Tearing Down and Building Up

I know I don’t update this blog often anymore.  It’s not that I don’t love writing in this space or updating those who still read, it’s simply that my life is so incredibly busy these days.  I seldom have a spare moment and when I find one, I savor it and usually find myself doing absolutely nothing.  Just sitting and enjoying a moment of stillness and silence.  No talking.  No thinking.  No…..anything.

Nursing school is everything I anticipated it being and more.  It’s challenging and complicated and exhausting.  I’m literally learning something new every single day.  I am surprising myself at what I can do and learn and be at 36 years of age.  It feels really, really good to use my brain in a real and tangible way and I am becoming somewhat competitive academically which shocks nobody more than myself.  I really want to be the very best nurse there is.  I am so passionate about this and learning all that I can about the human body and how it works and why.  I need to know all the whys.  A lot of this passion stems from losing not one, but two of my people in a decade.  And yes, I lost them to two completely different disease processes and/or genetic defects, but I need to know why.  I need to help other people.  And I need to know why.

Because of the intense busyness of my life these days, I no longer have a lot of time to think about my life and what a mess it is.  I have decided that a year in, this is a good thing.  When I allow myself to sit down and really think about the last year of my life, I feel so incredibly sorry for that Michelle.  I want to hug her and tell her she will actually be OK.  She will really be able to live without Matt…..she may not like it very much, but she will in fact, do it.  I want her to know that she will slowly, so very slowly start to feel sparkles of happiness again.  It will bring tears to her eyes every time she feels them, but she will feel them.  I want to tell her that alcohol won’t solve this problem and it won’t dull the pain forever.  It will just make it worse when she wakes up and realizes all over again that he is actually gone and never coming back.  These are all things I have figured out 15 months in, but it would have been nice to figure them out sooner.

The thing I have realized about losing the love of your life is the same thing as loving the love of your life.  It destroys you.  Then it builds you back up.  And destroys you again.  Repeat.  Forever.  This is what life is and this is what love is.  It is destruction and beautiful reconstruction.  It is ashes and then beauty rising from it.  There were times in those years with Matt that I thought I could never love him more than I did in that minute.  Then other times when I swore I could not love him any less.  But those loveless moments were always just moments and the love was always so much bigger and more consuming that anything else.  And I am so very thankful for that.  So many of you have poured your hearts out to me over the last two years and it’s always so precious to me to see others hearts.  You have told me of your marriage getting better because of my story.  You have told me that you will hold out for a real love like this, because I am proof that these kinds of stories do exist in the flesh……and they do.   Real love stories look like mine.  They look like the man I saw while working last week whose wife of 55 years suffered a massive stroke and will never be the same woman.  He looked at her with so much love in his eyes and told me how much he loved her and would never leave her side.  I had to leave the room as soon as I could so I could cry for a minute.  Because his love for his wife made my heart ache for Matt.  Because I know what he is feeling.  I know what it feels like to look at this person that you have loved with everything you have, slip away.  It is the loneliest and most helpless feeling in the world.  Right now he is being destroyed by love.  It is absolute destruction and wreckage every where he looks.  But I have to hope, for him, for me, for all of us, that love will rebuild us.  That we will find beauty again, in whatever that looks like for each one of us.  I felt the same pain when I awoke to the news of Las Vegas.  Love destroyed again.  More destruction and loss and pain and hopelessness.  The thing is, people are losing their people every minute of every single day.  Tearing down and building back up.  It’s happening all the time.  Every day.  This is life……and yes, it’s all the things.  And sometimes it is just too much and you have to take a minute from life.  You have to hit pause and say “I can’t feel this for a while.  It’s too heavy to carry.”  And that’s OK.

I think I am probably in the very, very, very beginning stages of a rebuild.  Like, maybe the architect is making a rough draft blue print.  Not even the final draft.  I have a long way to go.  My destruction was mighty indeed and I will not be rebuilt over night.  My heart was obliterated.  Millions of pieces all over the place.  Utter destruction.  It’s going to take some time and that’s OK.  I am working on me, when I can, a little at a time.  I was so afraid after Matt died that I wouldn’t be able to be alone.  That I would be that person who rushes into something because they fear all of that infinite aloneness.  This is my first time in my adult life to be alone.  I’ve never been a “single”.  Ever.  To my great surprise, I really like it.  It’s not  nearly as terrifying as I had pictured it, it’s just totally exhausting.  Single parenting?  The worst thing ever.  After cancer that is.  But being alone?  Is not the worst thing ever.  I know, I know, everyone wants me to have another great love story and have this amazing happy ending.  But what if this is my happy ending?  Just finding myself, finding my passion for a career, raising 3 amazing humans (please baby Jesus) and that’s it.  What if I only have one great, amazing and big love in this life?  I am OK with that and I need everyone else to be OK with to, because seriously some of ya’ll are about to make me lose my mind up in here.  No, I don’t want to go on a date with that guy. I’m sure he’s great, but No.  I have no time, no desire, no no no, have I mentioned Nope?  No.  I know.  I get it.  All the other widows are moving forward.  Dating.  Getting remarried.  Getting out there.  That’s OK too.  We’re all right and OK and doing what is best for us.  In our own way.  I get asked all of the time, “has anyone asked you out?”  Yes.  And I always politely and gently say No.  It’s a hard No.  I promise you, my life is very, very full.  And is getting happier with each passing month.  And also more exhausting and complicated.  You know what adds more exhaustion and complications that I don’t have time for?  You got it.  NO.

I also get asked a lot about where my relationship with God is.  Am I angry?  Do I go to church?  Do I pray?  I don’t have all of those answers.  I will be very honest and say that it isn’t the same anymore.  It’s so very complicated.  My love story with God is the most complicated of all of my stories.  I am still angry, yes.  How can I not be?  Do I still believe in God?  Absolutely yes.  Do I still talk to him?  Yes, but admittedly not like I should.  Church is complicated too.  We visit churches and then never go back because I see all these happy couples with their kids and I kind of hate them for it.  I’ll just admit it.  I’m 100% jealous of you happy married people.  I used to be like you too.  Sitting in church, holding my husbands hand and thinking I am so blessed.  Until one day I wasn’t so blessed.  Because cancer came into our lives and exploded our blessings like a bomb.  It started a war that hasn’t quite been won yet.  I know the right answers, I know what I should do.  But telling my heart that is a completely different thing.  I am not the same woman I was two years ago and I don’t really know how to get back to her or if I even can.  It’s as simple and as complicated as that friends.

It is time for this blog to come to and end.  It’s a blog that I never expected to happen.  But then again, I’m living a life I never expected to happen either.  The biggest thing I hope all of you will take from my story is this:  LOVE is everything.  Absolutely everything.  It is the beginning and middle and end.  I hope you love your people so big  and so crazy and so well that you don’t have any regrets when it ends.  Because it will end and you will be destroyed by it.  But then you will be rebuilt, with great care and time and love.  Cherish your people.  Soak them up.  Really look at them and marvel at them.  They are yours and you are theirs and it’s so breathtakingly beautiful and heartbreaking all at once.  Just love each other well and good and hard.

 

 

Happy Sad

So it’s been a minute since I’ve updated this little ol blog of mine.  I mean, does anyone still read this silly thing?  Either way, I guess it doesn’t really matter.  Starting this was just a way to update everyone on Matt and it’s truly become cathartic for me these last two years.  Strange how things work out.  Life is so very strange.  At least it is for me.

So what have I been up to? Well, really only two things:  Nursing school and my kids.  And honestly, my kids the smaller piece of that pie for sure.  A solid 75% of my time is devoted to either being at school or studying for school.  I am experiencing a new level of exhaustion these days.  My brain feels like it wants to explode most days and my stress levels have once again sky rocketed.  I had been warned how awful and stressful and hard nursing school is and they were not lying. It’s so intense you guys.  So hard.  I’ve already cried at least twice and I am a month in.  Then I remind myself that this? Is not hard.  Watching the love of your life die of cancer is HARD.  Raising 3 kids by yourself while grieving? HARD.  Nursing school? I’m gonna OWN you.

So the other night I was tucking my babies in to bed and this feeling of absolute joy came over me.  Hello, old friend, it has been a long time.  I laid there and really relished the feeling.  I said to myself, “I am happy. I feel content with this life.”  Then immediately tears came to my eyes and I felt a wave of despair.  This is my life now.  Happy/Sad.  No matter what happens now, for the rest of this life, everything I experience will be Happy/Sad.  I go to school each day eager to learn. I am so passionate about becoming a nurse and I know it’s what I’m called to do.  I love every minute of it, even the horrible moments when I want to scream during a test “WTF is THIS?!?” (which happens during every single test.)  I still love it.  Then I remember that Matt isn’t here to experience this with me.  He doesn’t get to cheer me on. He won’t be at my graduation to hug me and say “I knew you could do it Babe.”  And then I am Sad. But still Happy.  It’s a confusing thing to experience for sure.

Matt missed another first day of school for our babies.  The second year he wasn’t here.  Happy/Sad.  I bought a new car last month by myself you guys and he wasn’t here for that either.  I was so happy and excited for myself and proud of myself.  I’m driving off the lot with this huge smile and then I remember.  Matt.  Happy/Sad.  All at once sometimes I think of all the things that can/will happen in the future and how they will be amazing and joyous times and Matt won’t be here to experience it with me.  With his children.  He will miss so damn much and I hate it.  Our kids learning to drive, proms, first loves and heartbreaks, graduation from high school, college, marriages, grandchildren (this one tears me to pieces at the very thought of it)…..so many Happy/Sad moments yet to be experienced. And the biggest one….if I am ever brave enough to allow myself to experience love again, I can only imagine the amount of Happy/Sad that will bring.  Buckets of it.

