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Stacy

An Afternoon at the Nail Salon

‘Twas the day before Christmas

And all through my town

Every woman not yet on vacation

Was in my nail salon

“Oh. My. God. I just know EVERYONE here today.”

Did she just say that? Did she say half the things I had been hearing for the past half hour?

I had been sitting next to this woman the entire hour I was getting my manicure/pedicure. She had not stopped talking for one minute. She seemed to be holding court from her pedicure chair.

Sometimes I am not sure if we realize how we sound. I say “we” because I cannot write this without admitting that I may occasionally be somewhat guilty of this myself. But I pray that I never sound as bad as the woman I listened to at the nail salon that day.

She spoke about women in town, loudly, using their first and last names. Granted, she wasn’t talking badly about anyone, but did the entire nail salon need to know that so-and-so just bought a new Mercedes? Or what time Jane Doe’s flight to Turks & Caicos was that morning?

Speaking of traveling, I know that this woman and her family were leaving the following day for Florida, and who they were traveling with (again, first and last names). I also know that this poor thing, who was leaving rainy and cold NJ for a vacation in the sun, just hates traveling.

When her friend walked in, late for her appointment, she scolded her from across the entire salon.

I heard her on the phone with her son, then explain to her friend that he would be coming in to get her credit cards. When the teenage boy walked in a few minutes later, she again yelled from across the salon while waving two credit cards in the air. If my eyes were better, I may have been able to read the numbers off them (not that I was trying!).

I am sure this woman had no idea how completely obnoxious she sounded, but I cringed the entire time I had the pleasure of sitting next to her.

I am certainly not perfect but, since my husband passed away, I have tried to be more aware of the words coming out of my mouth. I have often been on the other end of people speaking insensitively, so I try not to make the same mistakes. I have also learned to be grateful for what I have and not take my blessings for granted.

I wish it did not take such a tragedy to come to this realization.

I felt embarrassed for the woman in the nail salon. I wanted to turn to her and say, “Please stop”. I do not have that kind of nerve but, if I was her friend, I would have at least asked her to lower her voice. Her friend did not this. I wondered if this behavior bothered her friend at all. Could she have possibly been okay listening to this for an hour?

Most of us remember the episode of Seinfeld when Elaine was at the nail salon. The women working there spoke to each other in Korean, and Elaine was sure that they were talking about her. They were. I remember laughing so hard while watching this because it rang so true. This has probably happened, in some way, to all who frequent nail salons.

Seinfeld aired over 20 years ago. Since then, I have come to understand why the manicurists sometimes talk about the women in their salons, especially after the other day.

I do not speak another language so, instead of talking, I sat in my pedicure chair and typed notes into my phone about writing this article. Was that wrong?

If nothing else, my afternoon mani/pedi has made me even more aware of how I sound when speaking in a public place. I hope to never sound like the woman I sat next to the other day.

I walked to the door, after my nails were all finished

To the woman in the next chair, my respect was diminished

Let’s all be thankful, when life is so bright

Happy New Year to all, and to all a good night

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Why I Am Missing The “Disney Channel Years”

There’s always gonna be another mountain
I’m always gonna want to make it move
Always gonna be an uphill battle
Sometimes I’m gonna have to lose
Ain’t about how fast I get there
Ain’t about what’s waiting on the other side
It’s the climb…

“I haven’t heard this song in years”, my 16 year-old daughter said as she turned up the Miley Cyrus song on the car radio.

“I haven’t either. I loved this song when you and your sister were little”, I said wistfully.

“So did we”, she responded as we listened to Miley.  She then added, “Disney Channel just isn’t what it used to be”.

Was my daughter getting nostalgic?

I thought for a moment and said, “Oh, you just say that because you’ve become too old for it. I’m sure that younger kids love what is on Disney Channel now. It just isn’t yours anymore”.

Her answer to that was, “I don’t agree Mom. Think about the shows that we used to watch. They were the best. I am sure that anyone my age would say the same thing”.

For the rest of the ride we reminisced about Hannah Montana, The Suite Life of Zach and Cody, That’s So Raven, Wizards of Waverly Place, and Lizzie McGuire. We spoke about the movies: Camp Rock, The Cheetah Girls, Halloweentown, Cow Belles, and, of course, the iconic High School Musical.

We discussed how successful some of these child stars have become: Miley Cyrus, Raven Simone, Vanessa Hudgens, Hillary Duff, Selena Gomez, Zach Efron –  just to name a few.

I felt myself starting to get sentimental about these shows. I used to love plopping myself down on the couch with my girls to catch a good episode of Hannah Montana. I remember getting so excited for them while they were getting ready to watch High School Musical 2, after the original had become such an obsession.

I hadn’t realized that I missed all of that.

