Thursday, December 23, 2010

Surviving the Holidays

In just a few hours Owen will be waking up and we will both be getting ready for all of our Christmas Eve festivities. While most people may think that this year will be easier for us than last year was... I am honestly dreading this year more.

Last year, I was still in shock. Last year, I was on sleeping medication and anti-depressants. Last year, I was numb. Last year, I was coping for Owen... to make his first Christmas fun... to keep Bryan's memory alive.

Now, a year later... after all of the shock has worn off and reality has set in. I am hurting. I am dreading. I am sad.

Christmas has always been one of my favorite holidays. I love giving gifts. I love spending time with my family. I love playing board games till midnight. I love eating cookies and drinking egg nog. And I love surrounding myself with people who make me laugh.

Bryan and I would spend months preparing for the holidays. Sending out our Christmas cards, planning out our gifts and decorating our house. After Bryan passed away, we tried to get in the Christmas spirit and make Owen's first Christmas a memorable one... even though we were all just trying to survive. We decorated the tree, made the food, bought the gifts and put a smile on our faces... we tried to make it work.

This year, I am finding it harder to pretend and just "get" through the day. While I want to make Owen's day special... it is hard for me to not focus on the things that are missing. The things that I wish were with us.

When I close my eyes I can see Bryan playing Rock Band with my brothers... beating on the drums and head banging. I can see him giving my mom and dad a big hug when he opens his gifts. I can see him eating eggs benedict Christmas morning at his parents house. I can see him sitting in his parents basement... with his messy bed hair and red flannel pajama bottoms on... wrapped in a blanket.

I can see him. I can smell him. I can feel him.

To not have those things... those moments... those memories... it is really hard. I wish that Owen and him could wrestle on the floor on top of all the wrapping paper shreds. I wish they could snuggle on the couch and open gifts together. I wish they could open all of Owen's new toys and try them all out.

Oh how I wish... he was here... that he was with us... that he was with Owen.

Last year my father read a blessing that he wrote before we sat down to dinner. I think that it is fitting this year as well. Although it does not make Christmas any easier... it does help shift my focus (a little)...

Dear God,
We are here to express our gratitude for all of your blessings. You have given us so much. Not only providing us with what we need to live, but in giving us yourself. We are richly blessed and it is right to acknowledge that you are the source of all good things.

Yet, this day also brings a mix of emotions. We confess our thanks, but also our sadness because of the empty place at our table. We know that death and sorrow were not your original plan, but we also know that you use difficulties to draw us closer to you and to each other. Here and now fill the empty places in our hearts and this empty place at our table. Teach us to savor the moments we have with one another, to rightly remember what we have lost, but also to look forward in hope to what we have promised in the future.

We say again, "Your love is better than life." Thank you for all of your blessings. For even through the trials and loss you always somehow reveal your goodness.

In Jesus we pray. Amen.

Friday, December 17, 2010

The power of music

Bryan LOVED music. He could literally listen to his ipod all day long. It was not just a passion of Bryan's, it was his life... He spent most of his free time researching new bands/artists and playing his guitar. Music was Bryan's muse, his relaxation, his life's story and his emotions... it flowed through every pore in his body and radiated out his limbs.

Bryan's passion for music ignited his interest and love for dance. If you were ever fortunate enough to watch Bryan dance... you are considered one of the very lucky ones. The first time that I attended one of Bryan's dance competitions...I was in 10th grade... and I fell in love. He did not just memorize the moves... he became the dance... he became the song. His body told the story... he expressed his emotions through his movements... he made me feel what he was feeling.

After Bryan passed away I tried hard to distance myself from his music. Every time I heard a song on the radio that reminded me of him I would get sick to my stomach. So, for the first year... I ignored music almost completely. It was not until I attended the Dave Matthews Band concert this past summer (my first concert ever) that I was able to let Bryan's music back in.

Listening to his music sparks so many memories and feelings for me. It was such a huge part of his life... of our life. When I listen to "Flake" by Jack Johnson I can see him sitting on our couch playing his guitar... when I hear "Son's Gonna Rise" by Citizen Cope I am back in the passenger seat of our car driving to the hospital to deliver Owen... when "Rocky Raccoon" by the Beatles comes on my ipod I picture Bryan in his high school letter jacket sitting next to me in his car... when "Days like this" by Van Morrison pops up in my itunes I am back on the lake, in the boat, fishing with Bryan... when "Three Little Birds" by Bob Marley plays on Owen's playlist I remember Bryan rocking Owen to sleep and singing him that song.

So many memories... and most of them are all set to song. I have spent some of the most memorable moments of my life immersed in music.

Since music was so important to Bryan, I wanted to make sure to incorporate it into Owen's life as well. I wanted to expose Owen to all the different genres and let him choose what songs were going to be his muse... his life story. But, before I could even introduce Owen to music... he showed me that like his father, he was born loving it. When Owen hears a song that he likes... it is like the music just flows through his body and he is compelled to dance.

Although it is still difficult for me to listen to Bryan's music... I know that I have to... I know that we have to. While it is hard and I still cannot get through a song without crying, I know that at some point it will be soothing and comforting to me.

I want Owen to be able to feel those same emotions his father felt when he listened to his music... I want Owen to be able to get a glimpse into the kind of man his father was through the lyrics in the songs that he liked... through the beats that made him move... and through the melodies that made him sing.

While I was writing this blog, I listened to Bryan's ipod... and here are some of the few songs that stood out to me... that reminded me of the man that I fell in love with... that reminded me of my Bryan.