This is my life now though.  I am learning to embrace it and be OK with it.  Last week at school a girl looked at me and said “You are so happy, it’s truly unbelievable that you buried your husband last year.”  Happy/Sad.  I felt happy and proud that others see me as a happy person again, but then sad that they do.  I still cry often, mostly at night in the shower when I tell Matt how much I miss him and I tell God that I just can’t find a way to forgive Him and I worry I never will.  I am still very much so a broken version of Michelle, but I think I always will be.  Somehow, someway, I am finding myself again.  Finding the old happy,  funny, mouthy Michelle and getting to know the new Michelle.  Independent, strong, determined and happy.  A year ago, I thought this life was absolutely impossible.  I was totally convinced I could never experience anything good again and enjoy it without Matt.  That wasn’t true at all and that’s Happy/Sad too.

I would love to tell you all that my life is exciting and interesting, but today, it’s normal and pretty boring.  And I ADORE it.  Jackson, Kingston and Hadley are adjusting well to their new schools and making new friends.  They are really happy kids today and it makes me proud.  We all laugh a lot these days and have settled into this life as a family of 4.  It doesn’t mean Matt isn’t missed, he is missed in all things, every single day.  His absence is never not felt.  He’s around us and more and more we really feel him and even “see” him in so many ways.  For instance, Jackson came home his first day of school and told my one of his teachers is named “Volare“.  I mean, seriously?  You can’t make that up. Like, that’s her first damn name.  Volare.  Ridiculous.  I have so many stories like that.  Little hellos from my Matt.  He told me he would never leave me and he is keeping his word for sure.

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So today in this moment I am mostly Happy and sometimes Sad.  I think I can say the same for my kids.  We are a happy little family of 4.  We have a lot to be thankful for and I try my hardest each day to focus on that.  I still HATE cancer.  I hate that Matt is gone.  I don’t have this all figured out and maybe I never will.  But I am always trying.  Always moving forward.  Always loving and learning.  I still want all of you to love your people.  Cherish them.  Soak them up.  Forgive them.  Really look at your person tonight before you go to bed and think how much you love them.  Your life together.  Soak up how lucky you are to have love and be loved.  Because you are so, so lucky.  I cannot tell you how much I miss that life. How much I miss being loved by a great man and loving a great man. How much I miss being a wife.  Being treasured and adored.   I have no words for it tonight.  I told a friend earlier that it is an Ocean of emotions when I think of Matt.  An infinite, swirling sea of all the things.

So tonight before you go to bed tell your person you love them and really mean it.  Tomorrow is not promised friends, it really isn’t.

 

 

 

 

Let’s Be Real

The majority of my blog posts this last year have been about my absolute heartache and loss.  About how I’m navigating these waters of life as a young widow and newly single mom.  I’ve been mostly honest, but also guarded.  The reason for that, is that almost immediately after Matt’s death I began to see that I was now a full time resident in a glass house.  Every thing I did or said or felt was up for discussion, opinion and most of all, judgment.  I continue to be completely dumbfounded by this phenomenon.  I’m not alone in this glass house, as every widow I know also resides here.  We swap stories and judgments and completely stupid comments from complete morons.  I’ve seen a widow choosing to date again judged.  I’ve seen a widow shunned by her deceased husbands family (disgusting!) I’ve experienced judgment for my spending, my drinking, my weight gain, my anger, my BLOG.  I’ve lost so many friends I’ve quit counting.  I would venture to say that somewhere in the neighborhood of 99% of those who rallied around me when Matt was dying have barely said a word to me since then.  I can count on one hand the real friends I have.  And that’s OK, truly it is.  You see, I’ve already lost everything.  I have watched my precious childs heart quit beating.  I have watched a man who loved me so completely waste away until his heart quit too.  I now have the luxury of knowing who and what is really important in this life…….and it has come at a significant cost.

If you follow me on social media, you know I spent the last week in Colorado.  I had a lot of time to really think, as I had almost no cell phone service the entire week (the horror!). As I sat on the porch staring at these incredible mountains I thought about how happy and peaceful I felt there.  I remembered how I had begged Matt to move to Colorado for years.  His answer was always a resolute No.  There is just something about that landscape, that lifestyle that calls to me.  It feels like home in a way that no place ever has.  At night as I laid in bed I would toss and turn unable to sleep, remembering Matt’s face and tears in the early days of his diagnosis.  He was faced with all the things he had said NO to in life.  All the ways he had been practical and logical and frugal and when faced with his mortality, it meant nothing to him.  Now, I have always been very passionate about life and the whole “YOLO” concept….it drove Matt nuts.  Practical Pete vs. Spontaneous Susie.  Yet today, I see it even more clearly.  Life truly is short.  Even if you see the broad side of 100, it’s SHORT you guys.  There is so much life out there.  So many people to meet, places to see, things to really experience.  Do I really want to get in this hamster wheel of work, pay bills, work pay bills, die?  OK, so yeah, I have a mortgage and car payment and three expensive kids so I’ve got to work and pay bills.  But is that it???  Is that life?  Is that LIVING?  For some of you that’s enough and I applaud you for that, I really do.  Perhaps I am a little envious, because I can never get enough of life.  Ever.  I’m greedy when it comes to this world and what is has to offer.  I want all of it, like yesterday.  This is the part where my mom sighs heavily and rolls her eyes and says “Michelle has always been this way.  It’s exhausting.”  (Admit it mom, you just did that to yourself didn’t you?)  I admit it.  I’m exhausting…..even to myself for crying out loud.  I’m insatiable when it comes to life.  I love humans and how amazing and stupid and beautiful and ugly and crazy and loveable and hateable they are.  I love looking at God’s canvas when I travel and seeing how varied his love is (When he got to the plains he must have taken a nap or something, just saying!) for his people and just how creative He is.  I mean, seriously, drive to the mountains or the ocean and just marvel at it.  They are HUGE and we are so damn small.

So as I sat every morning and explored all day and tossed and turned all night in those mountains, I knew what had to be done.  I have to move.  I have to leave what is comfortable.  What is known.  What is draining the life right out of me.  I can make a plan and have a goal in my mind.  I can finish nursing school and then leave.  Just like that.  I can give my kids a better life.  Better education, better life experiences, better everything.   I have traveled from coast to coast this last year (Seattle to NYC).  I’ve sat on the beaches of the Gulf and cried until I could no longer cry.  I’ve drank beer alone in huge bars in the middle of huge cities.  Yet, the mountains always call and say Home to me.  The mountains scare me with their enormity.  The roads intimidate me and beg to be tamed.  Those trails?  They make me breathless and shaky, but when you get to the top of that mountain you’ve struggled to climb?  The views are beyond anything.  That feeling of look what I did.  It’s a real analogy for this last year of my life.  I’ve climbed both real and metaphorical mountains and those metaphorical ones are real challenge I promise.  IMG_3585

I have a thing for Sunrises and Sunsets, beginnings and endings.  Both beautiful.

 

One of the other things I want to be real about is how I’ve managed to make it through this year.  I would love to tell you that it’s because of my church (but I don’t have one) or prayer (nope, I can rarely even finds words to pray still at this point) or counseling (again nope.) but it’s really been a mash up of things.  Some healthy, but mostly not.  The first six months after Matt died I survived because of alcohol.  Now hear me out, because I know those judgments are just waiting to pop out.  Or perhaps I survived in spite of the alcohol, but whatever.  It’s however you choose to look at it.  The pain I felt in those early months is beyond what I could ever describe with English language.  Or any language.  It was visceral.  Consuming.  I was desperate to extinguish it.  To feel anything but that absolute despair and dark.  Enter wine.  If I’m honest those early months were not good.  I hid it well from the outside world, but those closest to me knew.  I knew it was a problem when I woke up one morning and I saw red wine vomit all over my hallway floors but I had no recollection of it.  I had complete black out.  Numerous times friends had to put me to bed and I would not remember the last two or three hours of the night the next day.  Unfortunately my kids were exposed to this more than once and it’s something I’ll pay for forever.  I own my mistakes and I’ve owned them to my kids, we have since had many discussions about it and how alcohol isn’t a problem solver.  Once I realized I was using alcohol to cope I stopped and it hasn’t been an issue for months.  I’m lucky that I’m not an alcoholic, but today I can see where it begins.  Pain.  I wanted to drown the pain.  I really wanted to drown myself and since I couldn’t do that, I did what I could to survive.

I cannot count the ways that Matt dying has forever affected my life and my kids lives.  It is an endless ocean of a terrible domino effect.  Just today I looked at a picture and it took my breath away as I once again remembered Matt died and isn’t here anymore.  I am no longer a “couple” and I avoid most couple interactions like the black plague.  When I’m around my couple friends its the little things that put a huge lump in my throat.  A hug, teasing, cuddling….all of it reminds me of my great loss.  Reminds me that I am alone now and it reminds me how much I hate it.  When I felt Matt’s pulse stop beating, I felt like dying too.  I wanted to die with him and if it wasn’t for those three amazing kids, I can’t tell you it wouldn’t have happened.  I think my heart would have given out for sure.  I know today how people die of broken hearts, because a year out mine still physically aches for him.  I cannot describe the pain of missing him and of loving him when he’s no longer here.  The pain of knowing you are no longer married and you had no choice in the matter.  I never said I didn’t want to be his wife, yet here I am, single.  And so yes, I drank those first six months.  I drank away the pain.  The anger.  The loss.  The loneliness.  The depression.  The anxiety.  I drank to feel something other than despair and loss and utter hopelessness.  I drank because I felt that God had abandoned me.  He had just asked too much of me and I gave up on Him.

