foolish, but when you don't know what to do, you really don't know. 

And the truth was, I was scared of grief. I read a beautiful story once of a woman who'd lost her husband too, and she made a new friend in her new town. Kind of a strange, eclectic person that is all out there with their emotions. One night the friend visited the grieving woman while she was crying and insisted that it was okay to let her come in the house. "Let me in, Claudia," she said, "Your grief doesn't scare me." Beautiful. (But I couldn't imagine saying that myself. The idea of some young woman suddenly losing her husband was terrifying. It still is. But it's also real life now.) 

So here are a few ideas on things people can say or have said or versions of things I've heard that have been nice to hear or read. 

Me and his sister Meggie at his service

  • How are you today?
  • How are you right now? 
  • I'm bringing dinner over, what sound sounds good? 
  • I'm coming over after kids' bedtime. Do you want red or white? 
  • My husband wants to come over to help with any yard work/housework you may have.
  • Thinking of you. No need to respond.
  • Thinking of you and sending love.
  • Sending prayers for you and your family. 
  • Was just sitting here working and got to thinking about you. Always sending love in your direction babe (from a friend who lost her mom)
  • Ah, guilt. The unexpected buddy of grief. I'm working on that myself. (from a new widow friend) 
  • I have no words to express my condolences or to say how wonderful I thought Jake was.
  • I wanted to call but didn't know when was a good time.
  • I didn't know what to say, frankly I'm still in shock. 
  • Too often when tragedies like this happen, people ar afraid to reach out because they cant find the right words and grief tends to make people uncomfrotable. I am admittedly one of those people.

Hearing about how other people are processing all of this can also be very welcome. Or just hearing about other people's problems and being able to help a little or offer some advice. This may seem counter-intuitive. People don't want to heap more emotional stuff on me and I get that. But it's nice to be helpful or to be a listener. In my case, I've only got problems that no one can solve.

It's also nice when someone who isn't as close to me just waves or smiles or nods in my direction. There's no obligation to talk, and sometimes I don't really want to. In the first few weeks I felt incapable of even smiling back. But that has gotten easier. And I'm trying to think of these little moments as chances to feel connection and brighten my day.

What isn't helpful? There's only one thing I've pinpointed as truly unhelpful. And this is when a conversation turns into ME comforting someone ELSE for feeling sorry for ME. It's a very specific, and luckily rare, situation. Like, "Oh my goodness I couldn't imagine if MY husband died, I wouldn't be able to do it!" or "Tell me, how are you doing it??!" But not because they want to know, just because they want comfort from their own fears. This sort of thing hasn't happened much and never with family or friends. But did happen once in front my loving grandmother, and she politely, but abruptly, ended that conversation for me. Bless her. 

I suppose there's other things that aren't helpful, but I think that's because there are no perfect words. Platitudes don't help. "You'll get through this," or "it will get better" are not inherently bad, they just don't help when you're slogging through it. I've told people, "You'll need to keep telling me that." Because I don't believe it right now. I don't have ears for it. But I will. I want to believe it.

Lastly, I love hearing stories about Jake. It's a real comfort. We shared tons of stories at his memorial service and reception, and we keep sharing them at parties and late night visits and phone calls. I'll talk about his with anyone. I love getting more information about his life. It might seem like I'd be sad to hear his name brought up, but really the opposite is true. I love it. I want so badly to re-live the story of our life together. I want to know everything about him. He was incredible, and I got to love him for thirteen beautiful years. His capacity for empathy and true friendship was off the charts. And he was the absolute best husband and father to our children. His stories make me feel like I'm living a little bit more of that life, which makes him feel a little bit closer.

A Terrible Thing Happened

2017-09-28 22.51.56.jpg

This was something I wrote on a note to our delightful housekeeper before she came in to clean up a living room full of unfamiliar furniture, sympathy cards, and absolutely none of Jake's clothes to wash or fold. "A terrible thing happened." The furniture had to be replaced because four weeks earlier my husband Jake sat down on our old green couch and never got up.

Yesterday (a Monday, already a terrible day), it was 8 weeks. Mostly I feel like nothing has changed. Mostly I feel like I cry just as much as I did those first 4 weeks. Mostly I look around this house and wonder where did he go? Why did he go? We needed him. We love him. I don't know how to do this without him. 