Elliott Smith
- Angeles (This was his go to homework song)
- The Morning After (One of our many love songs)

Jack Johnson (One of Bryan's favorite artists)
- Flake (He like to play this song on his guitar)
- Taylor (One of the first songs he learned on his guitar)
- Bubble Toes (The first song Bryan "dedicated" to me)

Citizen Cope
- Son's Gonna Rise (Bryan played this song while we drove to the hospital to have Owen)
- Let the drummer kick that (Bryan loved dancing to this song... he couldn't help it)

Dave Matthews Band
- Grey Street (He always listened to this in the car)
- Stay or Leave (Another one of our favorite songs)
- You and me (He loved dancing with me to this one... in our kitchen)
- Proudest Monkey (Bryan loved singing this song... no matter where we were when he heard it)
- The Stone (He loved the intro to this song... probably one of his favorite songs by Dave)
- Crush (Another one of our many love songs)

Ben Harper
-Morning Yearning (He loved this song and listened to it all the time)

Cat Stevens
- Wild World (We would drive around in his car in high school to this song)
- Peace Train (Bryan loved singing this song to me)

Beatles (His favorite band)
- Something (Bryan wanted to dance to this song at our wedding)
- Black Bird (He picked me up for our first date while he was listening to this song)
- Here comes the sun (This song always put him in a good mood)
- Rocky Raccoon (He listened to this all the time in high school... I used to make fun of him for that)

Mason Jennings
- Empire Builder (Bryan played this song all the time... and I mean all the time)
- Lemon Grove Avenue (Bryan sang this song a lot on our car rides home to MN)

Monsters of Folk
- Say Please (He discovered this band the summer he passed away and really liked this song)

Arcade Fire
- Wake up (Bryan loved the book where the Wild Things Are... he really liked this song that went along with the movie)

Red Hot Chili Peppers
- Parallel Universe (He head banged to this song every time it came on... he loved it)

Van Morrison
- Days like this (We listened to a lot of Van Morrison on the boat)

- The Good Life (Bryan loved dancing to this song... and singing it. But he was usually doing it in a very animated and goofy way)

My Morning Jacket (Another one of Bryan's favorite bands)
- It Beats For You (Our song)
- Wordless Chorus (This was his chill song... it always relaxed him)

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

For a reason

All of this had to happen to me for a reason. I lost Bryan and became a single parent at age 24 for a reason. I had to go through this terrible grieving process and emotional pain for a reason. I started blogging and expressing my emotions for the world to read for a reason. Everything has happened to me FOR A REASON...

I want to know what that reason is! I want to know why?

I have spent a year and nearly four months racking my brain trying to figure out WHY ME?

I know that I do not want to sit behind a desk and do meaningless work for the rest of my life. I know that I do not want to fade into oblivion and sit silent while the world passes me by. I know that I want to make Owen and Bryan proud of me. I know that I want to turn this terrible situation into something positive. I know that I want to give back.

Now is the time for me to follow my gut and do what I think is right for me... for my son. Now is the time to not be scared... to not question... to just do!

When I lost Bryan, I did not have anyone to turn to or anywhere to escape... I felt lost and alone. Sure, I had a great family and group of friends... but none of them had lost a spouse/life partner at age 24. Everyone was grieving the loss of Bryan, but I was grieving him in a different way. Not only was I grieving the loss of his life, but I was grieving the loss of mine. My plans... my future... everything was gone.

When I read "widow" books I felt even more alone. Instead of a story that I could relate too, I felt like my grieving was being put on a time line. I felt like I was being told what to do and what to expect when I just wanted to know that someone my age had been through a similar situation. I wanted to know that I was not alone... that I would be okay. But everywhere I looked I could not find a story that I could relate to... I could not find that "escape" or the comfort that I was looking for.

I originally started my blog in 2009 for Owen. I wanted him to be able to read about this time while all of the emotions were still raw and heart wrenching. I wanted him to be able to see these pieces of Bryan and feel my emotions before they started to fade away. But, since then, my blog has turned into something much more than just a virtual diary for Owen to read when he is an adult. It has turned into my outlet and my escape. It has become my therapy... my release.

Through my blog, I have realized that I want to help people. I want to reach out to people, that like me, have lost a spouse at a young age. I want them to be able to read my words and feel like they have someone out there that can understand where they are coming from. I want them to know that they are not alone. That they will make it through...

I am not quite sure how I am going to do it... but I have decided that I would like to write a book. I want to use pieces from my blog and personal stories from my life to make something that will help and inspire people. I feel like my one gift in life is my gift with words... and maybe just maybe my words can be there for someone when they feel like no words can explain how they feel or what they are going through.

Not only have I decided to take on the daunting task of writing a book... but I have also decided to try to go back to school. Before Bryan's death I was never a believer in therapy and I never would have considered going to see one. But through my grief therapy I have become a stronger Ashley. I have found my voice. Although I am not sure how it will all work out... seeing as I am a Journalism and English major... I would like to pay it forward and look into becoming a grief therapist. I want to help people. I want to inspire people. I want to be there for people when they have lost everything. Help them feel comfort when they feel all alone and lost.

I might be way off... maybe I am shooting for the stars. But, I know that I have to follow my heart. I have to believe that maybe all of this pain and all of this grieving has happened for a reason... to lead me towards grief therapy and writing a book. I know that Bryan would want me to follow my gut and be the best possible version of "me".

While talking to one of Bryan's good friends the other night he said something to me that I will never forget. I told Matt that I just wanted to find my purpose in life and do something to keep Bryan's name and spirit alive... and Matt said that "a sacrifice of that magnitude is beyond anything I could do. I hope that when I move to the next life, Bryan and I will see that we made an impact and changed peoples lives." That is all I want and I feel like through my words... I might just be able to accomplish that.

Saturday, December 11, 2010

Dear Bryan

For the past two days we have been under a winter blizzard warning... so I thought that it would be a good time to organize some paper work and get rid of things that we don't need anymore. While I was going through the bookshelf in my bedroom, I stumbled across a journal that I had started when Bryan died.

On the first page was a letter than I had written to Bryan the day of his funeral. I remember that I copied the letter in my journal and put the original with him in his casket... along with one of our wedding pictures, a picture of him with Owen, a duck call and Owen's fleece camo jacket that Bryan bought for him when we first found out we were pregnant.

Although it was hard for me to read again... I have typed it below.