Today, I am in a much healthier place.  I’m by no means healed and whole, I am still very much broken, but I suppose I always will be on some level.  I don’t drink to erase or hide or not feel.  I can drink socially now for pleasure like a responsible adult and I’ve learned that when those dark feelings come I just need to cry and get it out.  Feel the feels even when it’s too hard.

I’ve had so many of you tell me how strong I am and how you admire me and all that.  I’ve felt guilty every time thinking to myself “what if you knew I blacked out one night because I drank away the pain?”  I’m not a pillar of strength.  I am a real woman who is doing her best to survive a monumental loss.  I’m trying to be a good mom.  Figure out who I am and what I want.  Trying to live an intentional and love filled life without my person.  Hopefully one day finding my way back to Him and trusting His will for my life once again.  I’m broken and battered and bruised.  I am strong only because I have been forced to be, I’ve never had a choice in it I promise you.

This last year I have been a drunk, I’ve spent too much money, I’ve spent a lot of time in bed, I’ve cried oceans of tears, I’ve gained a ridiculous amount of weight (the whole drunk thing), I’ve lost friends, I’ve made enemies, I’ve screwed up more ways than I can count.

This year I have found some peace, I have finished two full semesters of college, I’ve been accepted into Nursing school, I’ve bought a house, I’ve bought a car, I’ve traveled, I’ve laughed big fat belly laughs,  I’ve loved on my kids like crazy, I’ve rocked the whole stupid single mom gig, I’ve found pieces of Michelle that were long gone, I’ve created a new life for us.

Turns out you can be stupid and amazing all at once and in the same year.  I’m living proof.  You can also own your stupidity.  And your amazing badassness.  I’m living proof.

 

Goodnight friends.

 

Surviving

In a few short hours it will be 4:58 am, July 8th 2017.  One whole year since I felt the love of my life’s pulse stop beating beneath my fingers.  One whole year since I have kissed his lips and heard his heart beat against my cheek.  One whole year since I have been Matt Stringer’s wife.  His partner.  His everything.  One whole year.

This week has been full of emotions and I have tried to drown them with busyness and distraction.  I did not want to feel these feels and cry these tears.  It turns out you can’t drown a souls longing for its missing piece.  Every night this week I have had a panic attack at various hours in the night.  I toss and turn.  My whole body aches with strange pains and aches.  Last night the flood gates finally opened, I could not contain the pain any longer.  I literally wailed in my bed with absolute heart break.  How can this be my life?  When am I going to be OK again?  When will my heart accept that Matt died….that he isn’t here to whisper in my ear at 3 am as I gasp for breath “It’s OK babe, just breathe….you’re OK.  You’re OK.  I am here.  Breathe.”  It is just me now.  The absolute infinite loneliness feels suffocating at 3 am.  And 4 am.  Then again at 5 am.  My memories torture me as I watch him suffer and grow thinner and weaker.  I try with everything I have to block out the image of his eyes looking at me and saying “I’m scared babe.  I don’t want to die.”  His heart quit beating and somehow, mine kept going and I will never understand how, to me it defies all logic.

This week, ironically enough I have had to dole out more copies of Matt’s death certificate and it’s always a brutal reminder of my loss.  My kids loss.  This missing human that has annihilated our lives.  Tonight I stared at it with tears and for the first time noticed something.  It says right there: Surviving spouse:  Michelle Renee Webb.  (It gives my maiden name which infuriates me, why do they do that?? I’m still Michelle Stringer!)IMG_3257

As I stared at it the word “Survivor” began repeating in my head.  I survived Matt’s death.  I have survived all of the “firsts” without him.  I survived our 15th wedding anniversary without him.  I survived as a single mother to my three amazing and thriving kids.  I survived school and beat all odds and found out I was accepted into nursing school.  I have survived no life insurance money and found my way in spite of it.  I survived a huge move and life change.  I have survived.  Now, surviving comes with guilt…..the “why not me instead of him?”  and the “I’m still here to watch our kids grow and Matt is not.”   Surviving isn’t for pansies you guys.  I could not even begin to tell you all of my dark moments this year.  I haven’t been open about my drinking through the pain the first 6 months, but someday I will when I am ready.  But I survived that too I guess.  I no longer drink my way through this pain and I’m proud of that…….although I still have moments and I own them.

This year has absolutely been a battle…..and I can say that I think I’m going to come out on top.  I’m not at the top of this mountain yet, but I am making my way and overcoming the obstacles as they come.   I have discovered that someday, if it finds me….pursues me….and it’s in the distant future, I can allow love in my life again, even though the very whisper of it terrifies me.  I’m so convinced that I can never love like that again or even be loved like that again.  I feel as though I am un-loveable……not a real catch. I have baggage to spare and who is going to sign up for that?  I mean, really?  A few months ago a friend put it to me like this:  You know when you are pregnant with your second baby and you are so worried that you can’t possibly love the next baby as much as  you love the first?  You truly worry about it and it seems impossible that your heart can expand like that.  Then this human is placed into your arms and you realize immediately that you love them 100%, just like you do your first baby.  Maybe it is like that.  And so yeah, maybe it is like that.  I can honestly say I doubt I will ever pursue love, but if it finds me, it finds me.

I went to a medium two weeks ago (save your judgments, I literally couldn’t care less what anyone thinks about any part of my life so talk amongst yourselves) and it was nothing short of amazing.  I went in completely skeptical and cynical….but thought “what the hell, yolo!”  She is a young Catholic mom and I immediately felt at ease with her.  There were no weird prayers or tarot cards….just she and I.  At first Isabella came through and immediately I was overcome.  My precious baby…..my sweet girl.  The things she said…..the details were ridiculous.  I could go on and on.  Then came Matt and let me tell you, right away, without skipping a beat he began NAGGING ME and GRIPING to me.  I laughed and laughed and said absolutely Matt Stringer is in the house!!!! Even though I am the woman, I am not a nagger.  I don’t like conflict with those I love the most and I live to serve and make life easy for those around me.  Matt?  Lived to nit pick and nag me until my ears would bleed.  Bless it.  I think everything I did drove him a little crazy 🙂  Anyways, he immediately brought up that I bought our oldest a cell phone way before he was 13 and that was our agreement and I broke that agreement.  I began with my reasoning and the medium said he cut me off and said “stop making excuses Michelle.  You broke the agreement.  Period.”  I couldn’t help but laugh and smile.  Well, you shouldn’t have died of cancer babe….so there!  (this is our way with each other, non-stop teasing.)  Still I was a bit skeptical……so Matt took every single measure possible to let me know this is him.  I literally cannot tell you what he said, but I will say that I am not embarrassed easily and I wanted to sink into the couch and disappear.  The medium was laughing but couldn’t make eye contact with me for a bit.  He went there.  That turd.  She said Matt was thoroughly enjoying my humiliation because I had spent years purposefully humiliating him and now it was his turn.  Touche.  Suddenly Matt became serious and told the medium I am blocking the possibility of love for myself again.  He said he told her before he died that he didn’t want that for me, that he wanted me to find love again.  He couldn’t stand the thought of me being alone in this world.  He said I am really good at this wife thing and I should share it.  Whatever….I do what I want now.  He was a dog with a bone, as he always was and said “Michelle, I’ve seen it.  I know who it is even and you ARE GOING TO LOVE AGAIN.”  Then he added “Don’t worry, you won’t find anyone as amazing as me, I’m not worried about it.”  More belly laughs and more tears.  Damn you babe.  Why did you leave me.   WHY.  The best part?  He wanted me to know that Heaven is more incredible and amazing than we talked about before he died.  He said he couldn’t even begin to describe it.  Isabella took him home and he is with her and our babies that we miscarried.  He said he is home and is so incredibly happy that he never even misses this life.  He isn’t sad he died he told me, because he is right where he is supposed to be.  My heart needed this.

So.  Here I am…..just a few hours shy of one whole year with my Matt.  My first love.  My best friend.  My partner.  My husband.  I am surviving.  I am growing.  I am changing.  I am navigating these waters in my little sail boat and adjusting these sails when I have to.  This year has taught me so much about life, its value, its faults, its beauty, its pain, its ugliness.  I am not the same Michelle I was this day last year.  I am stronger.  I am wiser.  I am still learning the ropes.  Climbing the mountain that is my life.  Matt is still with me in the way he is allowed to be and cheering me on in all things.  Death does not conquer love and that’s all I need.

Goodnight friends.  Love big and hard and well.

One Year

Towards the end of May, I felt a familiar shift in my emotions.  A heaviness began seeping into my veins and my heart, a feeling I’ve grown accustomed to since Isabella died on May 31st 2007.  Every May since then I become moody, withdrawn, snappy and irritable.  As the years passed and I was busy with the boys attending their 1200 end of the school year activities  I would wonder aloud to Matt “What is my deal?? Why am I so weepy and edgy?”  Every May would remind me, “Hey….it’s May babe.  Your heart just knows it before you do, that’s all.”  Ah-ha.  May.