Except that I am. I still need to get the kids fed and dressed and off to school every day. And although I've been mostly capable of doing this, I have no idea how. People tell me that I am "strong," and they don't know how I'm doing it, but I'm "doing great." I'm not. Or maybe I am. But it doesn't matter. I don't wake up every morning thinking, what do I want to do today? Should I be heroic? No. I just wake up and miss him and get the kids ready and miss how he used to take Olivia to school every day and miss how everyone would say hello to him at her school because everyone loved Jake. 

I obsess over how this happened. I obsess over everything I wish I had done differently. But how can you predict a heart attack? If I had asked his doctors if this would happen, I suppose they would have "yes, it could, he is at risk." And he was. And I suppose we knew that. But it was both predictable and completely sudden at the same time. There are a thousand little things that contribute to heart disease over years and years, and there is one quick little moment when it happens, and then they are gone. It feels like he slipped through my fingers.

I can't decide if life works like this: where life is resilient and the ability of the body to live and withstand hardship is strong and it really takes quite a bit to kill a human body. Or is it like this: where life is fragile and we must make choices every day to keep the human body healthy and strong or else life slips away? I don't know why this is so heavy on my mind. It feels important that I figure this out. And every day there is some new mystery, big or small, that gets my wheels spinning. Like whether I should move back home and live with my sister. Or whether I should cancel Jake's credit cards.

I will write more. I may not share much more about Jake's medical history because frankly it's no one's business and he never shared it much himself. But there is much I need to say, and writing feels good. He would want me to write-- for that reason, and because he really liked my writing. He would tell me that I'm strong too. It kills me.

I Know Why You Don't Understand but It's Okay

When I was in the 5th Grade I bought a shirt that said "The Weaker Sex Just Kicked Your Butt!" I felt powerful wearing that goofy little $9.99 wonder.  I was out there, taking a stand! No one at my small, conservative Catholic school could stop me, because it didn't say "ass" it said "butt" (which might as well have been the C-word in those days and times).

Ah, the power of speaking your mind.  I didn't actually know that women could be referred to as the "weaker sex" until I saw that shirt. No one talked like that. But once I knew this was a thing, I was pissed, and I needed to show that. On a shirt. At my school.

My folks must have let me do it, and I'm grateful. It was an early introduction into the world of wearing what you stand for on your sleeve (literally). And walking around with it, and knowing that other people might judge you or make fun of you (which happened) or just casually silence you. I needed this lesson, though I didn't know it. I needed this toughening up.

When I was in the 11th grade I was sexually harassed at school. A boy walked up the stairs and put his hand under my butt and slid it along as he walked past. At first, I didn't think it had really happened. My first instinct was to doubt myself. (Revision: my first instinct was to believe in the goodness of other people.) He must have done it by accident. He was on the track team with me. I looked up in shock and waited for him to look back and laugh. "Look at me, Blake!* Say something stupid so I can punch you in the arm and we can laugh and this will be just be a dumb joke."

But he didn't look at me. He just kept walking. So I just felt scared and silly and dismissed it.

Until he did it again. Later that same day he touched me again, and this time his hand lingered on my butt a little longer, it was more grabby, more brazen. In a moment, I realized (a) I was not wrong about the first time, (b) he got away with it once so he thinks he can do it again, and (c) I want to curl up into a ball and disappear.

I did not "kick his butt." I did not punch his arm. I cried out, "He did it again!" My voice cracked. And then I ran into my track coach's classroom with a friend trailing behind. And I cried and cried and shook with fear. The idea of going back out into the hall terrified me.

It was not the reaction I had anticipated.

When I young, I played basketball on the playground with the boys. They hadn't invited me. I just wanted to play so I made them let me in. I enjoyed these little acts of defiance, and I recruited my girl friends to join in too. One time I stood in the way of the P.E. teacher who was only asking boy students to come up and demonstrate the football positions. I demanded to be seen. I dared anyone to try and exclude me because I was a girl.

But in the track coach's classroom all I wanted was to disappear. I felt gross. I felt like someone had pulled my pants down. I wanted to step out of my skin because I was so, so gross. And all the damn crying. The tears poured out. I looked back a few days later just dumbfounded. I didn't understand the reaction then, and I didn't understand it as it was happening. It would be years before I'd understand, or hear other girls describe the same kind of thing.

Why didn't I kick his butt?

I didn't have that shirt any more. I'm not sure what happened to it.

Within days this boy had been suspended. The administration took care of all that. I don't remember having to tell my story to a bunch of people, I think they all believed what had happened and they took it seriously. But other kids didn't. They didn't know. Blake wasn't just ON the track team, he was a STAR on the team. Kind of a strange, quieter guy, but lightening fast. I could see how people wouldn't believe he'd do anything like this.

