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.