I didn’t know it then, but life was simpler, especially for my family. Sadly, my husband passed away just as our girls were coming out of that “Disney Channel Phase”. Their innocence was suddenly lost. Those magic years of sitting in front of The Suite Life of Zach and Cody (that was their Dad’s favorite) had disappeared. Before I knew it, they were in high school and getting ready to go off to college.

After that ride in the car, The Climb was stuck in my head. I thought about the words:

The struggles I’m facing
The chances I’m taking
Sometimes might knock me down, but
No, I’m not breaking
I may not know it
But these are the moments that I’m gonna remember most, yeah
Just got to keep going
And I, I got to be strong
Just keep pushing on, ’cause…
There’s always gonna be another mountain
I’m always gonna want to make it move
Always gonna be an uphill battle
Sometimes I’m gonna have to lose
Ain’t about how fast I get there
Ain’t about what’s waiting on the other side
It’s the climb

It’s the climb. There are many moments which make up the road that gets us through life. Some are difficult, such as getting through a tragic loss. Some are as simple as staying up late to watch Camp Rock.

Those words are pretty powerful. Miley Cyrus was a pretty smart girl at such a young age.

There will always be a part of me that misses those Disney Channel  days with my daughters. Tonight, I just might cuddle with my girls and watch The Hannah Montana Movie.

 

 

 

Is Bad Luck Really a Thing?

Of course this would happen to me. I just have bad luck”.

My 18-year-old daughter made this statement to me a couple of months ago. As I wrote about in my Huffington Post article, her college roommate decided not to come to school at the very last-minute. My very anxious daughter was left without a roommate at the beginning of her freshman year of college. To say she was unhappy is an understatement.

My response to her bad luck statement was that she was being ridiculous, that there is no such thing as bad luck.

The thing is, I was not so sure if I believed what I was saying. I hate to admit it, but sometimes it does seem like she just has bad luck. I also feel that way regarding myself, and to some extent my younger daughter.  It feels like bad things just seem to happen.

Someone once told me that life only gives you as much as you can handle.

Twenty years ago, life gave me a tough one. I desperately wanted to have children but had a very difficult time getting pregnant. I went through three rounds of in-vitro over two years before I got pregnant with my now 18-year-old daughter. Two years later, another round for her sister.

That was difficult, but my husband and I got through it. We then had 29 weeks of peace with my first pregnancy – until I was diagnosed with pre-eclampsia and was put in the hospital for the following four weeks. My daughter was born seven weeks early and spent the first five weeks of her life in the NICU.

Was that bad luck? I’m not sure – she did eventually come home a happy, healthy, albeit tiny baby.  My next pregnancy was normal. All’s well that ends well. I believed I had been through my tough period. Life had given me something difficult and I got through it.

The bad luck could move along to the next person. I had done my time.

Not so fast. We were on a good run for about 12 years. Life was good – sure, we had a few bumps in the road here and there, but doesn’t everyone? Then suddenly, we had the worst luck imaginable – my husband had a heart attack and died. Just like that. Horrible luck. Couldn’t get much worse, could it?

Three weeks after my husband’s passing, we were hit with a crazy October snowstorm in NJ. Our power was out for an entire week. Although I was certainly not the only person with no power at that time, I cannot imagine that anyone else in that situation had just lost their spouse. Not only was I a clueless, depressed new widow – I was now a homeless, clueless, depressed new widow. That was when I believed I had the worst luck in the world.

In the almost six years since then, my girls and I have been doing well, although there have been many small signs of bad luck.

We went on vacation, and my older daughter got violently ill.

On the hottest day in July a few years ago, my air conditioner broke.

In the pouring rain, my roof started to leak A LOT, and I found out I need a whole new one.

My younger daughter was hit in the head with a snowball and ended up with a concussion (yes – a snowball – with a chunk of ice in it).

Same daughter got her tongue stuck in her braces and we ended up in the Emergency Room. Yes – you read correctly – her tongue was actually caught in her braces and we could not get it out!

Then there were some more difficult things, such as my older daughter going through a bad period of depression and later being diagnosed with an anxiety disorder.

In the last couple of years, things were finally looking up. We seemed to be on a good run – until a few months ago, when the bad luck decided to form a black cloud over my house.

I’ll start with a simple one – my dryer broke – just when I had two giant trunks of dirty camp clothes coming in and also needed clean clothes for college to go out.

The daughter with anxiety, who was already a nervous wreck about leaving for college, received that awful text from her roommate saying that she decided not to come to college. She no longer had a roommate. For a girl with anxiety, this is extremely bad luck.

My younger daughter came home from camp with a mysterious stomach ailment and spent most of the next couple of weeks in doctors’ offices and having tests done.