In English class one day I saw a boy sitting across the room from me wearing a shirt that he had made himself. It said "Bring Back the Falcon." The Falcon was Blake. Then I saw that there were others too, with shirts or pins saying the same thing. They didn't believe me. (Revision: they didn't know. They truly did not know what the eff they were doing.)

To this, I reacted with sadness and a bit of anger. I mean, fuck these guys. I didn't need this. I didn't ask for this. I didn't get the kid suspended. What was I supposed to do? I really did not know. It seemed like I had done something wrong, I got that feeling. It registered (you selfish girl, why did you punish this talented young man?) Only I was at a total loss to explain what I had or hadn't done.

Because I couldn't. Because it had been done TO ME. Me, the victim, only I'd never seen myself as a victim. 

What could I do? I could throw my hands up at them, tell them "I can't DO anything! This wasn't my fault!" I could skip school for a while, let it blow over.

I could have put on my energetic, young feminist hat and reamed them out for being dicks to a victim of sexual harassment. But that girl was not there. Not even close. I was still afraid, still shaky. I didn't want to feel that way. But I didn't get to choose.

It's been seventeen years since this happened. The fear is still there. I still don't understand why it was fear and not anger, except that I lived it, and through that experience I do understand. I get it in a way that can't be reduced to words. My heart reacted, perhaps, because it understood exactly what that boy was doing. It wasn't just a touch. It was an invasion. It crossed a line of consent, of respect, of recognizing that I was a person whose opinion about what my body would and wouldn't do, mattered. He didn't look at me. He didn't do it by accident. He thought he could get away with it.

I'd like to tell you that I'm glad I took a stand. But I wasn't. If I'd known what would happen, that they would wear shirts and mock me and disbelieve that I'd had this painful experience, I would have stayed silent. I would have asked them to let me stay home and keep Blake at school.

Does that make you sad to hear? I'm sad about it. I'm pissed about it.

But now I am ready to speak this truth. I understand why they mocked me. I understand they didn't have a goddamn clue. A minute before it happened, I didn't have a clue either. I would have wondered why one little touch would reduce me to a crying, panicky mess. Why would one incident send a track star home on suspension? Couldn't they at least let him practice with the team? Was it that big a deal?

I didn't have a clue what I'd do in a situation like this. Victims don't kick ass. They cry, and hurt, and feel terror and shame. That's normal. And lots of people don't get it, sometimes I guess you need to live through it.

Now before you give up on this hopeless mess of a sad story, let me remind you: one person did believe me. Coach Nelson believed me. He never doubted it. He looked into my eyes and heard my words and went straight to the principal's office and did the right thing. He didn't pause for a second. And don't forget, this track star was Coach Nelson's track star. We lost the next track meet. It didn't matter. I mattered. Doing the right thing mattered. I didn't fully appreciate it at the time, but I've never forgotten. Bystanders can be so powerful, they have more power than they know.

Coach, wherever you are, thank you. May the world be filled with people just like you. May we all believe in the goodness of people.
-----

This is a story I've been mulling over for some time, and especially during this 2016 election season. Donald Trump brought sexual harassment to the forefront of American conversation and appalled us with his words and actions, but the result was that we elected him and ignored the bad things he'd said and done. I feel like I understand all of this so well, and it goes back to these incidences I had as a teenager. I know why Trump doesn't think it's a big deal. I know why the women didn't speak out then and why some of them don't speak out now and why some of them do. I know how they felt and how they feel now after being ridiculed.

We should be ashamed of looking past these actions and electing him anyways. We should have stood up for these women, and stood up to Trump. I believe that with all my heart. And yet I also believe in the goodness of people. I don't think cluelessness makes you an evil person. I believe people deserve a second chance, including the American people. I believe we can make this right. 

 

*Blake is not his real name. He knows who he is, and I truly hope that he finds peace.
 

Kindergarten is happening

Wednesday night

Lunch prep: Day 1

Lunch prep: Day 1

Tonight I put together Olivia's lunch for school. Tomorrow. Because school starts tomorrow.

I never really understood the people who created designer lunches. Sushi shaped like faces. Carrot smiles and sandwich cut-outs to look like eyes, pretzel noses and broccoli ears.

It's complete overkill. But now I kind of get it. Because whatever I put in this little flower-patterned lunch bag is what she will have when I'm not there. This is what I send with her. And I want there to be a moment in her day when she opens the bag and sees how much I love her. How much I believe in her, and how I'm so proud. Even though she's bravely entering this world of school and new friends and new activities, I want her to know that her mama is still here loving her and I always, always will be.