This is my final letter to Bryan... my promises... my emotions... and my heart.

Dear Bryan,
I never thought that this day would come and I would have to be the one saying goodbye to you. I have never just been Ashley... I have always been Bryan and Ashley. So, really I don't feel alive any longer either.
Ever since we met at Pilgrim Lane in the first grade you have held a special place in my heart. How am I supposed to move on and raise Owen without you? How am I supposed to go on living without you?
Whenever I think about our life together, I smile. We were always just so happy and in love. I remember one of our favorite memories was when we were driving around in your Chevrolet Malibu Classic when we were 17 and I fell asleep on your lap. You told me that in my sleep I said "I love you Bryan." So, you pulled over, woke me up and said, "I love you too." In the short 8 years that we have been together you have taught me how to be a better person. You never said bad things about people and you were always so compassionate.
On the day that we found out I was pregnant with Owen you danced around the house and sang at the top of your lungs. While I was sick through my second trimester you were always there to help make me feel better. Writing me love letters, making me Cd's, buying me food that I could keep down and driving me to and from work because you did not want me to get hurt.
You are the love of my life and my soul mate. I still have not figured out why God had to take you so soon but I can only assume that we were just too happy and that our lives were fulfilled. He must have needed you.
Don't worry about Owen. He will be fine. I will teach him everything about you and let him know just how much he was loved. You were such a great father and he will always know you through me. Although I may not know right now how to shoot a bow, run marathons, or blow a duck call... I will learn. Who knows, maybe Owen and I will get our own hunting show someday on the outdoor network. Just you wait and see.
I am not sure how to tell you how much I love you and how much you mean to me. You are such an amazing guy and I feel so lucky that you chose me out of all of the other women out there. I love you Monkey and I will see you again someday by the lake where the ducks and the elk play. We will be together again soon for eternity... dancing, singing, laughing and loving.

Love your wife,


Monday, December 6, 2010

Mixed Emotions

This past week...Owen and I traveled all the way to Tulum, Mexico... something that I never thought I would get to do. The weather was beautiful... the sand and the ocean were amazing... and the resort was perfect. I got to shut out the world for one whole week and just spend time with my family and with my son.

Owen was completely in his element and had the time of his life. It was nice to be able to listen to his giggle... see his silly little smirk... and watch the wheels in his brain turn as he experienced new things. For one week, I was able to try to escape reality and spend time in paradise with my perfect little Owey (that is what he calls himself now).

While we were in Mexico, Owen got to swim with the dolphins, chase lizards (he called them kitties), touch a monkey (which he did not like too much because he stole his nuk), swim in the ocean and play in the sand. He loved every minute of it and did not want to leave. After grieving the loss of Bryan this past year, it was nice to be able to escape with my family and laugh for a few days.

My cousin Tiffany married her best friend and soul mate, Nathan, on December 1st, 2010 on the beach in Tulum. It was a beautiful day and an amazing ceremony. I was honored to be able to stand by their side and witness their love and commitment to one another. Although I was grateful to be there for their special day... I cannot say that it was easy.

Earlier this year I agreed to let Tiffany and Nate use the same wedding vows that Bryan and I used when we got married on September 22, 2007. Hearing those words again brought back a flood of emotions that I did not even know I had.

I could not help but picture Bryan's face and the tears that filled the corners of his eyes when he promised to be my friend and life partner.

I could not help but see his perfect smile as he committed his life and love to me.

It was hard.... IT WAS VERY HARD.

In order to compose myself and hold back my emotions, I had to turn to the ocean and concentrate on anything... anything but Bryan... anything but our vows. So, I thought about Owen playing in the sand and destroying his wedding flowers. I thought about how sun burnt my back was and how I wanted to take a picture of the palm tree off to my right. I literally thought about anything and everything... just so I could stop crying. Just so I could stop seeing his face.

Bryan and I were never able to go on a honeymoon. We were married right out of college and did not have enough money, so we decided to go to Ireland on our tenth anniversary. When Nathan and Tiffany planned to have their wedding in Mexico my cousin and parents decided to try to make Mexico our late honeymoon... the first vacation that we had ever taken alone together. Instead, I spent what was supposed to be our "make shift honeymoon" alone and without Bryan.

I could not help but think that while everyone was spending time with their significant others and having a great vacation... I was alone and without the one person that I wanted so desperately to be with.

It was hard to sit alone in my hotel room at night while Owen slept knowing that everyone was out drinking and having a good time. I could not help but think of how much fun I would be having if Bryan were there with me. We would be ordering room service and watching a movie on tv.... or sleeping out in the hammock on the patio... or giggling over all the silly things Owen had done earlier that day.


Although Mexico was difficult for me and I felt (at times) lonelier than ever before... I am so glad that I got to spend 8 amazing days with my family. Owen and I got to experience something that most people never get to do. We got to spend a week in paradise... We got to be together.

Deep down I know that Bryan was there with us. He was helping Owen be brave when he swam with the dolphins. He was holding my hand when our vows were read. He was giving Tiffany a kiss on the cheek as my mom passed her off to Nathen. He was telling me he loved me when I walked down the beach alone and depressed.

He was there. He was with me.

Here are our wedding vows....

I take you, Ashley, to be my wife
as my friend and my love.
Throughout the years I shall cherish you and trust you.
Be honest with you
and faithful to you.
In both joy and sorrow
I shall hold you close and tell you that I love you.
Our place shall be one place
our life one life
our love one love.
For I shall share with you all that I have and all that I am.

Friday, November 19, 2010

A renewed hope

I did everything right (or at least I tried to). I never did drugs or stayed out past curfew. I got good grades. I went to a great college and got an amazing degree. I fell in love with my high school sweetheart. I got married. I had a good job. I gave birth to a beautiful boy...


my world still came crumbling down.

But, no matter what I did to try to make my life perfect... to try to make my life normal... it still disintegrated right in front of me on September 3, 2009 at roughly 3pm.