Both daughters, in the car together, were in an accident. Thankfully, they are both fine. A girl, who was answering a message on her laptop while driving, swerved into their lane and hit them.

These things, each on their own, are dealable. Being that they all happened at the same time, after everything else that has happened to the three of us in the last few years, seemed like terrible luck to me.

If life only gives you as much as you can handle, why on earth does it think we can handle so much?

I am a pretty optimistic person. I try to make the best out of a bad situation – I like to make lemonade out of lemons. I do not want to believe in bad luck, that there is a black cloud over my daughters and me.

I look for a silver lining, and yes, I do see a few: the dryer was fixed, my children escaped the accident without a scratch on them, my daughter’s stomach ailment was thankfully nothing too serious.

These bouts of “bad luck” can take a lot out of me, and my stress level goes through the roof.  Although it is sometimes hard to do, I try my best to get through it and keep moving forward.

Hopefully, one day I won’t get any lemons – just the lemonade – it will rain down in buckets – maybe even with a little vodka in it 🙂

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

If I Had Written a Blog as a Mom in the 70’s

I woke up this morning to help get my kids ready for school. They had set their alarms and were getting dressed. They had each chosen their clothes last night. My nine year-old was wearing bell bottom jeans, a fringed poncho and clogs. My six year-old was wearing a plaid jumper with white tights and Mary Janes.

I did their hair. I brushed my nine year-old’s hair into a middle part and pulled it back into two barrettes. Her hair is long like Susan Dey from The Partridge Family but she wants to get a short Dorothy Hammil cut. I’m not so sure that is a good idea. For my six-year-old, I made two pigtails and tied them with red bows. She looked just like Cindy Brady!

I walked into my avocado green and yellow kitchen to make them breakfast. For my older daughter, I toasted a chocolate pop tart, and the younger one had a bowl of Lucky Charms with milk.

While they ate breakfast,  I made their school lunches. My younger daughter gets peanut butter and grape jelly on Wonder Bread with a bag of Fritos, a Devil Dog, and a can of apple juice. My older daughter gets bologna and American cheese, also on Wonder Bread, with a can of Hi-C, a Hunts Snack Pack, and a Twinkie.

I closed the door behind them as they left. They walked down the street by themselves towards the bus stop to catch the Elementary School bus.

My husband had already gone to work so I sat on the couch with a cup of Sanka and watched The Price is Right.

When it was over, I walked into the kitchen and picked up the handle of my bright yellow wall phone and called one of my girlfriends. We recently got push buttons on our phones, so now I don’t have to turn the numbers on the dial anymore. It is so much easier to make a call now – technology is amazing! The phone also has a very long cord so I am able to walk around most of the kitchen while talking.

I chatted with my friend while I ate my breakfast, which was a bowl of Wheaties. I have to be honest – I only bought them because the very handsome Bruce Jenner is on the box. I sprinkled some sugar on them so that they would taste better.

My friend and I gossiped, both about people we know as well as celebrities. We had just heard that someone in our neighborhood is getting a divorce – scandalous! There is also a rumor that Farrah Fawcett may be leaving Charlie’s Angels. I certainly hope that isn’t true. I love that show and she is my favorite angel.

After we hung up, I needed to do some housework. I vacuumed the shag carpet and put away last night’s dishes. Then I sat down with a cigarette and another cup of Sanka while I made a list for the grocery store.

I showered and washed my hair with my Gee, Your Hair Smells Terrific shampoo. I also splashed on some Jean Nate. Then I got dressed and did my hair. I wore my Gloria Vanderbilt jeans with a cowl neck sweater. I feathered my hair with my blow dryer. I wish it looked as good as Farrah! I threw on my Dr. Scholl’s sandals and my Diane Von Furstenberg oversized sunglasses and hopped in my car.

I drive a station wagon, which is great when you have kids because they can jump around in the back. I put my new Fleetwood Mac tape, Rumours, into the 8-track player and listened to The Chain. I love Stevie Nicks.

I ran into the store with my list in my hand. I needed some Swanson TV dinners, Fish Sticks, Drake’s Coffee Cakes, Tab, and Scooter Pies. I grabbed a pack of Freshen Up gum for myself. I also went to the drug store for some make-up. I was out of blue and green eye shadow and I also bought a little pot of lip gloss.

I was home in time for All My Children. I just love Erica Kane!

I made myself some tuna salad, grabbed a bag of potato chips, and sat in front of the TV to watch my soap.

Later, my kids walked in from the bus stop after school, but they just dropped their stuff in the house and ran out to play with the neighborhood kids. I told them to be back by dinnertime. I then got to watch The Edge of Night. 

They came running back into the house a little later to get money for the ice cream man. I gave them each 50 cents and they ran back outside. I could hear all the kids outside yelling “STOP” at the truck. I hope they bought ice cream and didn’t use the money for something like Pop Rocks. That Mikey kid’s stomach exploded from that stuff.