Now how do I show that with food?

Thursday morning

We got up at the earliest possible time. I wrote out our plan on my white board (Lord I love white boards) and referred to it occasionally. As long as I get out of the shower by 6:40 this will all work out.

It didn't matter. We got to school a half hour before the bell rang. Like maniacs. There were still cars pulling in as we left, way after the bell, and the worst part of me was like, how are all these people *just* now getting here? Don't they love their children??!! (kidding)

We went into the cafeteria where the kids wait for their teachers to come and get them and lead them off to class. Several families looked like ours: two parents, a little sibling, all eyes on the kindergartner. Olivia looked so small and her backpack looked so big and the school seemed enormous and perfectly clean and the parking lot was chaos but inside everything ran like a well-oiled machine.

Two kids from Olivia's daycare ran up to her and hugged her, so excited to see her after hardly seeing her at all during the summer. And I sent a little prayer of thanks up to the heavens. Thank you! Thank you for sending these friends to her. Please let them be helpful and nice and make her look cool and popular. Okay, just joking about that last part but if it's not too much trouble, it wouldn't hurt, you know?

Eventually the moment came where we had to say goodbye and we had to do it without crying. That would have completely freaked her out. So I smiled my biggest smile at her, and gave her one last hug.

"Have fun today, okay?"

"Okay, mama."

"But not TOO much fun, okay?"

"Mo-om!" (laughter)

And the bell rang, and the teacher gathered her group, and the little ducklings waddled off behind her single-file. And the two parents and the little brother watched until she was down the hall and out of sight.

"Olivia school," Henry said. "Yes."

Saturday night

My sister and I were talking. It always starts innocent enough. How are you! How's the house? Ok, so how is Kindergarten going? How's it really going?

Okay, well, here's the story. So I told her how it went.

"This is not an easy story to hear," she said to me. Or maybe there was an exclamation point there, because it wasn't easy [!] It was hard! There were tears!

And so we had some tears, her and I. It felt good to be understood. Even though I still don't completely understand.

Sunday night (1 week later)

Sunday was book club night. Several mamas whose children haven't started school yet, some with no school kids, and two of us who just started. So it was a good time to hash it out. We talked about the details, the pick-ups and drop-offs, the classrooms we hadn't fully seen inside, and the kids who were mean on the playground this week.

These are all part of the picture. But it's still hard to explain the emotions behind the Kindergarten transition.

Earlier in the summer I really didn't think it would be a big deal. Lil O has been going to daycare since she was 8 months old, and she loves it! She loved the summer preschool program we enrolled her in. And I knew she would. Because she is social kid. A rule-follower. A born learner. Like me, she tries to get all the gold stars. Like Jake, she is charismatic, she thrives in a crowd.

But she is also my baby. Watching her walk down the big hall of this big school in single-file behind a teacher I felt like I was watching her walk straight into this next phase of life. A very tangible transition.

When a baby learns to walk, there is no "first step." People try to capture this moment and they might tell you that they did. They'll say that Baby So-and-So walked on THIS date. But in reality, learning to walk is a long process. It's a lot of inching out and falling down, inching, letting go of the coffee table for a second, then grabbing again, then letting go, falling, getting up, and so on. One day you look at her and realize she's walking more than crawling. Thank goodness, you think, that took forever. 

Not school! School happens on one day, ready or not. There's no grabbing the coffee table a little longer for stability. You just let go. The bell literally rings, and you let go of them, and they walk into Kindergarten. It's beautiful. And heart-wrenching. And perfectly normal.

Please, God, let her just walk into that classroom like it's no big deal. Let her fit right in. Let those JCPenney clothes be just the right thing we were supposed to buy. Let her backpack be cute. Let her lunch remind her that her mom and dad love her. But do not let the carrot sticks remind her too much of home. Keep homesickness at bay, please oh Lord. If there are tears, let them be mine. If there are scraped knees, let them be some other kid's. Or maybe hers. Let her days be filled with equal parts challenge and triumph, timidity and reassurance. May she grow to love learning. May she grow a bit slower (please?) but always just surrounded by love.

Crossfit Training Like a BOSS

I been runnin. I been runnin.

Big news update: I'm training for a crossfit competition this summer. Very excited. It's been a long time in the making. Here is a little interview I did with myself and a few pictures I took of myself (awkward).

How long have you been training?