I wake up every morning thinking that each day is going to be better than the last. Most days... I can make it through my day okay. But, lately it seems like I am constantly reminded about how tough my life really is. Every time I go to my mailbox I am terrified to open my mail. I have health insurance... I don't have health insurance. I will receive social security... I won't receive social security. I get a workmen's comp check... I don't get a workmen's comp check.

This past week, when I got my mail... I found out that I had lost my health insurance and most of my monthly income. Let's just say I have had a few meltdowns.


Why is it that even though I did everything right... I feel like the scum of the Earth... the lowest of the lows.

Why is it that I cannot make it work?

Why is it that I feel like such a failure?

Why did I try so hard if I was just going to end up struggling and being so stuck?

Why me... I did not want to raise my son this way?

Amidst my breakdown and my loss of self-worth... something happened this week that made me feel like everything was going to be okay... Like someone was looking out for us. It is on days like today that I am reminded... no matter how tough your situation is... you will make it through... you will survive.

On Thursday morning... the same day that I had just finished draining out my savings account... I received a letter from the Liz Logelin Foundation. I thought that it was going to be a simple thank you letter for attending their event this past September... but when I opened the envelope, I was brought to tears. Enclosed was a beautiful letter and a $3,000 check. The Liz Logelin Foundation decided to sponsor Owen and I for the month of November 2010.



Because of generous gifts from multiple donors and the amazing Liz Logelin Organization, Owen and I are going to be financially ok again for a little while. I went from not knowing how I was going to pay rent in December ... to having enough money for the next few months. All of my prayers were answered at the most opportune time.

I feel like it is during times like these that we realize the importance of hope. Although I have had a really rough year and a half I know that someone is looking out for Owen and me. I know that we are going to make it... that we are going to be ok.

Through the struggle we learn to appreciate the things that we DO have. I have an amazing family, a wonderful son, amazing friends, and fabulous memories. Thank you Matt Logelin and the Liz Logelin Foundation for giving me that renewed hope... for making me see the light at the end of the tunnel.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

My source of survival... Family

Family has always been very important to me. Ever since I was a small child I have looked forward to spending time and making memories with my family.

I eat... sleep... breathe them.

I was lucky to grow up with the two most amazing parents any child could ever ask for. At 20 years old, my father was left to raise me on his own while attending college and working multiple jobs. His amazing personality, sense of humor, advice and intelligence never ceases to amaze me. I know that without him, I would not be the person that I am today. After all, I owe my life to him. Not very many people can say that their father is their best friend... but I can.

My mom Brenda entered my life when I was just six years old. At 26 years old she took on the brave challenge of being a step mother to two small children... and she succeeded in giving Andrew and I an amazing mother. Not only is she caring and kind... but she listens. I have always known that if I ever want to talk or need a day away... she will be there for me. My mom is my best friend... my rock... and my inspiration.

I have always been a person that expresses myself through my words. I grew up telling my family how much they meant to me and how lucky I was to have them in my life. I was lucky to have to opportunity to show my parents how special they are/were... Now I would like to tell my second family how much they mean to me... something that I should have been done a long time ago.

Bryan expressed to me, a few years ago, that he always felt so guilty about growing up in such an amazing family. He thought that he had the most amazing mother and father and felt like he was given the best life any child could ever ask for. His mom was the super mom. She made all of his Halloween costumes, drove him to all of his sports, made him amazing home cooked meals and loved him more than life itself. His father was his idol. He was all that Bryan aspired to be when he grew up... he was smart, caring, patient, an outdoors man and the best father any young boy could ask for. They were the "perfect" parents.

After meeting Bryan's parents ... anyone would agree with him right away. Bill and Lori are two of the most giving, loving, and phenomenal people I have ever met... and Bryan was right... he was so lucky to have them as his parents.

Ever since I can remember I have always felt the pressure to impress people and make them like me. I remember when I started dating Bryan, in 2002, I always felt so nervous and insecure around his family. They already had an amazing soon-to-be daughter in-law (Rachel) and a wonderful grandson (Brendan)... and I was dating their baby boy. That was a lot of pressure. I never thought that I would be good enough to be a part of their life... a part of their family... a part of their world.

What if they did not like me?

What if I did not fit in?

What if they did not think I was good enough for their amazing son?

When I pictured my life, I always knew that I wanted to have an amazing relationship someday with my husband's parents. That was always VERY important to me. Feeling the pressure to impress the Prairie's and make them like me put strain on Bryan and I's relationship at times. I knew that it was all in my head and I needed to just relax and be myself... but that was always easier said than done. I just had to listen to the quote by Dr. Seuss and do "me".

"Be who you are and say what you feel because those who mind don't matter and those who matter don't mind." –Dr. Seuss

It was not until a few years into my relationship with Bryan that I decided to just be "me". I remember the night like it was yesterday (probably because I am still a little embarrassed). We were all playing a game that asked questions about how we thought the other person would respond. The question was... How funny do you think (Ashley) thinks she is on a scale of 1 (not funny) to 10 (really funny). Well, everyone read off their cards and said 2... 4... 2... 5... 3. Well this is when I said "Seriously, I gave myself a 10 guys... I am F***ing hilarious." Not only was this the first time that I swore in front of Bryan's parents... but it was the first time that I showed my sense of humor and personality. I was finally (somewhat) comfortable being me.

After Bryan passed away, Owen and I lived with Bill and Lori. I was so worried that because Bryan had passed away... my relationship with the Prairie's would slowly fade away. After all, they really did not need to hang out with me any longer or be there for me... I was "technically" not a member of their family any longer... I was not their daughter. That realization was very hard for me. I felt like not only had I lost Bryan... but I was about to lose his family as well. But, because they are the most amazing people in the world... they took me in with open arms and never let me fall. They literally held my hand and helped me grieve and raise my son.