This year is a whole other ball of wax.  May 31st…..Isabella died in my arms.  June 1st should have been Matt and I’s 15th wedding anniversary.  Father’s Day…..we no longer have our amazing Dad to celebrate and shower with love and thanks.  Then the crescendo……July 8th, the day I said my hardest good-bye….the day I watched the love of my life leave this world.  Just over one month of days that mean some pretty terrible and incredibly sad things for myself and my kids.  Our sorrow season.

If you have read my blog since the beginning then you know all about Volare and it’s meaning to Matt and I.  I’ll give a re-cap for those that may not know.  Matt took me to a small Italian restaurant called ToTo’s for our first date.  It was located on OU’s campus and was totally authentic and romantic.  Matt was a little (or a lot) nervous and proceeded to drink an entire pitcher of beer on our date….(I was not yet 21, so I had water.)  We had been friends for a few months at this point and knew we liked each other, but a first date is always a little terrifying, right?  Anyways, as we were leaving this song was playing in the street and Matt began serenading me at the top of his lungs “Voooooolare, OHhhhh Oh OH, Cantare, Oh Oh OH”  I am laughing and totally shocked by this display.  I thought Matt Stringer was totally shy and quiet?  I had only witnessed him holding up the nearest wall at parties with his backwards hat looking completely adorable.  This song, “Volare”, by Dean Martin would become our song.  For our one year anniversary Matt presented me with Dean Martins greatest hits and I adored it.

Fast forward to last summer.  It’s been a month or since Matt passed and I hear about this restaurant opening where ToTo’s used to be.  Curious, I start asking around.  I can’t even believe it when I find out the new restaurant is going to be called Volare.  I mean, is this real life?  THE place where had our FIRST date and became OUR song, is now going to be Volare.  It felt so very Matt.  So orchestrated.  I mean, I had just had Volare tattooed onto my wrist and I don’t do tattoos.  That’s how much this means to me.  The owners caught wind of our story and offered to host me anytime for lunch or dinner with friends.  I kept thinking about going…..wanted to go….but I also knew there would be a great sadness.  I should be there with Matt, in awe of how life works.

A few weeks before our wedding anniversary I decided instead of sitting at home and crying and hating my life, the very best way I could honor our marriage and our love is to throw myself an anniversary party.  WHY NOT?  I made the call and Celisse (she and her husband Anthony own Volare) was wonderful.  They reserved the rooftop for us and it was an absolutely breath taking night.  It had rained all day, but right as the party started the rain stopped and the sun came out.  We had the most amazing food I’ve ever had and I was able to laugh and tell stories and remember this man and this love and this marriage.  Volare is Italian and means “To Fly”.  My love flew home and I’m learning to fly on my own.  I want to always honor my marriage……even though it was cut short by many decades, I can still say I had 14 years of a good marriage full of love, laughter, deep trust, forgiveness and grace.  This man taught me how to love well.  How to forgive every time.  How to trust with my whole heart.  How to be a partner.  How to compromise.  I want to honor that and I will for the rest of my life.

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Matt adored a good sunset and this one was beautiful.

 

This month is proving to be difficult.  Some days I find myself crying like I did in the early days and other days I’m OK or even better.  When I sit to really think that soon I will have lived an entire year of my life without Matt, it takes my breath away and forms a huge lump in my throat.  I still can’t believe God has asked this of me.  I’m still not OK with it.  I still hate it.  I’m still angry.  I look at my babies and my heart weeps that they no longer have a Daddy here to raise them and love them and teach them.  That they have lost so much already in this life.  I question whether I can do this whole single mom thing and raise them as well as I could have with Matt by my side.  Matt was my anchor in a storm.  He calmed me with just one touch.  He told me NO.  He told me when I was being irrational or petty or just plain mean. He loved me enough to tell me those things.  He loved me in spite of those things.  I always felt safe with Matt in this world.  When someone didn’t like me or I had a disagreement with a family member, I knew that no matter what, I had him.  I had this constant reassurance every where I went that this man loved me with his whole heart.  Matt had the same thing going for him.  Maybe even more so….I adored him with everything in me.  He was my very best friend.  The keeper of all my secrets, hopes, dreams, failures and shortcomings.  I still feel so married to him….so devoted to him and I don’t know how to change that or if I even can.  I still wear my wedding ring, even though it mostly breaks my heart to see it now, because the reality is that I’m not married anymore.  I am single.  I am alone.  If someone hurts my feelings, I don’t have Matt to say confidently “Who cares? They totally suck at life! I never liked them anyways!”  I laugh because I can hear him saying it to me now.  I don’t have him to snuggle up with at night and watch movies or stupid TV with.  I always read a good book first and then Matt read it next and we would talk about it and I miss that so much.  I miss him telling me about his day and how much he hated his job while I cooked him dinner.  I miss his hugs and how small I felt because he was larger than life and made everything else disappear.  I miss everything, every single day.

Yet, I’m getting stronger.  I’m learning how to do so many things I would have never thought possible a year ago.  I weed eat and edge my yard and I think I like it.  I have a well organized garage that I think any dude would be jealous of, haha.  I’m finally working out again and eating healthy.  I am working daily on accepting this chapter of my life.  I’m starting to pray again and tell God some things.  Working on that whole trust thing again.  I want to know why He has taken so much from me?  Why others glide through life and it seems like anything and everything is a flat out battle for me.  I am feeling the very beginnings of peace and gratitude make a comeback.  My days this summer with the kids are reminiscent of our summer days before cancer exploded our lives.  We have a calmness and routine to our days…..a lot of days now feel normal and good and just plain boring.  I adore boring.  I have craved it and longed for it.  Mundane.  I’ll take it in spades please.  These last two years have felt like we’ve been at war and now we are home and recovering.  Nursing our wounds, sleeping, eating, resting, rehabilitating.  Learning new skills and ways of living without this huge life in our lives.  We know every day what was lost and we know every day who is missing.  Yet, we get up.  We rise.  We fight.

Unbelievably, I am still asked pretty regularly if I am dating.  Or thinking about dating.  Or will I date someday?  Also, where does my money come from?  How can I afford this, that or the other?  EVERY SINGLE TIME I AM SHOCKED AT THESE BALLSY QUESTIONS.  You guys, I don’t even ask my very closest and dearest friends where their money comes from.  COME ON.  My finances?  None of your business.  Maybe I’ve been super smart with what little money I have.  Maybe I’m in debt up to my ass.  Maybe I have a rich sugar daddy.  No matter what though?  It’s none of your business.  And I mean that in the nicest way possible.  Truly I do.  But seriously.  As for dating?  Also none of your business.  But no I am not dating.  I have NO plans to date.  I am nowhere near ready.  At all.  I have so very much to work through internally.  I’m a hot mess express.  I’m still very broken, very fragile and very afraid.  I still can’t wrap my head around loving someone else.  I mean, I’ve had ONE relationship in 36 years.  To think of starting over? Dating?  Cold sweats, ya’ll.  Ugh.  Pure terror.  Plus, my kids.  They aren’t ready at all.  They had a great Daddy and he isn’t replaceable.  I’m in school full time with 3 kids on my own.  Trust me, I don’t have any time for that.  I will say at this point….today…..I’m content alone.  Yes I am lonely, but lonely for Matt, not a man.  And yes, I know this widow or that widow is dating or moving forward with a relationship or whatever.  Good for them.  I’m so happy when anyone finds love.  I LOVE love.  Adore it.  I think marriage is amazing and fun and beautiful and all the things.  I’m just not there yet.  I may be there in a year or maybe not for 10 years…..and then again?  Maybe not ever.  This alone gig?  It’s not that bad.  I do what I want, when I want……and it’s growing on me.  🙂

For now I am taking each day as it comes.  If I’m happy and feeling that little bit of joy when I wake up, I take it with arms wide open and spend it up.  If I have a sad day with tears and grief, I let it out snot and all.  The kids and I are swimming and sleeping in and soaking up every minute of summer.  They’ve missed their mama this year and it’s so good and precious to have these days with them.  Our lives are permanently altered and while we don’t agree with it, we are learning to be OK with it.  We are adapting and overcoming.  My goal each day is to make Matt proud and honor his great life with everything I do for the rest of my life.

 

Begin Again

It has been a few weeks since I have updated you guys and gosh, so much has happened in this last month.   For starters, I sold my house.  It is no longer mine….or ours…..it is someone else’s home now and this is so strange to me.  Isn’t it always a little sad to sell a house, even under happy circumstances?  I still do random drive by’s to the first home Matt and I bought together.  It’s where we brought our first three kids home and where we said goodbye to our Isabella.

So I have done an emotional sell and move like this before…..I was prepared for the hard parts, the sad parts and the pull my hair out parts.  It was of course very different this time, as I was doing it alone and that changed everything for sure.  No more lying in bed with Matt dreaming of our new home and hatching our new dreams together.  Nobody to call when shit hits the fan and it’s just me now……I have to just rely on me to figure this out.  Truly, this was definitely the smoothest and easiest home buying and selling experience EVER.  I continue to be amazed at how well it all worked out.  I mean, a year ago I had zero credit.  I did not know how to pay our bills.  I was completely in the dark and content with it.  Today, I have credit and it’s good credit.  I worked on it diligently and quietly these last few months in preparation for this moment.  Today, I am a home owner.  I did this 100% on my own and I’m super proud of that.  I know Matt is too……I feel him cheering me on all the time these days.  IMG_1984

Naturally, this day was incredibly emotional for me.  Not only had I given away the keys to the home my love poured his heart into and ultimately took his last breath in, I was moving forward with our lives in a huge and major way…..on my own.  I was part proud and excited for the future and part depressed and weepy over saying goodbye to the old.  I was a mixed bag as always.   The hardest part was the moment after all the papers had been signed and the keys were handed over and I got into my car.  Every other time I’ve bought a house with Matt we always go grab a drink at the nearest bar to celebrate.  It had just become our thing.  This revelation hit me like a ton of bricks right in my chest.  In my singleness, it is just me.  Michelle.  Party of one.  I mean, what am I going to do? Go celebrate on my own?  Grab a drink solo?  Well, yeah….I could….and I would have, but it was 10 am! Haha.  So I just went to my new home and set up house.