  • Good question, me! I've been doing crossfit and similar style workouts (HIIT, Tabata) for nearly 4 years. At that time I had been working in a new job for several months and was finding it hard to find time to work out. So I joined a lunchtime class at my gym in the hopes of doing a really hard workout in a small amount of time.  Crossfit seemed like a great bang for the buck.

Did it work? Is crossfit a great bang for the buck?

  • Yes and no. Like any workout, crossfit is all about what you put into it. If you train hard and show up regularly, you will definitely see results. As in, you'll be stronger and you'll get better at it and you might even get addicted (like me). But it won't build you gigantic muscles overnight. And like any workout, it doesn't solve everything. Food is a big factor if you're hoping to lose weight. I lost 5 lbs pretty easily in the first month I tried it, but after that, nothing.

My gym. Where the magic happens.

What exactly is crossfit?

CrossFit is constantly varied functional movements performed at relatively high intensity.
— crossfit.com
  • Ok, I kind of needed to look this up. I know what it is at MY gym, and that's the only place I've done crossfit (so far). Crossfit workouts are intense, it's all about lifting as much as you can, as quickly as you can, in the shortest amount of time. The workouts are timed, so there's a fun, competitive component. And we write down our times and weights afterward. I keep my own book to record my 1-rep max for the weight lifting and a few of my scores and workouts. That's all about measuring my own progress and keeping myself motivated. One important thing about crossfit is the people. It's really fun to get together and do hard workouts with a group of motivated people (not muscleheads), just regular folks. I love it.

Why doesn't crossfit make you lose weight?

  • Honestly, I don't think crossfit ever promised to help anyone lose weight. So that's one thing. It's a high intensity workout that combines cardio and weights. It does not care about calorie burn so much. I think it's more about making you a powerful, dynamic person.
  • In my case, I learned this the hard way. After losing that first 5 lbs I quickly realized that the weight was not melting off. I got discouraged by the scale, so I stopped getting on it. Bad decision? Maybe. I certainly didn't lose the baby weight I was hoping to lose. I did the opposite, in fact. One year after starting my crossfit journey, I weighed the most I've weighed post-pregnancy.

What do you do if you want to lose weight and do crossfit?

  • I think you need to separate your crossfit journey from your weight loss journey.
  • For me, I needed to tackle my food game, big time. I won't get into the details of it (less caloric intake, basically), but I will say it was helpful thinking about how much you needed to eat for that day. On workout days, I ate more, especially protein, in the mornings. On other days, I stuck to my plan. Finally by the 1.5 year mark, I was slimmed down and feeling really good about myself and my workouts. I was kicking ass. And that's exactly when I got pregnant again.

Can you do crossfit while pregnant?

  • Yes! Obviously, check with your doctor first. My care providers (midwife and physical therapist) wanted me to be careful not to raise my heart-rate too high. So sometimes I needed to take longer breaks between sets or modify a movement or walk instead of run, etc. But I stuck with it and tried to basically do the same workouts as the class, just modified.
  • My coach, Heidie (pictured here being amazing), also did crossfit while pregnant. She was very inspiring. If you ask her if you can do this while pregnant she will tell you Absolutely! And she will tell you about how she went into labor while doing double-unders. It's a cool story. I won't ruin it. (She had a baby afterward and he's a very sweet two-year-old now.)

I can doooo it! 8 months pregnant, going to class.

I did it! 2 years later.

What are your goals with this?

  • My biggest goal was to go and compete. And I'M DOING IT!! After I had baby Hank, I resolved to get back into shape (and better than before) and enter a real competition. I got back in the gym at 3 months postpartum and all my workout buddies were preparing for the Crossfit Open. I really wanted to join, but I was like a floppy fish at that point. The following year I entered the Open, and I didn't do too bad. Out of the 8 or so competitors at my gym, I usually finished 5th/6th/7th. That was about 6 months ago. For the summer games, I am competing as a team with the lovely, Janelle. I'm hoping we finish in the middle of the pack. The middle-middle. Not bottom-middle. Ha!
  • So over the years my goals have gone like this:
    • Workout regularly (check)
    • Lose weight (check)
    • Get back into shape after having baby (check)
    • Compete!

Me and Janelle!

So that's my story, and off I go to THE GAMES on August 20th!!!

Just Your Average 8 Year Anniversary

Young kids. No idea what they were getting into.

When I was 22 I could not really fathom being in a relationship for 8 years.

When I was 23 I met Jake.

Jake was different. He was unlike just about anyone I'd met.

Except when he wasn't. Except when he met my family, and it seemed like he was one of us. It seemed like he'd been there all along. We started to feel really weird when he wasn't there. We didn't like it.