Looking back at that time... that terrible terrible time... I am pretty sure that Bill and Lori are a huge reason why I was able to survive. Their incredible strength, compassion, love and support was so genuine and constant. Time and time again Bill and Lori come to my rescue and save me in one way or another. I know that some people may never understand the unique bond that I have with my in-laws but to me... they are not my in-laws... they are my parents.

So... because I know that they read my blog... I wanted to tell them how important that they are to me. Bryan gave me many gifts... he gave me unconditional love... he gave me a son... he gave me amazing memories... and he also gave me a fantastic family.

I now know what Bryan meant that day when he felt guilty for having such great parents... because I feel guilty for having such amazing in-laws. We cry together, we laugh together, we grieve together, we remember together and we live each and every day loving one another the way that Bryan loved all of us. We are all so very lucky to have such an amazing bond... such a powerful source of survival... FAMILY!

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Who is Ashley?

Ever since I was 16 years old I have been Ashley/Bryan. During the years where most people form their identities and find out who they are, I was building a life with Bryan. Instead of becoming an individual, I became a couple.

Bryan was my first boyfriend. He was my first love. He was the first person that I lived on my own with. He was there the day my sister was born. He was there when my sister needed open heart surgery. He was there during finals week when I was 200 miles away from my parents and had to go in for surgery. He was always there... he was my everything.

I never really knew how much my life was based around Bryan until he passed away. Sure, I knew that I liked the same music as him... watched the same TV shows as him... and enjoyed the same food as him, but I never knew that my opinions and routines were all based off of the decisions that we made together as a couple.

I did not realize that I had became obsessed with cleaning the house because Bryan was allergic to dust. That I enjoyed fishing and watching the hunting channel because Bryan loved being outdoors. That I had become used to calling him every time I got in the car and planning out our dinner/night. Everything that I did and everything that I wanted to do was because Bryan and I had done them together.

He was my day... he was my plan... he was my life.

How was I supposed to go about my routine and daily activities without him? I wasn't.

After Bryan passed away... I felt lost. I did not know how to function or how to be me. I always thought that Bryan was perfection and that I was so lucky that he had picked me. I knew that I had struck gold with him. When I think back to our relationship I now know that Bryan made me feel like "someone" because he picked me. I knew that if I was able to win over such an amazing guy... I must have been worth it... I must have been special. When I lost Bryan, not only did I loose my identity but I lost my feeling of self worth. I went from cloud nine to feeling like a muddy slug that no one wanted to touch or see. I went from feeling special to feeling worthless.

When Bryan passed away, instead of becoming "Ashley" I became Ashley/Owen. I did not have a transitioning phase where I learned how to become an individual. Instead I jumped right into forming my identity with someone else. I never worked on figuring out what I liked or what I wanted to do with my life. Instead, I worked on doing things that made Owen happy. I was not able to take time and figure out who I was as a person without Bryan. I reverted right back to being semi-dependent on someone else. I never found me... I found Owen's mom.

Ashley was not an individual and had not been since she was 16 years old. Who is she? What is she like? When would she find herself? Would I like her?

When I take myself out of the situation and look at it from the outside in... I like to think that Ashley is a strong person (although I know I am not). I would like to think that she is a great mother and was a great wife. That she loves to write and take pictures and listen to music while she cleans. That she loves to help people and make people laugh. That she loves life...

But, on days like today, when I can't seem to figure out who I am or what I am here for... When I feel like I am not worthy...

I think back to those wonderful days in Sioux Falls. When I would wake up and roll over to Bryan's beautiful blue eyes staring into my soul. When he would tell me that he was madly in love with me and that he was so happy to be my husband.

When I go back to those days I feel worthy... I feel special... I feel wanted.

Monday, November 1, 2010

Never grow up

Owen and I have been dancing around our house to the new Taylor Swift CD all week. Although all of her songs seem to touch me in one way or another, this is my favorite song. Owen and I slow dance to it every time it comes on. When I listen to the lyrics, this song just seems to fit the way that I feel about Owen perfectly. I wish he would never grow up and have to be hurt or sad... if only he could stay this little and innocent... then no one would ever hurt him or ruin his amazing carefree personality.

Your little hands wrapped around my finger
And it's so quiet in the world tonight
Your little eyelids flutter cause you're dreaming
So I tuck you in and turn on your favorite nightlight

To you, everything's funny
You got nothing to regret
I'd give all I have honey
If you could stay like that

Oh darling don't you ever grow up, don't you ever grow up
Just stay this little
Oh darling don't you ever grow up, don't you ever grow up
It could stay this simple
I won't let nobody hurt you
Wont let no one break your heart
No one will desert you
Just try to never grow up
Never grow up

You're in the car on the way to the movies
And you're mortified your mama's dropping you off
At 14, there's just so much you can't do
And you can't wait to move out
Someday and call your own shots

But don't make her drop you off around the block
Remember that she's getting older too
And don't lose the way that you dance around in your PJs getting ready for school

Oh darling don't you ever grow up, don't you ever grow up
Just stay this little
Oh darling don't you ever grow up, don't you ever grow up
It could stay this simple
No one's ever burned
Nothing's ever left you scarred
Even though you want to, just try to never grow up

Take pictures in your mind of your childhood room
Memorize what is sounded like what your dad gets home
Remember the footsteps, remember the words said
And all your little brother's favorite songs
I just realized everything I had is someday gonna be gone

So here I am in my new apartment
In a big city, they just dropped me off
It's so much colder than I thought it would be
So I tuck myself in and turn my nightlight on

Wish I'd never grown up
I wish I'd never grown up
Oh I don't wanna grow up
Wish I'd never grown up
Could still be little
Oh I don't wanna grow up
It could still be simple

Oh darling don't you ever grow up, don't you ever grow up
Just stay this little
Oh darling don't you ever grow up, don't you ever grow up
It could stay this simple
Won't let nobody hurt you
Won't let no one break your heat
And even though you want to, please try to never grow up
Don't you ever grow up
Just never grow up

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Where is God?