A couple of hours later, they came in for dinner. I made them a can of Spaghettios because they had a babysitter coming. My husband and I were going out with friends.

The girls put on their nightgowns and I told the babysitter that they could stay up for Happy Days and Laverne & Shirley, but had to go to bed as soon as the shows were over. I left the name and number of the restaurant we would be at in case they needed to call.

We met friends at Beefsteak Charlies. We all ordered steak with mashed potatoes and the all-you-can-eat shrimp bar. I also had my favorite drink – a Tequila Sunrise.

A new disco just opened up so we decided to go check it out. I was happy that I had changed into my spandex top and Candie’s, and that I sprayed on some Charlie perfume.

The place was really cool. The disco ball was sparkling and there were flashing strobe lights everywhere. We danced to a couple of songs, I Will Survive by Gloria Gaynor, and Le Freak by Chic. When The Hustle by Van McCoy came on, the whole dance floor was doing the steps. It was a lot of fun.

We got home and paid the babysitter. She makes $1.50 an hour and we were out for four hours. She made $6.00 – she must have been happy!

I am looking forward to tomorrow. We are going to see a new movie, Saturday Night Fever. It’s supposed to be really good.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Effects of Parental Death

I was lying in bed with both of my daughters and our dog as we all watched an episode of The Goldbergs. I stopped looking at the TV for a moment and appreciated the scene. I looked at each of my girls’ faces. They were both smiling and laughing. They looked happy, and I believe they were. I love these girls with all my heart and that is all that a mother could want for her children – to be happy.

As it always does, my heart ached for a moment when I thought about the person missing from this scene – their dad. It has been six years since he passed away and, no matter how much time has gone by, it always will strike me as sad that he is not here with us.

Looking at them in my bed with our adorable little dog that night, I thought about how well they have been doing despite their tragic loss. There have been bumps in the road, some more difficult than others, but they have both been able to weather each storm and have made it through. I am beyond proud of them for this.

Observing my daughters that night, I began to think of the future – their future. Today, they are doing well, but what about tomorrow? Next year? Ten years?

I am their mother so I worry. The future is unknown for all, but I often wonder how the loss of their father, at only 10 and 12 years old, will affect them throughout their lives.

I began to do a little research.

When googling this question, I found all kinds of research with many different results.

I learned that the effects on children may depend largely on how the surviving parent communicates with them. Not too much pressure on us surviving parents!

I read that parental loss could lead to adult depression in women.

One study says these children could exhibit antisocial behavior.

Then, another study says that all of these findings are inconsistent.

I decided to ask an expert in my own house. My brilliant daughter Lily is taking a science research class in high school. She would like to become a neuroscientist. For this class, she needed to pick one subject to study for three years. She chose Effects of Parental Loss on Cortisol Levels in the Brain. I guess she is researching something that she wants to know.

These are Lily’s results:

Cortisol is a steroidal hormone that is responsible for regulating blood sugar, the functioning of the immune system, and the anti-stress response. Studies have found that adults experiencing childhood parental death had elevated cortisol levels in comparison to other adults. The elevated cortisol levels in adults experiencing childhood parental death makes them more vulnerable to psychiatric disorders such as depression, anxiety, PTSD and substance abuse, and more likely to feel anxious, nervous, and irritable when in stressful situations.

Lily will be researching this much further over the next two years of high school. She is hoping to bring more attention to this subject. I am beyond proud of my daughter for using her own loss to research something that eventually may be used to help others in a similar situation to her own.

I  must admit though, that this research worries me; PTSD, psychiatric disorders, substance abuse? Those are some frightening results. What can I, or anyone like me, do?

I wish there was a definitive answer to that question. All I can do is to be proactive when it is possible. I try to be sure that they get lots of love; from myself, as well as friends and family. I also truly believe that our dog is a huge help in the love area.

I have found amazing therapists who I take them to whenever they or I feel it is needed. Thankfully, the need has lessened over the years.

I try my best to keep a close eye on them without being too intrusive, which can be a difficult balance. I know that my mood sometimes depends on theirs, which is not a good thing.

I know that one day soon they will no longer be under my roof and I do not have control over their futures. Their loss has affected them greatly, I only hope that their lives are nothing but bright.

Who knows? Maybe Lily will discover a cure for elevated cortisol levels in the brain after parental loss. Then maybe she can explain to her mother what all of it means!

 

 

Joy

My middle name is Joy.  I hated the name growing up. My father used to call me “Stacy Joy” when I was a kid and I wanted to kill him. It was just so embarrassing. Then again, what isn’t embarrassing when you are an adolescent girl?

Now, as an adult, I love the name.