The kids and I have settled in and we really, truly love our new home.  It just felt like home right away and I am so very grateful for the space to heal and grow and love.  It will be hard work to pay for this house and I’m more than willing to do it.  It is mine and I’m super proud of that.  I set up all the utilities and internet and TV by myself.  I learned how to hang pictures and use a level and set anchors.  I’m unclogging toilets, mowing and paying bills.  Filling Matt’s big shoes while somehow still dancing in mine.  It’s a tough balancing act and I wouldn’t wish it on any of you, but I’m doing it.  Not by choice to be sure, but I’m still doing it.  IMG_1933.JPG

A little peek of our new place.  I swoon every time I turn on that light.  It is so prettttttttty.

I did something else last month, that is a huge deal for me and lifetime dream come true…..I took a little trip to NYC with a friend.  We had planned it months ago and had no idea I would not only be selling my house, but literally moving the week after this trip.  What can I say?  I’m always exciting.  I have wanted to go to NYC since I was a teenager and used to dream of living there on my own as a single girl.  A huge part of Matt and I’s early relationship included watching Sex and the City every Sunday night together on HBO.  Bless Matt’s heart, he watched every single episode with me and even took me to see each movie.  Saint I tell you.  (Now don’t kid yourselves, he smart assed his way through every single show and movie I promise!)  So, NYC…..it happened and I loved it.  It was exciting, beautiful, dirty, smelly, at times rude, loud all the time…..ALL THE TIME, heartbreaking, life affirming, eye opening and down right amazing.  It truly is the greatest city in the world.  There is just so much life happening at every moment, on every corner.  I needed to see this, to feel it and to be reminded that I am still here for a reason.  I am living and breathing.  Yes….yes, I am. IMG_1699

Times Square…..I totally squealed like dork.  I mean it’s TIME SQUARE.  Total Okie right here.

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Our first meal in NYC was at this cozy authentic Irish pub.  The food and atmosphere were so great, this was by far my favorite spot on the trip.

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Rockefeller Center.  I mean, it’s a tourist must see, right?

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NYSE

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The Statue of Liberty.  We had to take the coldest boat ride ever to see this beauty.  But I got to see the Hudson River, Brooklyn Bridge, and amazing views of the NYC skyline.  Totally worth it.

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The Empire State Building…..it is as massive as you think.  The weather was cloudy and rainy almost the entire time, so trip to the top wasn’t worth it to me.  But I had to at least see it.

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This is Times Square around 11 pm as we headed back to our hotel in a cab.  People are everywhere with no signs of slowing down.  I loved it.

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These houses are so iconic NYC in my mind.  I used to dream of living in one and walking to central park to play with my future kids.  After visiting, I know I could never live there, but it’s always fun to dream.

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Did you guys know I’m gluten free?  Well, I am.  I know, what a jerk face.  It’s a health issue for me, I’m not a hipster you guys.  I swear….scouts honor.  😉  On our last day there I decided I needed to spend some time on my own.  See if I could really do this whole solo gig.  If I choose to do this life alone, what will it be like to explore a city solo?  Can I eat dinner alone?  Sit with myself and just watch life happen.  So I struck out on my own in a huge city.  It was scary at first, I won’t lie.  And lonely.  And sad.  But I explored and shopped and eventually landed at a cool pub and had dinner and drank amazing beers by myself for two hours.  I watched people laugh and enjoy the company of others and soaked it in.  I did some thinking and decided I totally hate being by myself, ha!  I felt sad and of course thought how much more fun I would be having if Matt were there with me.  We would try different beers and watch the homeless people on the street flip off the people who don’t give them money (true story) and laugh.  We would have talked about what we loved about the city and what we absolutely hated about it.  (The smells in case you’re wondering…..its bad.)  Instead I just sat quietly alone and watched others live out their lives and made up stories about them.  I mean, let’s be honest….that’s highly entertaining.  Then I flew home to my babies whom I missed so dang much.  Gosh for as much as they make me lose my ever-loving-mind, I sure do miss them when I don’t see them for two days.  Little turds…..I love ’em.

That’s my last trip until I’m done with nursing school.  I’m a broke widow/college student/single mom.  Unless someone else is footing the bill, (anyone looking to be my secret travel benefactor? It’s an open position, just saying)  we are traveled out for now and that’s OK.  I’m ready to dig in to this new life, this new Michelle and this new future with my kids.  I’ll have my hands full finishing my degree and carving out a life for us here in our new home.  Beginning Again.  Life is full of endings and beginnings whether we like it or not I guess.  How we choose to embrace them is everything.

My heart knows that the one year mark is coming closer and closer.  I am trying to prepare myself for this day, this moment in time.  One whole year without Matt in my life.  It seems impossible to me still…..and I often wonder if it will ever feel like this is my real life now.  I’m actually living without Matt by my side.  I still dream of Matt often and he is always alive…..sometimes he’s sick and sometimes he’s healthy, but he’s always alive and so real to me that when I wake up it’s so painful because I remember again that he died.  He is gone and I long to sleep so I can be with him again.  I am always happy/sad after those dreams because I get to see him and talk to him and laugh with him and it all feels so real, so near.  Yet incredibly sad because it isn’t real, that is no longer my life and it breaks my heart all over again.  This whole life thing is……..well, it’s something.  It’s something, indeed.

 

Fresh

Two weeks from Friday I will be closing a door to an old life and traveling north to open a door to a new life.  I will be honest, it all still feels totally unreal to me.  I had no idea that everything would happen so quickly and that every door I opened would just swing wide with no resistance.  So this is what life is like when you’re obedient.  I kind of dig it.

I have been packing and purging and sorting and selling like crazy.  I am a master mover and have always done it on my own, every time Matt and I have moved.  Matt showed up on move day and did all the heavy lifting.  I pack and unpack.  It has always been our system.  Typically when we move I’m always happy/sad.  Happy for the new house, new adventures and new memories.  Sad to leave all of that behind and know that another family will soon cherish this home we’ve loved.  This time is no different, except that there is a lot more sad.  Every where I look, I see Matt.  So many things he built with his hands for me.  So much love is in this house and I’m proud of that.  We spent three amazing years here growing, laughing, changing, planting, tearing down, building up and loving.  We spent one year here fighting for life and watching the center of our universe take his last breath.  It is because of this that we cannot stay.  It’s amazing how one thing…..one memory can ruin all of the good.  It just wipes it out and makes it to where all you can see is the bad….the ugly….the death.  The hardest thing I’ve had to do was tackle Matt’s space, his haven……his garage.  I’ve avoided it for months and any time I am out there it’s like I hold my breath or something.  There have been days where I go out there and just pick up his things and cry.  They are all just like he left them the last time he used them and I loved that.  It made it seem like he was going to come home soon.  He just left for a bit, because if his things are still here, then he can’t be gone, right?

Now I have to tell you Matt comes from a long line of hoarders. I don’t mean the hoarders on A&E with piles and paths in their homes.  Just a touch of the hoarding.  Just enough to irritate someone like me who purges regularly.  I cannot tell you how many times Matt would say “Don’t get rid of that Michelle! You might use that one day!”  There were times I must confess that I would toss things behind Matt’s back………in my defense it was always crap! Ugh.  And if I hadn’t done that all these years, I cannot even imagine how much harder this latest task would have been.  IMG_1428

Matt’s garage.  The only thing in this picture that belongs to me is the work out equipment….Matt did NOT work out.  He once told me it isn’t manly to work out.  I laughed and laughed.  What in the what?  Oh he made me laugh.  Not pictured is a decent sized shed also full of things.  All the things.  None of which I can even name or tell you what they do.  My job last week was to pick through it all and decipher what I was going to keep for myself or my kids and what could go.  Matt’s parents helped me which was a huge help, considering I didn’t know what half of this stuff is.  Then the day came for me to sell things.  Matt’s things.  I didn’t have anyone help me with this, because it’s so deeply personal.  I had to do it myself and alone.  I need to make sure nothing was sold that I wanted to keep.  But how do you decided what to keep? Watching others go through his earthly possessions and barter for them was absolute torture for me.  I went inside my house to collect my self many, many times that day.  Truthfully, I felt like a giant asshole.  Like the worlds most gigantic, most terrible, most horrific asshole ever.  Selling my loves things like they are nothing.  Although my heart wants to keep every single item his hands ever touched, my mind knows that this is not feasible and there are times when I have to let my mind rule my heart.  It is for the best.  My heart can be crazy as hell.