In January 2007 Bryan and I took a senior seminar class together entitled "Where is God in the face of evil?". After this past year, I cannot help but ask myself that question everyday.

Where is God... is he even real?

Why did he do this to me... to Owen... to Bryan?

Where is he now... does he even care?

I have always been a "faith filled" person. Although I do not go to church every Sunday and I don't pray every night before I go to bed... I have faith... or at least I did.

Lately, I have been filled with questions and doubts. I don't understand what I did wrong during my lifetime to deserve this kind of pain... this great suffering. I had everything that I wanted and lost it all in a matter of seconds. If we would have left for SD one day earlier... if we would have never moved home... if he would have had his back turned to the accident... if he would have called in sick.... HE WOULD BE HERE TODAY... but then someone else would be dead. Bryan died that day, saving someones life. He died a hero, doing what he did best in life, helping someone else... shouldn't that take away some of my pain? Make me feel a little better? Make me feel more at peace?

Even though I know that Bryan died saving someone else, it still does not ease my pain... the pain of loosing my soul mate... or the pain that my son will feel when he grows up without his father.

Sometimes, when I ask "why?", I wonder if God needed Bryan. Maybe his job here on Earth was done and he was needed for something greater in Heaven. I wonder if Bryan hadn't died that day saving someones life if he would have been taken from me in another way. Maybe it was his time to go... and there was nothing that any of us could have done to keep him here. When I think about it that way... that there was nothing I could have done to keep him alive... it seems to help a little bit. It makes me feel like it was less my fault and more something that I couldn't have controlled.

We never did come to a conclusion in our senior seminar class. How do you answer where God is when millions of people suffer... when starving children go without food... when someone is taken way before their time?

I am trying to find my way back to God... back to the faith that I once had. I know that it will take some time for my anger to ware off and for me to forgive God... but I know that I will at some point. I guess that the best answer I can come up with... the one that helps me out the most, is that although I don't know exactly where God is when evil things occur... I think that he is grieving along side me... that he is suffering too.

"Where were you"

I wish you would have been there.
You could have saved his life.
Instead you left me all alone,
a widower for life.

I never disobeyed you.
I always did things right.
And yet you still ignored me
And took away his life.

You left me all alone.
Alone to raise our son.
You took away my husband.
The one thing that I loved.

Where were you when I cried for help?
How could you let us down?
You teased me with a perfect life.
Then left me face first in the ground.

Some days I really hate you.
Resent your holy name.
But then I thank my lucky stars
You let me take his name.

Although he had to leave us
to join you at your throne.
I am grateful that you gave me
nine years with him alone.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Forever without you

Before Bryan's death if someone would have asked me what my biggest fear was, I would have said spiders or snakes. Now, after all that I have been through, I have this never ending fear of being alone. Every second of every day I think about my life... I think about the things that I WANTED... the goals that I HAD... and the scary future that stands before me.

I am left wondering... WHAT NOW?

I am not afraid of being single. Although it is not easy, I think that I could get used to being a single parent and living on my own. The thing that scares me most of all, is that I might never feel "love" again... that I might have to spend the rest of my life ALONE.

I know what it feels like to be happy and in love... and the thought of never feeling that way again scares the crap out of me.

Since Bryan died, I have thought a lot about my future. A couple of months before I lost Bryan, we were laying in bed and the topic of death came up. I asked Bryan if he would ever be able to re-marry if I were to die. After a long pause... he said "yes". Bryan said that although it would be hard and that it would never be the same, he would probably find someone else at some point in his life. Not knowing that I would be forced to think about this exact situation at 25 years old, I said "no". I thought for sure that I would never be able to re-marry or be with another man. How could I ever feel the way that I felt for Bryan for someone else. There is no way that I would ever be as comfortable or in love with someone as I was with Bryan.

Now... looking at my life... a 25 year old widow... I am forced to think WHAT NOW?

What are my options?

I was reading Matt Logelin's blog the other night and something that he said really stuck out to me. He was talking about his life now... three years after loosing his wife. He was talking about "moving on".

I have always hated that term "moving on". The thought of it actually makes me feel sick to my stomach. But the way that Matt stated his view on "moving on" really spoke true to me and my own personal feelings. He said that it is not about being over what happened or about "moving on"... but instead, it is about "moving through"... I feel that in many ways I am trying to figure out a way that I can "move through" and someday make it out to the other side of this black tunnel okay.

I don't think that I will ever "move on". Bryan will always be a huge part of me. I will never forget our amazing relationship and the great memories that we shared. I do however hope that someday I will be able to "move through". I hope that I will be able to find someone that likes to do the same things that I like to do... someone that I can fall in love with again... someone that I can build a new future with.

I don't want to live the rest of my life alone and single. I want to have a husband... I want to have more than one child... I want to go home to someone at 5pm... I want to have family game nights... I want to go fishing and hunting with my family... I want to be able to go on family vacations... but I think most of all, I want to be LOVED.

I have never really been a poet, that was always Bryan's thing, but I thought I would give it a try. I feel like the best way for me to express myself is through my creativity and words. So here it goes...

"Forever without you"

Tears stain my pillow
Reality has sunk in
I lay alone in the dark now
Forever without you

My mind aches for something
For just one peaceful break
I sit alone in my thoughts now
Forever without you

Life seems so pointless
How can I move through
I stand alone on this road now
Forever without you

Why did you have to leave me
So vulnerable and weak
I question alone in my anger now
Forever without you

Will I ever find true love again
Start out fresh and be brand new
I worry alone for my future now
Forever without you

I don't know where life will take me
I hope I will be okay
I pray alone for an answer now
Forever without you

I hope I will be happy
That love will find it's way
I move alone on my journey now
But not without you

Friday, October 8, 2010

Out Numbered

Tonight, I took on the brave task of having a slumber party at my house. In my almost 26 years of life, I have never had a group of children...boys for that matter... sleep over at my home. It was all new to me.