A few weeks ago, I was on a website looking at silver engraved bracelets. I was buying one for each of my daughters that read, “I love you to the moon and back”, because I do love them to the moon and back, and even more. As I continued to look at the site, I saw one bracelet that was engraved “today I choose joy”. I immediately put one into my cart for myself and paid for it along with the two I was buying for my daughters. It just struck me as meaningful.

I put the bracelet on my wrist the other day. When I looked at it, I thought about my recent days, weeks, and months; could it be possible to look at four words to change my mood? Could I just “choose joy”?

My answer is sometimes.

There are moments, even days, that are just dark. I might be feeling exceptionally sad or angry, and if someone told me to “choose joy”, I would probably punch them in the face.

Other times, I think this may be possible.

There will always be triggers to feeling down. It may be a worry about one of my girls, an argument with someone, a memory of Howie, or even just daily stress. I can very easily wallow in my misery, which I have done, or I can choose to recognize these bad feelings but then make the effort to move past them and into a positive direction.

My best thinking tends to be when I am either in the shower or driving alone in my car. This is probably because these are the only times when I am ever by myself – truly. In the past, this was when I would ruminate. Years ago, my therapist taught me what ruminating meant and that I was doing it. I was slowly going over and over in my mind all the reasons that I was justified to be unhappy or in a bad mood. This was the absolute worst thing for me – I would replay all of the bad things that happened to me and convince myself that I had a right to be angry or sad.

I am not saying that I wasn’t justified – sometimes I was – but having the right to feel a certain way did not mean that I must feel this way.  There are now moments where I have learned to move past these feelings and actually choose joy.

Songs are triggers for me, as they are for most people. They can make me feel happy or make me feel sad. We sometimes play the saddest, deepest songs to allow ourselves to wallow in our sadness. It’s ok – we all do it. I do.

There is a particular song that, when I heard in my car for the first time after Howie died, caused me to cry so hard that I needed to pull over on the side of the road until I could calm myself. It wasn’t even a song that brought up a particular memory of him, the words just spoke to me and were so powerful that they brought me to hysterics.

What did I do over the next few weeks? I played the song numerous times. It made me feel justified to be sad.

After a traumatic loss, or other situations in our lives, I believe it is okay to feel this way. For me, it was when I couldn’t get out of this pattern that I realized it was unhealthy. Ruminating during sad songs or time alone was beginning to destroy me.

Once my therapist brought this to my attention, as well as working on other things with me, I was thankfully able to break this pattern. My ruminating has pretty much vanished and instead, during time alone, I have found something else to fill my thoughts. My alone time is now when I come up with my best ideas for writing.

I now try to stay away from the sad songs on the radio. This morning, that evil song, which had caused my hysterics a few years back, was playing in my car. I listened to about 10 words, but this time, instead of throwing myself into a crying fit, I switched to XM Studio 54 where an old dance favorite was playing. I soon found myself smiling and singing at the top of my lungs as I drove to work.

I was wearing my bracelet. I chose joy.

 

 

 

 

 

 

My Sermon

I have been asked multiple times about my sermon from last Friday’s service at B’nai Jeshurun. A friend suggested that I post it – so here goes…

First, I would like to thank Rabbi Matt, Rabbi Karen, Cantor Stahl and everyone at TBJ for inviting me to speak this evening. It is such an honor and I am so happy to be here.

TBJ was almost my second home for a long time. Not only did both my daughters, Amanda and Lily, go to preschool and Hebrew school here, I was also an assistant preschool teacher in the 2’s for 8 years. It was a wonderful job and I met the most wonderful group of women.

But it was during that time that my world fell apart and I was forever changed.

I found out that life can change in an instant, and it is impossible to be prepared for it. Six years ago – mine did. There is no right or wrong way to react to something that turns your world upside down – but this is my story:

I remember one summer morning eight years ago, my husband Howie came running into the kitchen holding his lap top. This was before we had iphones and he had been reading an email that was so upsetting he wanted me to see is ASAP.

The email was from the sleep away camp where our daughters were –  informing us that a father of two girls at camp had drowned while swimming in the Hamptons. Howie and I were both so upset about this. That poor family. That poor wife. Those poor little girls. How could a family possibly get through something like that?

As sad as we were for this family, we did not know them. They were “other people”. I always thought tragedy happened to “other people”. You know – an acquaintance, the relative of a friend, someone you see around town. You feel bad. You may run into that person at the mall or shop rite and you give them a hug and say how sorry you are. And then go on with your day.

I believed that something like that could never happen to me or my family.

Two years after that email came, it did happen to my family. My girls and I suddenly became those “other people”. I was the woman that people were staring at in shop rite. I was the one they felt sorry for. How did that happen?