So I am in the middle of selling Matt’s stuff and I’m feeling so overwhelmed and emotional when a man gets out of his car and approaches me.  There are several people at my house so I assume he’s here for the sale.  He very sweetly tells me has some bad news for me.  I see he is holding some papers and I’m a little confused.  He then tells me he is here to “serve me”.  I think I laughed at first, and then asked “you mean, I’m being SUED?”  “Yes…I’m afraid you are.  I’m so sorry.”  As I open the papers I see I”m being sued by the funeral home I used for Matt.  Wonderful timing.  Splendid.  I’m already on the brink of a nervous breakdown, so this send me right on over the cliff.  Not only am I immediately angry, I am humiliated and sad and just flat out lost.  Because I want to call Matt and say “Babe, what in the actual hell is this?  I just got served!  I’m being SUED!”  Even today, he is still my go-to.  Matt will know what to say.  Matt will anchor me.  He will keep me calm. He will be my safe place to rant and rave and yell and cuss and he will look at me with a small smile and glimmer in his eyes, because he loves when I’m “fighting mad”.  Then he will come across the kitchen to me and hug me and I will feel so small against his giant body and he will say “It’s going to be OK babe.  It is.”  And I will be sobbing and snotting all over his shirt (and he won’t even care ya’ll because he totally loves me, even all snotty) and I will ask “How do you know?” and he will respond with his phrase “I just do.”  And I will feel instantly better. My breathing will slow down.  My tears will dry up. Because if Matt says its going to be OK, then it is.

But today I don’t have that, because Matt is dead.  He no longer breathes the same air that I do.  And I am selling his stuff and being served papers in my driveway on a sunny day from terrible people who profit off of tragedy and I just want my husband back.  I need him.  I miss him more than I could ever express.  I still don’t know or understand how I got here.  What did I do?  Where did I go wrong in life?  Why do I have to fight so hard?  Why do I have to give up so much more than everyone else?  Why is everything I do an uphill battle?  Is it me?  Am I creating this?  I don’t know.  I have no answers for any of these questions and nobody else seems to have them either.

But something I do know is this.  It is time for me to move forward.  Not move on…that is very different.  I can never move on from Matt.  He is so much apart of my fabric, we are one and the same.  Saying I move on from Matt is the same as saying I can move on from myself and that is impossible.  I have two choices in how I do this grief and life after death thing.  I can let myself be The Widow and feel sorry for myself and never recover. Or I can be Michelle, who is widowed and still loves life.  Loves her kids.  Loves her career.  Loves Matt…..always.  I have chosen the latter….which of course is the most difficult of the two life trails.  The Widow trail is easy peasy.  I just give up and stay in bed.  Waste away into the shadows of life. Relent.  Michelle ch. 2 is the tougher life trail. It’s an up hill climb and I promise it is steep.  I’m out of breathe most days and I stop often and just push pause on the journey because I’m so exhausted.  But eventually, I press play and keep climbing.  I have to promise myself daily that getting to the top of this mountain is going to be so beautiful it will take my breath away in a completely different way.  I hope that what I tell myself is true, because today, from where I sit it seems and feels absolutely impossible.  IMG_1336

So in two weeks we will open that door and start fresh.  Although there is immense sadness there is also a lot of excitement.  All 3 of my kids are so ready and cannot wait to live in “the city” Ha!  They have never been able to order pizza and have it delivered to their house and it’s the first thing on our agenda.  They look forward to all the conveniences and how close we will be to their favorite crazy Uncle and their grand parents.  I am looking forward to how much easier my life will be.  I am mitigating stress wherever I can and this is a huge one!

A couple of quick updates before I go.  I am applying for NURSING SCHOOL NEXT WEEK.  Mind blown.  It seems like I started this journey five seconds ago and now it is here.  I covet your prayers that I get in.  Oh please let me get in.  I have a plan B (this old gal is learning on all these steep curves) but I really want plan A to pan out.  I truly cannot even believe this moment is here.  All of the hard work, the tears, the major HUGE road blocks and I didn’t quit.  I never gave up.  I’m here.  Wow.  What a crazy ride this life is.  Well, at least my life is a crazy ride.

My boob situation?  IT IS BENIGN.  Sweetest words to ever hear.  Dr. doesn’t really know what it was, but he said it’s a good thing its out.  I am clean and healthy and ready to put that nasty beast to bed.  Good riddance.  Two months of stress and the minute they called me with the results I fell to pieces.  I literally sobbed thank you Jesus to the poor nurse on the phone.  Hahaha.  But for reals.  I truly don’t have time for that.  At all.

My updating will be sporadic for a bit as I move and finish up this semester and do life things.  I love talking to you guys and it truly humbles me and knocks me off my feet that so many of you still read and want me to keep writing.  Again….life is crazy isn’t it?

All things made new

In true Michelle Stringer fashion, my life these last two months has been insane.  Ridiculously insane.  You might think to yourself “Michelle is accustomed to that kind of life, it probably feels normal.”  I get that, I do.  I kind of think the same thing.  The trouble is, I am not accustomed to it.  Or OK with it.  My life feels totally and utterly overwhelming.  For a visual I give you a raging sea.  Tides and waves crashing on rocks, it’s a little over cast these days, not full blown storms…..but nowhere near calm either.  I am in a tiny sailboat, being tossed and shaken like a helpless rag doll.  I am frantically grasping for my sails….trying to adjust with all the strength I have.  Some days I am able to steady my little boat.  Other days the waves are too powerful and I am too weak and  I give up and curl up to wait the storm out.

To catch you all up on my life, I honestly don’t know where to start….it’s that complicated and exhausting.  I have started to update many times over the last few weeks, but I always quit….at a loss for words  once.  If I could, I would meet for you for coffee somewhere quiet and I would tell you all about the last two months and you would probably be at a loss for words.  That’s OK, I am too.

I guess the easiest way is to just old school list out the things I am carrying on my back and then try to explain them.  Does that sound OK?  Otherwise this blog post will be long and weighty….who has time for that?

Here are the things that weigh me down right now on a daily basis:

Selling my house

Buying a new house

Leaving our community and starting over somewhere new

Full-time college (every UGH I can mutter)

Applying for Nursing School in the Fall (again….all the UGHS)

3 kids and solo parenting

My breast saga continues and that is a huge burden

My health has started to decline thanks to sky high cortisol levels and extreme stress

And last, but NOT least…..I’m still heavily grieving Matt ( this in itself is huge)

 

When I look at this list I have to kind of laugh at myself.  A few weeks ago I panicked because my back muscles between my shoulder blades became so tight and tense.  It’s not so much painful as it is uncomfortable.  When you google this for a woman it says HEART ATTACK.  YOU ARE GOING TO DIE.  THE ER DOCTORS WILL DISMISS YOU AND YOU WILL DIE.  Fantastic.  My chest is almost always tight.  I have reflux.  I have gained a ridiculous amount of weight that I can’t seem to stop.  I’m chronically tired and worn so very thin.  My emotions? Forget it.  I don’t even know what Michelle to expect each day.  It’s a crap shoot.  It’s just that my life is hard.  So heavy.  So complicated.  So many damn decisions and choices and options and forks in the road.  And I no longer have this partner in my life talk things over with.  And I get it, some of you have always been single…..or you are single now.  Yet, I have never truly been a “single”….I have always been a “double”….since my senior year of highschool.  How many 36 year old women can say they have had ONE boyfriend?  ONE relationship?  It seems almost pathetic to me now….but it’s the extent of my experience.  So doing all of this life with 3 kids and no career and not a lot of experience…..it’s beyond hard.  Beyond complicated.  Beyond stressful.

So my house.  I’m not really sure why but all of sudden I just felt this overwhelming urge to sell.  I just had to list my house….it was time to sell it.  So I decided to practice obedience (I struggle with this spiritually.)  A little over a week ago I put my house on the market and waited.  I honestly thought it would take a couple of months…..but to my surprise, one week in, I received an offer.  Almost immediately a peace washed over me and I knew I was supposed to take this deal.  I said yes and waited.  For the last month I have been perusing houses in a city I want that is close to my family and has the schools I like best.  I would mark many houses as my favorites, but always came back to this one house.  Every other house I loved was eventually sold, except for this one that I felt God gently nudging me towards.  So the day after I accepted an offer on mine I decided to look at this one house.  The second I walked in, I felt it.  It’s inexplicable and can only be experienced, but it was home.  I just knew it.  Felt it….sensed it.  (I realize this makes me sound like a flakey new age hippie who burns patchouli and bathes in essential oils, but whatevs.  I gots those feelers ya’ll.)  So I made an offer and after a little bantering, they said yes.  This all happened with 9 days.  This is a big deal for so many reasons, but the main reason is this:  I have never bought or owned a home.  Some of you are scratching your heads and going “Huh? I know she and Matt bought homes  and lived there.  She lives in one now!!”  My name was never on a home we bought.  Matt bought them.  I’m not a co-borrower or anything.  Same for my car, Matt owns it.  Because I stayed at home with our babies and didn’t bring much to the table financially, Matt didn’t think it was important for me to be on the loans.  I never cared.  I should have.  When Matt died, I had NO credit.  None. 35 year old woman with no credit history.  Awesome.  So under the advisement of people I trusted I opened lines of credit.  This boosted me to a great score.  I also have a good chunk of equity in my home since when we bought it, it was an absolute dump that was basically inhabitable.  Matt’s last gift to me for sure, even though he didn’t know it.  So I am selling a home BY MYSELF you guys.  I am BUYING A HOUSE by myself.  I got pre-qualified BY MYSELF.  When I think of who I was a year ago and who I am becoming today, it’s astonishing.  The learning curve of widowhood is steep.  Ridiculously, impossibly so.  Yet I am learning…..at light speed.  There are so many emotions that wash over when I think of moving.  Leaving our community.  Starting over.  Saying good bye to a home that Matt loved and built with his own hands.  I couldn’t possibly explain them.  I’ll just tell you it’s hard and happy and sad and angry and ugly and beautiful and exciting and terrifying all at the same time.  So, yeah.  It’s that.