Saying "yes" to a first date with Jake was exceptionally easy. Especially, because, when you think of it, I kind of orchestrated the whole thing. I told my friend Tiffany who told Johnny who told Jake, that if he asked me out, I wouldn't say no.

I never said no to spending time with Jake. After our first date, we spent 4 more days together that week. (Our first date was a Sunday. Something kind of holy about that, I think. Also I had the day off from work.)

A few things about me and Jake: we like each others' company. We hang out a LOT. And we haven't seemed to get tired of it after 8 years of marriage (plus 4 years of dating). We also like hanging out with other people. There aren't too many people that are "just my friends," or "his" friends.

A lot of that can be attributed to Jake, of course. Because good people flock to him, and then the two of us devise a plan to keep those people around as friends. And it works.

It works, I think, because in our 8+ years together we have sort of melded into a unit that is better than the sum of its parts.

When I think back to the person I was at 22, I can't really fathom being that person today. Not because I was a bad person. I just had such a harder time being soft and easygoing, letting things go when I perceived them to be unjust. I had a hard time when people around me let me down, or seemed to do so.

I really don't know how to put this concept into words, but I think something happens when you spend so much time with someone you love and admire. (of course it does, I know) But it's more than just "he makes me a better person!"

My husband allows me to look at myself from an outsiders' viewpoint. I can see him, see me, and love me for the person I am. He can forgive the parts of me that I don't very much like and wish didn't exist. But they do. They are there, and they are not all bad. Like that part of me that cannot abide with injustice. It comes from a person who wants the world to be a kinder, fairer place.

Still crazy after all these years...

It comes from a person who doesn't fully understand why the world is not so fair. It is part naiveté, and part la résistance.

And that's all well and good. But it's also okay to walk away from the revolution from time to time and just be a person. A wife. On a couch, in a house that we bought 7 years ago, when we barely knew what we would become.

You are my heart, dear husby. Happy Anniversary.

Goodbye, Daphne girl

I have been known to say that sometimes things don't feel real to me until I write them down. That's how I feel now about the loss of my dog.

On February 17, 2016, we lost our dear old Daphne girl.

She was the best worst dog ever. It's the only way to describe her.

For fourteen years she was our constant companion. She was, like all family members, a combination of endearing and infuriating traits. I can't possibly capture everything I want to say about her. I'll focus on a few key points in her story. Especially the ones I don't want to forget.

Chapter 1: I want a dog

Jake and I are sitting on our green furniture warehouse couch in the University family housing apartment we had rented my first year of law school. We are having a conversation we've had many times before. It goes like this:

"I want a dog."
"I know you do, but we aren't allowed to have one here."
"Then let's move!"
"We can't afford it."
"We have to. I want a dog so badly I can feel it."

So we agreed to move in a few months, and we did. Within days of settling into our new apartment, Jake's folks arrived with our beautiful, special, indignant bundle of love, Daphne.

Chapter 2: A brief backstory

*Not actually Daphne, but a very similar picture. She had lots of black fur as a puppy, which gave way to light brown as she grew.

Daphne was born somewhere in Oregon to a breeder of Pembroke Welsh Corgis. She was small. She was the alpha, they said. Cool! said Jake's folks, and they adopted her. A few years later they adopted her "sister" Ruby. It turned out that being the alpha meant that Daphne liked to pick fights she couldn't win. Ruby wasn't looking for trouble, she would just casually try to eat her food, or exit the room, and BAM! Daphne attack!! So the sisters needed to be separated. We eagerly volunteered to take Daphers.

The Christmas before we got her, I sat on the ground of my folks-in-law house petting her head. "We get to have you soon, Daphne!" I whispered to her. I was giddy with excitement.

Chapter 3: Perfecting dog ownership

Upon adopting Daphne, I mentally created the following list of things I would do as a dog owner:

  1. Feed her at the same time every day. Routine is comforting.
  2. Take her outside on a small walk every morning, and a longer walk each evening. We didn't have a backyard, so we had to take her out on the leash.
  3. Try and socialize her at a dog park or with our friends' dogs.
  4. Go running with her on the weekends.
  5. Buy high end dog food.
  6. Brush her weekly, if not daily.
  7. Never let her sleep in our bed.

One night Daphne got into some ranch dressing. (Don't ask how. Dogs are clever.) We freaked out. Jake called the pet emergency clinic. They were great, and they walked us through exactly what we needed to do next: calm the eff down. Was she acting normally? Yes. No vomit/diarrhea/fainting? OK. She's ok. She's a dog. 