It happened on an ordinary Sunday afternoon in October 2011, the day after Yom Kippur. We had just returned home from our daughter Lily’s soccer game. Howie decided to go out for run while I made dinner.

It’s funny – whenever I tell this story, people automatically assume that Howie was a runner. He was not. He went running every once in a while and I am not sure what made him decide to do it that day.

He came home not feeling well and wanted to go upstairs to lay down. It turned out that the “not feeling well” was a heart attack. He passed away that night. He was 48, I was 45, and our daughters were 10 and 12

Devastated barely describes it. Suddenly there I was – a grieving single mom with two grieving adolescent daughters. What on earth was I supposed to do? I did not think the three of us would survive without him. I did NOT think I could do this.

Looking back at that time, those who knew me would say that I seemed to handle this horrible situation well. I know I appeared to handle it well but the truth is – I did not. Something that I found about myself is that I am a wonderful actress. I think there was a period of time when I even fooled myself.

I looked like I was doing well because – I did not stay in bed all day. I did not walk around town crying. I did not hide from the world. I did not curl up in a ball and become non-functional.

I woke up every morning. I got my girls ready for school. I made breakfasts, lunches and dinners. I went to work. I even allowed my friends to drag me out sometimes.

For years I did everything I was supposed to do. But I did it with a big fake smile on my face.

The truth is – I had to. I did not have a choice in the matter. If I didn’t get up, my girls didn’t get up. If I didn’t survive, they didn’t survive.

My daughters were the only things that mattered to me, so I did what I had to do for them. All that I wanted was to raise them as well as I possibly could without Howie. I wanted to make sure that they turned into happy, healthy, self-reliant, successful people DESPITE what happened to them.

That thought is what kept me going for years.

But on a personal level I felt differently – for myself the only thing I wanted was to change what happened. I wanted my old life back and I didn’t hesitate to think it or say it ALL the time. All I wanted was for Howie to come back and for our lives to go back to the way they used to be.

Logically I knew that this was impossible – but it did not stop me from constantly wishing it.

So, life went on like that for a very long time – years. I took care of my girls and prayed for my husband and my old life to come back. All the while I pretending to be ok.

This is not to say that I was constantly miserable for those years. I had some good moments, some happy times. But for the most part I faked it.

Eventually it all caught up with me. A couple of years ago I began to fall apart. I call this time “my nervous breakdown” although I don’t think it officially was one.

I couldn’t do it anymore. I was mentally and physically drained and I actually looked it. I was too skinny, ghostly pale, and my hair was literally falling out of my head. Something had to change. Faking it wasn’t working.

Sometimes you need to hit rock bottom to realize you need to change. This was my turning point, my Aha moment. I could choose to let losing my husband ruin the rest of my life, or I could change the way I was reacting to it.

Nobody was going to swoop in and rescue me. I had to rescue myself. It was time.

I made some changes and most importantly – I got help. I needed to come to the realization that, as much as I wanted it to, my old life was not coming back. Slowly I began to understand this. As I started to let go, I also began to feel better. I didn’t miss Howie any less, but I was accepting that he was gone.

This was when I started to become a happy person again. I began to enjoy spending time with friends and family, especially my daughters. I started a happy, healthy relationship with someone who had stuck around for a long time while I “wasn’t ready”. I even began to look like the old me again, the pale skeleton was going away.

So that could have been my happy ending – but it’s not. Without knowing it – I needed more than that.

As I was feeling better, I was thinking a lot about what my girls and I had been through. All of my stories were swirling around in my head.

I thought that maybe I should start writing them all down. My first thought was a journal but then I thought that maybe I should start a blog. So, I did. Without even thinking about it. I literally googled “how to start a blog” and I just followed the instructions. I called it “The Widow Wears Pink”.

I wrote my first post and hit “publish” before I had the chance to change my mind.

I shared it on Facebook and people actually read it.  It was mostly my friends and family but it was a start.

I kept writing and I got more readers. The words came pouring out of me. I was constantly writing and telling my story. People were interested.

Soon after, what I wanted to happen did happen – my blog started reaching other widows. I was hearing from people from all over the country who unfortunately found themselves in a similar situation to mine. When they would tell me that reading my blog was helping them, that they felt less alone – it brought tears to my eyes. Helping others gave me an incredible feeling.

I wanted to reach more people. I found someone who taught me how to have my essays published on other sites with much larger audiences. I submitted my work and it was being accepted. I found out that I was a pretty good writer – something that I never knew about myself. I was now doing something I loved and was good at. Besides raising my daughters, I don’t believe I ever had that before. I found myself. It was a fabulous feeling.

The best part about all of this is that my girls witnessed this. They saw me transform into a happy, busy, independent woman.