When I agreed to have my 10 year old nephew Brendan (Bryan's brothers son) spend the night I have to admit that I really had no idea what we were going to do... or how I was going to keep him entertained. I felt like I had a lot of pressure to try to make his time at my house fun. After all, I wanted him to want to come back! I wanted him to think of me as the "cool" aunt... not the "lame" one.

Bryan loved Brendan. He loved Brendan A LOT. Brendan was his little partner... his wrestling buddy... his friend. Whenever Brendan would come visit for the weekend, Bryan would always go out of his way to make his time with him fun... full of laughter and goofiness. Bryan would act silly and wrestle with Brendan... he would make goofy faces and say silly things... he would give him junk food and let him push his boundaries... he would let him be a crazy little boy. Although I am not as fun as Bryan and can't wrestle with a 56 pound ten year old... I figured that I could win him over with junk food and a later bed time.

When Brendan first showed up, I made sure to show him around and tell him that he could help himself to whatever he wanted/needed. Being the "cool" aunt that I am... I of course showed him right where my snack drawer was and let him know that while he was at my house he could eat all the junk food that he wanted. At first, Brendan looked at me kind of funny and said, "My dad doesn't let me have candy at night." I just said... "Well, I told your dad that I was going to give you sugar and let you stay up late, so don't worry bud, I will take the blame if you get in trouble." After our conversation, Brendan went in for the Oreo's and M&M's with a huge smile on his face. If the candy didn't make me "cool" in his eyes, I knew that the pizza and movies that I had planned for the evening would. So, at 6pm we put in Space Monkey's and Over the Hedge and ate pizza in my living room. Brendan was shocked... and amazed. I could tell in his eyes that he felt rebellious... like he was living on the edge.

My plan was successful and halfway into the first movie Brendan looked at me and said "You are like the world's coolest mom... even though you are not my mom."

YES! I had officially won him over. I was "cool".

Not only did Brendan spend the night, but my 15 year old brother also joined in on our slumber party fun. Ever since Bryan passed away, Alec has tried to step in and spend more time with Owen. Although he knows that he can not take Bryan's place... he wants to be able to become a stand up man and tell Owen all about his amazing father. Whenever Alec spends the night it is always evident how much he loves his little nephew. He spends most of the night reading him books, giving him a bath, feeding him food (not always the healthiest things) and giving him hugs. It was fun to see Alec, Brendan and Owen play together. Even though they are not close in age, they all know how to be kids and have a good time.

At 10 pm when everyone was in bed, the lights were turned off, the doors were locked and the tv's were shut off... I realized that I had actually survived the night... I have survived my first boy slumber party. Even though I was out numbered and surrounded by lots of testosterone... I think I succeeded and made everyone happy. Owen got to follow around Brendan like his shadow and copy his every move, Brendan got to eat junk food and stay up late and Alec got to be a "grown up" and help out. All in all... it was a good night.

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Be Here Now

"Be Here Now"
-By Mason Jennings

Be here now, no other place to be
Or just sit there dreaming of how life would be
If we were somewhere better
Somewhere far away from all all worries
Well, here we are

You are the love of my life

Be here now, no other place to be
All the doubts that linger, just set them free
And let good things happen
And let the future come into each moment
Like a rising sun

You are the love of my life
You are the love of my life
Yeah, you know you are

Sun comes up and we start again
Sun comes up and we start again
Sun comes up and we start again
Sun comes up and we start again
Sun comes up and we start again
Sun comes up and we start again

And it's all new today
All we have to say
Is be here now

Be here now, no other place to be
This whole world keeps changing, come change with me
Everything that's happened, all that's yet to come
Is here inside this moment, it's the only one

You are the love of my life
You are the love of my life
Yeah, you know you are

Sun comes up and we start again
Sun comes up and we start again
Sun comes up and we start again
Sun comes up and we start again
Sun comes up and we start again
Sun comes up and we start again

It's all new today
All we have to say
Is be here now

• This was one of Bryan's favorite songs. We used to slow dance to it all the time... especially when I was pregnant with our son Owen.

Monday, October 4, 2010

It's a.... Ball!

Owen is officially a chatter box. He just started saying full sentences... and has A LOT to say. I usually wake up to him (at 7am) pointing at everything... saying "It's a ball", "It's a buck", "It's a cookie", "It's a book". Although my life is filled with simple sentences and obsessions with balls and cookies... I am loving Owen's new vocabulary. It is so fun to watch him develop and learn. He is changing every day... growing taller... getting wiser... and becoming more independent.

Owen and I just got the pleasure to go to the Gopher homecoming football game this past weekend, with papa and mema Prairie... and Owen had an absolute blast. Seeing as Owen's favorite thing in the whole world is a ball... he loved watching the game and hearing all of the fans cheer for the Gophers.

My little man is growing up. Waking up in the morning to a smiling face is by far the best way to start each and every day and it just get better when the first thing he does is go over to the pantry... grab the vanilla wafers and says "It's a Cookie".

Thursday, September 30, 2010

Trying to not forget...

I knew Bryan better than I know myself. I could tell when he was upset... I could tell when he was hiding something... I could tell when he was stressed... and I could tell when he was anxious. Not only could I read his emotions just by looking at him, but I also knew every inch of his body (graphic I know...). I am worried that over time I will begin to forget "him". When I close my eyes I can picture him... his face... his hands... his feet... his smile. So, not only for myself... but for Owen as well... I am going to make a list of the things that remind me of Bryan so that WE never forget.

• Bryan had the most beautiful sky blue eyes. Every time he smiled he would get little wrinkles on either side of his eyes... Even on some of my worst days, if Bryan would crack a joke and smile at me... I would melt and all of my troubles would seem to fade away.