Phew!

We would look back on this story for years with combination of endearment and total hilarious embarrassment. And it would not be the last errant ranch dressing container or cake slice or chunk of cheesy human food that she would get into.

Chapter 4: New family members join us

I finished law school. I got a job. Jake and I started talking about babies. Friends were having babies. We were doing pretty well at the whole dog-raising thing (we had relaxed our standards a bit, but at least she still had the coziest sleeping spot in the house - square in the middle of our bed), and in 2009, we moved into a new house that has a great back yard where Daphne could run and explore and be free.

Which was good, because our commitment to daily walks twice a day was flailing. It was a chore, and it seemed like she started to use those morning walks to hold us hostage. Daphne had the tendency to hold a grudge.

Chapter 5: We fail at doggie parenthood in several respects

Before our first daughter was born, we researched exactly what to do. You take a baby blanket and wrap your newborn child in it, get it really gooped up with newborn juiciness. Then bring that blanket home and let your dog smell it and get all up in it. When you bring the baby home, she will instantly become part of the pack.

As it turns out, this. works. PERFECTLY. We did it! We added a member to the pack without anyone losing a finger, or a claw. As time went on, parenthood overwhelmed us and consumed our every ounce of attention. I would sometimes joke that I had no idea if Daphne was fed during the first two months of our daughter's life. I felt like I had put my head down, and when I looked up... whoa. She was still there. Has anyone fed this dog?! (Yes, Jake did godblesshim.) And somehow, she still loved us. Although a little bitter about the sudden drop in walks, she had been extremely protective of the pack, especially it's newest member. For four straight days after we got back from the hospital, Daphne kept watch and followed us around with the baby and attended every diaper change (even in the night) and barely slept. On the fourth day she completely crashed.

We didn't completely fail during these years of having babies and keeping up a house. But we did fail some. And I feel inclined to at least mention it, because it is real, and it happens. Daphne didn't get the attention she used to get. The brushing, the walks, the consistent feeding times...all of that got stretched and compromised. I would feel incredible guilt at times. While laying on couch, scratching behind her ears, I'd ask her for forgiveness and say "you know we love you, right?" She would look back up at me suddenly with big brown eyes, the cataracts starting to show through. Partly, she was saying "why all the chatter, keep up the stratching, lady!" and partly (I hope), she was loving me back.

Chapter 6: Dogs get old

Sometime after her 11th birthday, Daphne's effect on the wall-to-wall carpet was grossly irreversible. We got new flooring installed and committed to putting down towels or doggie pee pads every day. What was once an occasional, vindictive "I'm going to pee here to teach you a lesson," eventually became "I'm going to pee here each and every day and never remember a time when I didn't pee right here in the dining room like it's my job." It was endearing. Almost as endearing as the tap-tap-tap of her nails on the hardwood, no matter how short we trimmed them. At least we'd never lose track of her location in the house.

I started to mentally prepare for doggie old age and the big Good Bye. But it never seemed to get that bad. She was slower, but could still walk with us on wagon rides around the block. She could still snatch a cheese stick from little Henry's hands. She had accidents, but wasn't incontinent. (We spent $250 to figure that out!)

Until, it really did get bad.

Chapter 7: All dogs go to heaven

"She hasn't eaten anything in two days," Jake told me. Well, that's usual, I thought. "Let's try to soften the food more, maybe it's her teeth," I suggested. (In addition to her crippling fear of swings, oars, and windshield wipers, Daphne detested having her teeth brushed, which resulted in a surgical removal of 5 and the mysterious disappearance of another 4 teeth.)

We tried softer food. We tried basic mush. Covered in cheese. It wasn't working. We could see the writing on the wall.

On the night before we took her to the vet to confirm things, we talked to the kids about how Daphne was quite old (14), and not feeling well, and she would probably die. We didn't shy away from the word "die," and we let them see that we were sad. We cried. We answered questions. There was one thing we didn't anticipate, though.

In the morning as we were getting ready to go, we hear Olivia: "Let's go, Daphne, let's go! Time to go die!"

Yikes...not sure we dealt with that one correctly. Or maybe we did?

The thing they don't tell you about adopting a dog when you're young is that some day the two of you will grow up, a lot. And you'll have to make the hardest grown-up decision you've ever made, and then have to explain it to your kids. Jake and I did our best, we held it together until after we dropped the kids off at daycare, saying our last good-byes and taking a few more pictures. But once we got to the vet's, the tears fell and fell.