In the past year since I began writing, I have had my work published on sites such as Scary Mommy, Grown & Flown, Modern Loss, Kveller, and Sheryl Sandberg’s Option B. I also now have a platform on Huffington Post and I freelance for Today.com.

People say that things happen for a reason. I do not believe that and never will. There is no reason that a 48 year-old husband, father, and son dies.

I would gladly give away all my writing and the small amount of success I have had with it to bring Howie back. But I can’t. It took me a long time, but I eventually found a way to turn the worst thing that ever happened to me into something positive.

Sometimes I wonder what Howie would think of all this. Would he recognize this “new me”? I knew my husband pretty well and I am pretty sure his first reaction would be – “If you were going to start a new career, could you have at least chosen one where you actually made money??” After that – I hope he would be proud of what I have accomplished.

If someone would have told me 6 years ago – or even 4 years ago – that I would be standing here today talking about my writing – I would have told them they were crazy. Life certainly does take unexpected turns sometimes.

As much as I wanted to, I could not change what happened. But what I was able to do was change how I reacted to it. I realized that I needed to live, and that is what Howie would want me to do. Not just exist, but live. So, I found myself, a new myself, and I found a way to be happy.

 

To a Freshman With Anxiety… From a Senior Who Has Been There

 

This post was written by my very first guest writer, Ilyssa Rudman. She is the fabulous daughter of one of my oldest and dearest friends. Ilyssa is beginning her senior year at Syracuse University and is on her way to becoming an amazing writer. I asked her to write a piece for my blog and was thrilled when she happily agreed. She wrote the following open letter to my daughter, Amanda, as well as all incoming college freshmen who are experiencing anxiety. I hope you enjoy reading it as much as I did….


You know your mom’s friends from growing up that you never really knew but you feel some sort of  connection with? That’s who Stacy is to me. She once left her shampoo in my shower and her dress in my house – so duh; we’re connected on a level no one can understand. I don’t really know her daughters all that well either, but they are Stacy’s daughters so I’d basically do anything for them – as if they were family… Because they kind of are.

I cannot speak to losing a husband or a parent, as that is something that I have fortunately never experienced myself, but my heart hurts for them every day. I admire that Stacy has used writing as an outlet and I have a great respect for the ways that each of them has handled themselves after experiencing such a tragedy.

Something that I can speak to is the common enemy that Amanda and I have: anxiety. I know through both Stacy’s blog and what my mom has shared with me that Amanda is very anxious about going off to college as a freshman. I also know that I felt the same exact way four years ago, and as I am about to enter my Senior year I wish more than anything that I could go back to the very spot that Amanda is in right now. So here is an open letter to Amanda and anyone else that is in her position. From one anxious mind to another…

Dear Amanda (and anyone else who can relate),

Going away to college is extremely scary for everyone. To someone with an anxiety disorder though, it is literally PETRIFYING. I want to start off by saying that this is a good thing. Not only is it a good thing, it is a GREAT thing. You are about to enter the best four years of your life. I know that is super cliché and you have probably heard it a million and one times, but take it from me – an anxiety ridden about to be senior in college who would pay to trade places with you.

The last thing anyone with anxiety wants is change. But flip that negative perception of change that you have onto its head – and focus on the positives that are coming your way. You are about to make new friends. Not the high school friends that you associate with because you’re from the same town, but people who you are drawn to and truly connect with.

I personally had trouble talking about my anxiety throughout high school. In fact, I don’t know if my friends knew the severity of it back then, when it was the most severe it’s ever been. Now here I am writing about it for everyone to see.

I opened up about my anxiety to my college friends, and that ability to truly let people in has helped me grow closer to my high school friends as well. I have found a support system in both the friends I have made in college and the ones that I grew up going to school with, and I am confident that you will find the same.

Most importantly, I learned that there are tons of people around me who feel the exact same way that I do and silently suffer. You are not alone, ever.

Another aspect of going away to college that racked my nerves like no other was the idea of being “stuck” away from home. But let me give it to you straight – you are nowhere near stuck. If for any reason you want to go home at any time, it is well within your power to do so. I used to go home all the time – whether it was for a prior commitment or simply because I wanted the comfort of my own bed. As time went by, school became like a home to me. I know that you will soon feel the same way, but just remember that you are NOT stuck.

Lastly, I want to remind you that it is okay not to be okay sometimes. It is inevitable that this transition comes with anxiety. Do whatever it is that you feel you need to do to stay calm and centered. Get a really comfy mattress cover and a fuzzy blanket and make your bed at school feel like home.

You may not feel like you are ready, but I know that you are.

With love and lots of luck (that you do not even need),

 Ilyssa

And to Stacy, and any other mom who is anxious about their anxious child going off to college (moms get anxiety too!) – trust me when I say that they will be more than fine. I have been there and back. Amanda is strong as she has a very strong role model in her mom. Deep breaths ladies, it is going to be okay.