• Bryan had a little mole on the right side of his upper lip, something that I looked at every time I kissed him while he was asleep. I remember when I would kiss Bryan I would always have to stand on my tip-toes. Bryan was a whole foot taller than me so I always had to wrap my hands around his waist and stand on my toes to reach his beautiful lips. Oh how I miss that... I think some of my favorite memories with Bryan are when we would just slow dance (me on my tip-toes of course) and kiss. We slow danced everywhere... in the kitchen while cooking... in the morning in our pj's... at night before we went to bed... and the grocery store when Bryan would beg me to let him get Oreo's... and outside while we were out walking our dog.

• Looking at pictures of Bryan, you can tell that he had the most beautiful hair. Whether he wore it long or short... it was always thick and flowing. Bry had a scar on the top of his head, where he needed stitches, when he was little from hitting his head on the monkey bars. He also had a silly colic on the back of his neck on the right hand side... He was always so frustrated when he would get a hair cut and it would swirl in all different directions. On nights when I could not fall asleep I would always play with Bry's hair and twirl it in my fingers. It was so comforting and soothing to me... and to him too.

• Bryan had a birth mark on his upper left arm (close to his shoulder). It was just a small circular one. He also had a white mark in the middle of his upper back... a scar that he got from shingles when he was a little boy. Every summer... whether he used sun screen or not... it would burn and turn bright pink. I always teased him and told him that he had a beauty mark.

• When I close my eyes and try to remember holding Bryan's hands... I feel so at peace. Our hands always fit perfectly together. Bryan and I always joked that we were made for each other. Our bodies always fit just right together. Bryan had the softest hands. Although they were super strong from fishing and hunting they were slim enough where my tiny fingers could fit easily in his grip. We always held hands... when we walked... when we drove... when we sat on the couch... when we did homework. Whenever we would hold hands in public I would always hold on to Bryan's pinkie. He always thought that was so funny.

• Anyone that knows Bryan, knows that he had the most unique feet... Because he danced for most of his life, Bryan had very high arches. I hate feet... they freak me out, but I loved Bryan's. I always called Bryan monkey because he used his feet like hands (just like a monkey would). I remember one night when we were laying on the couch and he couldn't reach the remote, he grabbed it with his toes, flipped it in the air and caught it in his hands. Just crazy.

• Bryan had incredibly long legs.... super high hips... and ridiculously long arms. Finding clothes for him was nearly impossible and took for ever. It would literally take him hours to try on clothes and do the "wallet" test. He was one picky shopper.

• Most of all... more than anything though, I miss Bryan's sense of humor. I miss his goofy faces and random dance moves. I miss the way we fought. When we would get into arguments he would get down on all fours and run around the house like a gorilla... banging on his chest and making monkey noises... how could I stay mad at that? I miss his grouchy face in the mornings when he would eat cereal in front of the TV in his polka dot boxers... I miss his girly laugh... his high pitch squeal when I would tickle him... the loud noise he would make when he would blow his nose... the excitement he would get when hunting would come on TV... most of all...

I close my eyes numerous times throughout the day and try to picture Bryan. I try to imagine us cuddling in bed and holding hands on the couch... but each day it gets harder and harder to do. I am terrified that in time I will forget him.... I will forget his smell... his smile... his presence... his laugh. Although I see pieces of him in my son, it just is not the same. So.... I hope that in writing some of these things down, I will not be allowed to forget.

Monday, September 27, 2010

Exhaustion has officially set in

Owen is officially one and a half years old... and with that being said... he is super active. Running (literally running) around the house, going up and down the stairs, un-rolling the toilet paper, playing in the dog food, climbing on the furniture, and digging through the pantry... I spend most of my days following him around and saying NO. "No, don't hit the kitty". "No, put that down". "No, get off of that".

When Bryan and I first found out that we were going to have a baby, it was mixed emotions. I cried in the living room while he danced around the house. I was not ready to be a parent and did not think that being pregnant was a "good" thing. Bryan, on the other hand, was very excited... you could not wipe the grin off of his face if you tried. Although Bryan always worried that he would not be a good father, I knew that he was going to be the BEST. He was going to put all other fathers to shame.

When I was pregnant with Owen, I was really sick, and spent the first 6 months of my pregnancy throwing up every meal and only drinking ensures. Every morning I would wake up to a new sticky note on the front door (that usually read... I love you and the baby. Have a great day at work and don't forget your vitamins). Not only did Bryan leave cute messages everywhere in the house, but if it was ever raining or snowing he insisted on driving me into work and picking me up. He put my shoes on the boot warmer at night so my feet would be warm in the morning, he made late night trips to the store for my cravings, he became a member on various baby websites and had updates sent daily to his email letting him know where our son was in the developmental/growth stages and he rubbed my back when I just couldn't move any more. Bryan was the BEST husband ever. I never thought... in a million years... that he was going to pass away and leave me alone... a single parent raising our baby. I never thought I would have to figure out how to do all of this on my own.

On days like today... when nothing seems fair... I often wonder if I am doing a good enough job. I know that if it were me that had passed away and Bryan was still here with Owen, he would be doing a phenomenal job. Bryan would be teaching him how to fish and hunt and do well in school and excel in sports and be an amazing human being. I am worried that I am just coasting... just getting through the daily challenges. I know that I could be doing much more. I could be finding a good job, putting him in swimming lessons, bringing him on play dates, taking him to the park, teaching him how to hunt/fish and making him organic healthy meals. Instead, I am so exhausted by the time I put him to sleep at 8pm that all I can do is sit on the couch and stare mindlessly at the television.

But, some days, when Owen blows me a kiss and gives me a hug... I feel like I am all that he needs. Maybe right now, I am good enough. Maybe right now, I make him happy. When we play dress up (he loves playing dress up...putting on shoes and necklaces... or his new dinosaur costume) and he giggles and his eyes light up, I feel like he is happy. When he grabs a book and comes over and sits on my lap, I feel like he enjoys being with me. When he tackles me and says "tickle tickle tickle", I feel like he is having a blast. I hope that when Owen looks back on his childhood he does not feel upset or sad... that instead he feels proud and honored to have been raised by me, even if I was a single, stay at home mom, just trying to make it through the day to day things. I just want to make him proud.