I held her and nuzzled her head. "You're a good dog, Daphne. You were always a good dog. You know we love you, right?"

Jake got her out and whispered something to her. They had a special bond. The scene inside the vet's office was the saddest thing you ever saw. The staff got choked up, we were a mess. Daphne, in her sweet tired way, went out panting and "smiling," probably trying to tell us it was OK. All dogs go to heaven. And wherever she is now, I hope there are plenty of squirrels to chase, endless energy to do so, and never a windshield wiper. 

Chapter 8: After she's gone, there's a hole in our hearts

Now that our dog is gone, we feel her absence constantly. Whenever we open the front door and start to announce our usual "Daphne, we're home!" she isn't there. When we turn off the lights at night, there's no dog to let outside. There's no food bowl to fill. There's no dog sitter to call when we plan a trip. (We are also aware of the upsides, it's true.)

I think what I miss the most is the constant unfailing love of my dear friend. Pets love us with such an intense loyalty unlike anything. Daphne sat by my side through law school, through losing my first job (I'll never forget coming home early, plopping down on the couch, petting her and crying), and through kids, pregnancies, new jobs, postpartum depression, and all the years when I felt like a failure at doggie parenting. She didn't see me as a failure, she just loved me. She loved us all, and she will always have a tender place in our hearts.

God bless you, Daphne girl.
 

What I've learned from mindfully eating for 30 days

My favorite goal from the latest 30 Day Challenge (#hmvlifechallenge) was "mindful eating." I'd vaguely heard of the concept, but never researched it. And I didn't plan to, I wanted to try it with a blank slate, no preconceptions. Or, as the French say, "like a virgin."

The idea came to me over a boring turkey sandwich at Burgerville. This was right after the holidays, and I was feeling overweight with food and sodium and the last month or so of poor decisions. So in a way the sandwich was self-punishment for my gluttonous ways, and in another way it was the beginning of making healthier choices. I don't know, take your pick.

The point is, once I started on my sad little sandwich, I realized I could actually just forget all the sad self-talk and just try to enjoy it, even though it was healthy and basic and not slathered in sauce and cheese (boo!). I could decide that it wasn't necessarily a sad sandwich, maybe it could be good. What if, I thought, what if I just close my eyes and really taste this sandwich and savor it? And...

It worked!

No really, it actually worked. Instead of absentmindedly scarfing it down, I really tasted the swiss cheese and felt the multigrainy-ness of the bread. The mayo (my fav) tasted fantastic, the lettuce was all crunchy, I was like "This is the best freakin turkey sandwich I'VE EVER HAD!"

My world was rocked. So off I went, for 30 days, trying to be mindful at every meal. Specifically (because your goals should be as specific and measurable as possible), I tried to

(a) Put my fork down between bites, and
(b) Close my eyes and focus on tasting my food.

Pretty genius stuff, right? Like I said, I wasn't trying to do it exactly by the book. I just wanted to try something basic and see what this "mindfulness" stuff could do, if anything.

So here are a few of the effects I've noticed in my 30-day experiment:

  • Everything tastes better!
  • Or it tastes worse, because I actually notice how icky it is (e.g. Doritos...very fake cheesy)
  • I stop eating when I'm full (usually)
  • I'm aware of when I'm overfull, and it bothers me
  • I leave food on my plate, often
  • I also leave wine in my glass
  • The mindful eating has expanded to mindful ... umm, drinking?
  • I notice that happy, warm feeling that an alcoholic beverage produces, and I enjoy it in a very "present" way
  • It's still hard to stop eating when the food tastes so good, or cost so much, but I'm at least passingly aware that this is is a crazy reason to keep eating
  • Mindful eating doesn't solve everything
  • I didn't drop weight like crazy. I think that's ok. This is all about the long game.
  • I don't see food as the enemy or a temptation to be conquered
  • I enjoy food more
  • As food is becoming less of an enemy, it is also becoming less of a reward. It's settling into the "just food" zone. I eat it because I'm hungry. I eat it because it nourishes me. Along the way, I enjoy it.
  • I'm still human, so I like food. So there's that.

This is not an exclusive list, but one that I've been keeping and adding to. Mindful eating is an interesting way to conquer your food issues. If you do it like I did (barely knowing what you're doing but open to whatever happens), I think you'll learn a lot. You might unravel these weird things that we do with food. Like eating too much because it was expensive. Or scarfing something down because you're late to a meeting. I really do believe that all food can and should be enjoyed. The results that come from enjoying food and really thinking about what you're eating and why ... well, I think it could be game changing.

Enjoy!