Change is Coming and it’s a Little Scary

I have been joking around with my friends and family about this for months. I have been talking about these next few weeks which are quickly approaching for my girls and I. The thing is – I don’t think I believed that this time would ever really arrive – but now it’s just about here – and it’s not so funny anymore.

For the months (even years) after Howie passed away, I would wake up with my heart racing. I did not know what each day would bring, but whatever it was scared me. That has not happened for a year or so. My life had finally settled and quieted down. It is so nice to be in a good place and not stress about anything too major.

Don’t get me wrong – nothing horrible is happening now. Life is what’s happening, and with life comes change. Change can be good, but change can also be stressful, especially for my girls and I. We had one very huge change almost six years ago, and it was the worst one imaginable. It is hard to see change as simple for all of us.

Two things are about to happen.

The first is that Lily is about to come home from her very last year at her beloved sleep-away camp. This might sound silly to some – but I am actually scared. She has been so lucky to go to the place that she loves for seven weeks every summer for eight years. Camp is truly her second home, and the friends she has made there are her second family. These summers have helped her deal with her loss, as well as maturing into the wonderful person she is becoming. It has been her “escape” from the stresses of her regular life. Now, at 16 years old, she has “aged-out” and will no longer be able to go back to her camp and live in a bunk with the girls that she loves.

I have been warned – by Lily as well as other parents whose children have gone through this transition. I am expecting a lot of tears, a lot of time spent in her room, and a lot of moodiness. While my mind is prepared, my heart will break a little to see her lose something so important to her. It will truly be a huge loss for her.

At the same time this is happening, Amanda is preparing to leave for her Freshman year at college. Amanda suffers from anxiety and fears change. I have written about this in relation to her going away to college in my Grown & Flown article.  Leaving for college is a scary time for many kids, but for someone with anxiety it can be debilitating. Thankfully, we have known this, and have prepared her in the best way possible. I know she will do great and be just fine (even better than fine) once she makes the transition, but I know the transition will be scary for her. I have the utmost confidence in her and am so proud of how far she has come in the last few years. But I am her mother – I worry – and more so than that, I will miss her terribly. Change is hard for me also.

Lily will be home in a few short days, and Amanda will be leaving less than two weeks after that. So, their mom is stressed for them. I am now waking up with the racing heart and the nervousness all day that I haven’t felt in years. But as difficult and crazy as the last few years of my life have been, I have learned ways to cope with my own stress. I am trying my best to get through this time that I never thought would really arrive. The one thing I know is that we will all be okay.

Flexibility

 

“You are more flexible than you realize”.

It was during my one month trial period at Powerflow Yoga. I was really starting to like yoga and had begun going to class 2-3 times a week. At first, I tried to stick to the instructor that I had taken my original class with. I was comfortable with her and she knew that I was a beginner. She helped me when I needed it. The problem was that her classes did not always match up with my schedule so I had to really expand my horizons and try other teachers.

As much as I was enjoying yoga, I was still pretty much out of my comfort zone. Walking into a new class was a little intimidating when I was still very insecure about how I was moving. I also could never remember which pose was which. What was the difference between Warrior One and High Lunge? Or Warrior Three and Standing Split? I found it quite confusing!

One problem that I was sure I would have was flexibility. I was never flexible. I remember taking ballet classes when I was seven years old. It was obvious that I was a horrible ballerina. My little body did not move the way the teachers wanted it to. I also tried gymnastics which was even more of a disaster. I could not even manage to do a cartwheel. I decided at a very young age that I was inflexible.

On this particular day, I was in class with an instructor I had tried only once before. I found his class difficult but there was also something about it that I really liked. I was giving it another try. During this particular class, I felt as if  he was contorting us into all kinds of crazy positions. Then we finally came to one I knew – one that I thought I had mastered. This position was either Warrior One or Warrior Two – I am telling you I could not keep them all straight at that point! The teacher came over to me and moved my back foot a bit.

That was when he said to me, “You are more flexible that you think you are”.

Me? Flexible?? Oh no I am not. This guy should have seen me in that ballet recital back in 1970 something! Not a pretty sight.

But….after he moved my foot, I was able to move deeper into the pose. Could he be on to something?

I kept those words in my head and for the next few classes I took. I tried to challenge myself to move in ways in which I would have thought impossible for me. I fell – often – but after a while I didn’t care anymore. If I fell, I fell. Soon, I was able to see that I was more flexible than I thought. The more I tried, the better I was able to move. I was proud of myself.

What has been more challenging for me is balance. I am still working on that one.

 

*** If anyone is interested in trying Powerflow Yoga in Livingston, they are now offering a free week for new clients who would like to try it out. Just mention my name or The Widow Wears Pink!