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Our future home. (I know Hadley is crying.  This is real life with kids.  One is always crying.  Always.)

OK, so the boob drama.  This makes me say UGH too.  I ended up with an MRI that was going to be “definitive….we will know exactly what is going on after this MRI.”  So I decide to go this MRI alone.  I am single and I need to learn to be alone….so I’ve got this.  Right?  Riiiiiiiiiiiight.  First of all, the MRI is in the exact same place I took Matt to for 6 weeks Mon-Fri for radition last year.  OK, so I’ll just do some deep breathing.  Focus.  Put my thoughts above it.  My hippie stuff.  I’m zen…or whatever.  No my head isn’t spinning.  My chest isn’t getting tight as a drum.  I’m all chill and cool and calm waters.  Right.  They call my name and of course the receptionist says “hey I remember you! You were always with the really tall guy huh?”  I laughed at her description (accurate) and reply “yes, that’s me”.  She says what I know is coming and I am instinctively dreading it.  “How is he?”  Oh.  Well.  “He died last July unfortunately.”  Now I am staring at a small part of a random wall.   Making my thoughts as tiny as possible.  Choking back the tears that are dangerously close to overflowing.  I will not cry.  I will not cry.  Then this woman, this stupid woman who isn’t really stupid, but she was this day says “Oh, gosh.  You’re listed as married.  I guess I should change that to widowed, huh?”  Those tears…..THEY GONE………out of my eyeballs and slipping down my cheeks silently.  In my brain I punch this woman and say “yeah, I guess you should, you stupid, insensitive piece of garbage.  CHANGE IT TO WIDOWED BECAUSE MY HUSBAND DIED AND I AM HERE TO SEE IF I HAVE CANCER ALL ALONE.”  What can I say, I have a flair for dramatics.  I did keep my cool and as I continued to stare at the tiny piece of the wall I said flatly “Yes, I’m widowed now.  Thank you.”

 

The MRI went fine….if you think laying on your belly with your breasts hanging through holes, while you hang out in a loud tube for 30 minutes is fine.  I waited two long days for the results.  What is going on with this stupid duct of mine?  And why NOW?  The doctor called me while I was at a school and said “welllllllllll, we still don’t have an answer.  The duct is completely full of blood and it’s not really OK….so you have to have what is called a ductal endoscopy.”  But of course…..does anything in my life happen easily?  No.

Today I had the endoscopy and they found a small papilloma.  I was awake for the entire thing because I declined anesthesia.  You guys I am too busy for that, I had stuff to do today…….widow moms ain’t got time to be knocked out.  Did it hurt?  Like hell….they couldn’t numb me enough since I chose to be awake.  Once he found the papilloma he cut my breast open and dug it out.  I’m a good time you guys, I always have a crazy story to tell.  I literally watched him cut me open. I watched the camera as it went down the duct and found its target.  I asked questions the whole time (I was worried he would be annoyed by me but he seemed more impressed…dude should read my blog.  Boob cuts?  Doc, please.  Childs play.)   The perk to being awake was that he said “Hey you see those red dots?   I don’t like those.  I’m going to cut those out and send them to pathology.  I think we might find some pre-cancerous cells or straight up cancer cells here.  It’s really common next to papillomas.”  I didn’t even flinch ya’ll.  I just said “OK!”  Now, I was a little drunk during the procedure.  I basically got 3 margaritas in my IV.  So I was pretty relaxed.  Cancer?  Please.  I eat cancer for breakfast Doc.  Next.   We talked and he said that even if there is some cancer in there, it’s contained.  It’s stage 0.   Although this might be the most horrible, awful, stupid timing ever in the history of stupid/bad timing…..I get it. I just felt God and Matt were all over this.  The way I discovered this is so strange and so not me.  I don’t check my breasts.  I don’t think about them.  If they hurt I just shrug it off.  I don’t over think it.  I over think a lot of things. but not my boobies.  I’m so glad I listened to that tiny tiny voice that said “hey, check this out homegirl.”  Even though it’s added a new dimension of stress to my life, deep down, I know it will be  OK.  It will.  Boobs are dumb.  The end.  PS…..check your boobies.  Squeeze them.  Make sure nothing strange is going on.  If it is, go get checked.  Really….just do it.  Those boobs? They are time bombs….check them.

So this blog ended up being horribly long….sorry for that.  I lied to you.  It happens.  I will quickly sum up that school totally sucks, I feel as though I am drowning most days.  I am doing well in 2 out 3 classes, and I have to be OK with that.  Managing my time and balancing all of my THINGS is HARD.  I want to do it all and be a  strong, I can do it all mom and woman, but the truth that I am learning every day is that I can’t.  Not only can I not pour from an empty cup, but I certainly cannot pour from a cup that has a rusted out bottom.  And that’s basically what I’m attempting to do.  It’s not working well for me at all.  I am officially applying for Nursing School and officially FREAKED OUT.  I can’t really believe it’s here.  I have bulldozed my way through all of my pre-reqs. Through a cancer diagnosis, cancer treatment, my husband dying, grieving, learning, solo parenting, and now a cancer scare of my own.  Yet I persist.  I keep moving.  Even when I want to quit.  Even when I cry and cuss and feel sorry for myself in the bottom of my sailboat…..I persist.  I push.  I grab my sails…sometimes in desperation and other times in strength of steel and I persist.  I can’t help but smile some days when I think of how proud Matt is of me….because he radiates it to me daily.  His love for me is still here and with me.  He is with me and I am so glad.  I have my King and my man in my corner…..who can possibly come against me?

 

 

 

 

 

The Great Sadness

Right after Matt died, I figured the toughest and hardest months would be the first few ones, because that makes the most sense right?  I am quickly realizing this is not entirely true for grief like this.  Of course I spent the first 3 months basically sobbing nearly every day, but I was still able push forward.  Go through the motions.  I didn’t know that it was actually going to get much harder…..and a whole lot sadder.

I guess since the beginning of the year I have felt something shift within me….but not in a positive direction.  Quite the opposite.  I feel suddenly heavy and so tired every day.  Each morning when my alarm goes off I feel dread.  Dread that another day is here…..another day I have to struggle through.  Fake it through.  Another day without Matt, the man I built my entire adult life around.

A thought occurred to me the other day that broke my heart all over again and made me feel horribly guilty too.  I feel like loving Matt the way that I did and sacrificing so much for our joint happiness together has ruined my life because he died.  I feel like I am completely broken and so beyond repair it feels hopeless.  At 36 the rest of my life suddenly feels so long and desolate and lonely.  Truthfully it appears depression has settled in and it worries me.  I’ve never dealt with an actual depression before.  Anxiety, yes.  I tend to run on the worried/frazzled/anxious side.  So this version of myself is unrecognizable.  I have very little motivation for anything.  School is a huge struggle now, as I just don’t care this semester. I couldn’t tell you how many times I have almost dropped out of my courses and just said “forget it.  I just want to sleep today.”  My house, my car, my kids, my life in general is a giant mess because I just don’t really care.  I hate to even admit that about myself and I’ll probably regret doing so on this blog, but it’s the truth.  It’s this ocean of sadness that feels like I’m drowning in grief and loss and anguish.  I miss him so damn much.  I cannot quantify it.  Word it.  It’s an endless, horrible ache for something I can never have again and my heart is so very broken.

Just to give you a glimpse into what it’s like to grieve like this and still sort of live or at least pretend to, here is what happened to me this morning:

So my alarm goes off at 5 am because I have a huge exam at 8 am and I need to cram whatever I can into my brain.  At 6 am I wake my kids up and get everyone ready and we are out the door by 6:45 so I can drop them off with a friend and head to school.  As I am driving I am listening to music and just trying to think about my test and what I need to remember.  Suddenly I see Matt’s face in my mind.  Not his healthy, happy face.  His sunken in face…..the face he wore hours before I would feel his heart stop beating.  His face that is looking at me with so much sadness and fear because my love, my very heart, my best friend is dying and he knows it. He is struggling to breathe because his lungs are full of fluid and his heart is enlarged and every organ is starting to fail…..but he’s awake and alert and knows it’s coming.  Can you imagine that kind of terror?  It takes my breath away to even think of it.  He looks at me and tells me to drug him….he wants to go to sleep now, it’s too hard and too scary and he doesn’t want to know he’s dying.  I have the drugs that will accomplish this and with every ounce of love and compassion I have I begin to put my love to sleep.  But that face…..that face I fell in love with 17 years ago…..that sweet, 21 year old boy who made my heart race is now dying in front of me and I can do nothing.  He is begging for mercy and I can give him that mercy, but at what cost to my heart and soul?  So I continue driving while I bite my lip and squeeze my eyes shut to stop the flood gates from opening.  I have to focus, I have a job in front of me.  But these flashes hit me out of the blue and insist I re-live them and it’s hell.  Perhaps it’s a form of PTSD or something, I’m not sure, but I hate it.  Getting to say goodbye before Matt died came at a very high cost to me and I will pay for it for the rest of my life.

I’m not sure if what I’m going through is a normal part of grief and if it is, hopefully it will pass.  It terrifies me that I might stay here and become a sad Michelle, an empty shell.  I also find it hard to breathe when I wonder if I am ruined forever by this?  Will I ever be OK?  Normal? (whatever that is…)  Happy?  Content?  Loved?  I just don’t know and it terrifies me.

Now although the majority of my memories of us and our love are heavy and sad, the other night as laid in bed staring at the ceiling in the dark an amazing memory popped into my head.  It was so clear it was like I was re-living it and I don’t know why it came, but I’m so glad it did.  So, it’s my senior year of high school and Matt and I have been I guess kind of dating for 2 or 3 months.  I say “kind of” because I had no real clue what dating meant and Matt was older and in college so it wasn’t like we saw each other all the time at this point. We had been on one date so I didn’t know if we were a “thing” or what.  Suddenly it’s Valentines Day and although I knew Matt was taking me out to dinner that night, that’s all I really anticipated.  I’m sitting in my last hour and my name is called over the intercom to come to the office.  Crap.  I’m in trouble for skipping……again.  I’m positive my heart sank and I walked as slowly as I could to the office.  When I walked in there was a crowd of girls and teachers standing there and they all turned to see me as I walked in…..including the Principal.  What in the what??  Everyone starts talking at once and says “Look!!  Michelle, look!”  Suddenly I see the biggest, most insane bouquet of roses I have ever seen.  At first I’m confused….what am I looking at?  Oh, those roses?  They are for ME?  Huh???  Well, the principal is even thrilled and demands I read the card out loud.  Lord have mercy.  I open the card and read these words that I will never, ever forget “Happy Valentines Day to a girl who deserves roses every day.  Love, Matt”  So yeah, 20 females swooned that day and everyone wanted to know who is this boy????  (By the way, I still have that card in our wedding scrapbook….it’s a keeper!)  But seriously, those roses??  HUGE.  GIANT.  OBSCENE.  They were long stem and so enormous I was actually a little embarrassed to leave the school with them that afternoon and had to put them into my Honda Accord at an angle just to get them in.  That sweet, shy, quiet Matt was quite the charmer when he decided to be.  When I saw him that night (this is before cell phones and texting ya’ll so we had to wait to talk…the horror) I gushed about the roses.  I didn’t know if we were like a couple or what and he just looked at me shocked.  “Michelle, I started saving for an engagement ring the first night we talked. I’m in.”  Whoa.  I laugh now because 36 year old Michelle would be like “whoa Cowboy.  Settle down….back that pony up.”  But Matt was all in and he proved it over the next 17 years.

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Look at those babies.   I’m a senior in this picture and this was at the very beginning of us.

Believe me I want to get to the point where I am just so grateful to have had a love like that for 17 years.  I know so many never get it and I’m a lucky one.  I know that.  I do.  But today I just feel loss and anger at the loss.  I feel robbed and ruined and lost.  I’m angry that at 36 I don’t know who I am.  I have no job.  No education.  No way to support my kids, because I put all of my eggs into Matt’s basket and that blew up in my face.  So now I’m left to walk through this war torn life of mine and pick up pieces and try and glue things together.  Make a new life…..new dreams…..new memories.  Today it’s just plain hard.  Tomorrow will hopefully be a tiny bit less hard.  That’s all I hope for.  Just a little less each day until I’m on the other side of this great sadness.

Mom Joy

As the days, weeks and months continue to tick by methodically, I see new ways that losing Matt to cancer has affected and will continue to affect us.  Some ways are small and some ways are huge and far-reaching.

The most difficult one so far is how single parenting has changed my life as a Mom.  Being a mom has always brought so much joy to my life.  I can still remember like it was yesterday what I felt when I saw my first positive pregnancy test.  Matt and I would spend hours staring at my bare belly, mystified that we had created this little tiny human that was half me and half Matt.  It still fascinates me to this day and I’ve done it 4 times!  I was determined to be the best mom and wife….they were my only life goals (I know, I know, I didn’t do much to further the feminist movement…sorry).  But I found so much happiness in those two roles….I loved serving my people day in and day out.  I have always been the mom that made treats for parties and volunteered in the classroom, helped with PTO, etc.  Matt came to dinner waiting for him every single night.  Our house was always full of love and noise and I relished it.  My people were happy, so I was happy.

When Matt became ill, instantly our lives changed.  I thought it was a temporary change, that our lives would fall back into that familiar rhythm I loved so much, once Matt was better.  Once he beat the cancer….everything was going to be OK.  That just isn’t how it’s turned out.  And now…….today?  No part of our life is the same.  Matt dying has stripped me of all joy in my role as a mom.  I am always exhausted, depressed, busy, stressed, worried and angry.  Being a mom by myself with nobody to help me isn’t fun or joyful.  It’s hard beyond anything I could have imagined.  I never wanted to be a single mom, I was raised by a single mom and I know just how hard it is, for the mom and the kids.  I fought for my marriage.  I nourished it and fought for it and did everything I could to keep us on track so we could make it….beat the odds and grow old together happily.  And we would have.  Except I didn’t count on death to ruin my life.  I didn’t ever imagine this battle, we never saw it coming.  I had no plan for Matt dying and finishing out this job all by myself.  And if I’m totally honest, I don’t really even like being a mom these days.  I don’t.

Imagine all the things you do as a mom, now add in all the things your husband does to help (trust me he does WAY more than you think sisters, I have learned this the hard way) and add in all the life stuff (bills, sick kids, house stuff, etc) and then add in the BIG HUGE things.  Like selling your house.  Moving.  Changing schools.  Going to college full time and wondering how you are going to support your kids financially.  Are you making the right decision?  Is this the road or is that road over there the road I should take?  And there is nobody to ask…no partner to lay in bed with at night and talk about pros and cons.  When something goes wrong…or even right, my first instinct is still to call Matt.  Then I realize with crushing sadness I can’t call him anymore.  He no longer shares this life with me and my heart can’t even believe it. Last week I walked out of class and as I climbed into my car I thought about how Matt would love hearing about the things I’m learning right now.  He was a total science nerd and he would think it’s so funny that this English girl of his is going to end up with a Science Degree…oh the irony.  As I sat there laughing to myself, it quickly turned to tears quietly falling.  How can this be? How is Matt not here for me to call and talk to about my day?  Why did this happen to us?  To my babies?  How do my precious babies NOT HAVE A DAD?  How am I a single mom?  How can this be my life?

Gone is the organized and together mom who knows what is happening at school.  Gone is the mom who has an amazing dinner ready at 5 pm every night.  Gone is the mom who is patient and listens and actually has the time to care. Gone is my immaculately clean house and empty laundry baskets.  Now?  Home cooked meals are sparse and a treat these days.  I haven’t read a folder from school in months….and no I am not exaggerating.  MONTHS.  My floors are always dirty, trash cans over flowing and if I have the ability to lay in bed?  That’s where you’ll find me. Folded laundry.  Hahahahaha.  That’s funny.  Find what you need from the pile.  I know it looks like I’ve got it together, but I don’t. I’m struggling in school, this semester is much harder for me mentally, I guess because the full reality of my situation in life has hit me.  I have so many balls in the air, it’s sometimes impossible to focus on my work.  And honestly, trying to find quiet time to study with 3 kids?  Right.  Not happening.  Getting my house ready to sell is stressful in itself.  Deciding where to land is stressful.  Knowing that my kids will say goodbye to their friends is stressful.  Not knowing if I can even get into Nursing school is stressful.  It’s all so darn stressful.  Then I am told I need to get my stress under control.  Well, that’s hilarious.  Yes, I’ll just take some deep breaths and it’ll all be OK.  It hasn’t worked yet….I’m still waiting.

I do tell myself daily that at some point my life will get better.  I’ll be happy again.   I’ll be a good mom again.  My kids will be OK, they will survive this too.  I tell myself that Matt is happy and wouldn’t come back to me if he could.  I thank God that he doesn’t have to feel this misery, this pain, this loss.  Because it’s the worst kind of hell and I’m so thankful only one of us is having to go through it.  I try to envision my future and how I hope it looks in one year, two years and ten years.  I gently remind myself that my life isn’t over and ruined, even though most days it certainly feels that way.  I force myself to remember happy Michelle.  Funny Michelle.  Determined Michelle.  Fighter Michelle.  Then I get out of bed, I do some dishes and fold some laundry.  Some times that is all I  can do.  And for now it is good enough.

I hope that I can find my Mom Joy again some day in the near future. I miss that version of myself.  Although I know that I will never be the exact mom I was before Matt became ill.  I am changed and our life is changed.  But I can be a different version and I hope to meet her soon.  I think a lot of it will come with moving.  Even though moving has been such a hard decision, it feels absolutely right.  Being closer to family and help makes my heart very, very happy.  My kids were initially upset but now are pretty excited to be in the city and be by their grandparents.  The amount of stress this will ease for all of us is immense.  My house will be on the market officially in the next couple of weeks and I think I am ready to move forward.  It’s a huge step, but one I have spent the last few months really thinking and praying about.  I continue to be surprised at where God is leading me in this crazy life and if my past is any indication, I think I will continue to be surprised as my future and story unfolds.

For now I’m still swimming.  Still taking things one day at a time and trying to find small pieces of joy in hopes that one day it will be big, fat chunks of it.

 

My MRI has finally been scheduled for this Wednesday at noon.  Believing for good news and I truly do not feel worried.  Thank you for your prayers, love you all.