My Last Day With You

I was very lucky growing up because I was the first kid for more than a few years, so I got to have the family all to myself before my younger cousins came along.  We spent a lot of time together, and a big chunk of that time was spent with my cousins John, Mike, and Tom.  They took me to see Disney movies, played games with me, and, when I was three, they bought me a Lego set that would spark my desire to build things, putting me on the path to obtain my degree in construction.

One fateful day a couple of weeks ago, I received news that Tom, the youngest of my three older cousins, had passed away.  I’ve mentioned this in an earlier post, but Tom and I could always sit down and pick up right where we left off, no matter how much time had passed.  When he would come home from Florida, we would pretty much be joined at the hip whenever we were able to spend time together.  I love Tom so much.  He was one of my first best friends and role models.  The following is dedicated to him.

Over the last couple of days, I’ve been spending a lot of time with you.  How I wish I could have gotten one more hug, a goofy joke, or even something as simple as a smile.  I wish I could have had coffee and chatted with you one more time, just like we used to.  To say that these last couple of weeks have been surreal is a severe understatement.

I was given the honor to document your last couple of days here with us physically.  I know that you’ve already moved on to another place, somewhere the rest of us can’t go yet, but that hasn’t made this any easier.

Yesterday was difficult, seeing everyone cry.  I know that’s not what you want, but it seems to be what we can muster for the moment.  I made sure to take pictures of the flowers and of the people who came and went in the time we were together.  It was a long night, and we were all exhausted by the time all was said and done.

Before we all parted ways for the night, we sat down and discussed details for the next day, but we also shared stories.  I knew you were there with us every time we’d laugh.  You could make anyone laugh; it was infectious, just like your smile.

Last night, I tried to stay up late to watch some hockey, but I was just so worn out that I was almost falling asleep during overtime of the Florida game.  I tried listening to the Stars game, but I fell asleep during part of the broadcast and ended up shutting it off.  When I woke up this morning and saw that they had lost, I was bummed.  It sounds so dumb to say, considering what’s been going on, but it’s true.  But today, Mike said something during your eulogy that made me smile – you were the perpetual optimist when it came to sports, especially Cleveland sports of all things.  So I can’t help but be optimistic about the Stars.  I guess that’s a wait and see thing, huh?  I’m sure you’d tell me to hang in there and not lose hope or faith in them, that the series had just gotten more interesting and suspenseful to make advancing to the next round that much sweeter.

This morning we got to the church and made our rounds to make sure things were ready.  We had everything prepared:  the flowers, the readings, the programs…but I wasn’t prepared for your arrival.  None of us were.  I had my camera to my eye when I saw you, but I couldn’t see well, despite things being in focus.  My shoulders were pretty shaky, and I’m pretty sure I forgot how to breathe for a minute.  None of it felt right.

I took a lot of photos during the Mass. A few of each person who read something, including me (I had to give my mom a quickie crash course on my camera so she could take my picture, and she took some great photos from the choir loft as well as while I was reading), a few of Father during his homily and prayers, some of the family.  I snuck out after Father blessed you for the last time and took some more from the back of the church before you were walked out.

As you were carried towards me, I forgot how to breathe again, and I was shaking.  When the guys picked you up to carry you back out of the church, I reached out to touch you one last time to say goodbye.  It wasn’t the same, but I just had to do it.  I took photos as you were walked down the stairs, but I couldn’t bear it anymore when they put you in the car.  I was standing there at the top of the stairs, grief stricken because I had just said goodbye to my best friend one last time, but I wasn’t the only one.  Stacy and the girls were there, too, and we were all crying.  Stacy reached out and pulled me close to her, hugging me tightly.  I made sure to hold tightly to her hand.

My dad came back up from carrying you, and I had to reach out and hug him. I told him that my best friend was gone, even though I know a part of you is still with me and always will be. 

Thank you, Tom, for showing me how to make other people smile and laugh, for teaching me to persevere, for encouraging me to find my way in life and to not be afraid of the big changes.  Thank you for being one of my very first best friends and role models.

It’s so hard to know that you’re physically gone, that it’ll be a very long time before I can see you again.  But when I do, how’s about we get some coffee and catch up, just like we used to?

Until then, Tom.  I love you.

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“Just pack it, Shan”

In my suitcase right now, I have three skirts.  Three.  All three are different lengths and styles.  One is a maxi, one is a tea length skirt with a cute flare at the bottom, and one is tea length with a high waist and is business suit style.  All of them are black.  They’re for the weekend coming up.  I also have two different tops, one cover/long sleeve sweater type thing, and a heavier short sleeve sweater.  Again, all are in black, except for one of the tops.  I was instructed to pack all of my dressy clothes, and since it was predicted to be warmer in Cleveland than the usual around this time of year, I made sure to grab skirts.  Well, looks like I’m going to need to pack a pair of dressy pants after all.  *le sigh*  Curse your sudden yet inevitable weather betrayal, Cleveland.  I’m betting that no matter how cool it is outside, it’ll be hot inside.  I’m hot natured anyway.  Probably makes you wonder why the hell I moved to Texas in the first place, huh?

Well, when you’ve been buried in snow for 25 years of life on this earth, there comes a time when 100+F degree temperatures sound amazing when compared to the -10F and below wind chills of wintertime.  And the seemingly six months of winter.  It snowed earlier this month.  SNOWED.  Meanwhile, I was here in Texas enjoying the sunshine.  You see, I love sunshine, and I’m not much for gloomy, overcast weather.  Only 49% of the year in the Land of Cleve is full sunshine – not partly or mostly sunny…100% sunshine.  Talk about gloomy.  I think I looked up weather facts once, only to find that Seattle has more sunny days than Cleveland.  I think the only way I might make it across the pond in England would be thanks to all of the pubs.

Anyway, I digress.  My bad; I do that a lot.  So now comes the decision of which shoes I should take.  I don’t want to take both; I want to operate under the KISS principle (Keep It Simple, Stupid).  My suitcase is a small (yet adorable) Mickey Mouse carry on, but it’s akin to the Tardis in the simple fact that it’s bigger on the inside.  (Yes, I’m a geeky Disney fanatic – SUE ME.)  I was able to pack a couple of my Fox shirts and my Red vs. Blue shirt (people, if you haven’t seen RVB – fix that – it’s actually been my standby with all of the grief I’ve been experiencing, and it legitimately made me laugh the other day).  I guess I’ll have to grab a long sleeve shirt, too.

My digital SLR will also be making its first trip to the Great White North (note:  this is my lovely nickname for Cleveland, especially during the wintertime because it’s fun to mess with the native Texans by informing them that you’re from the Great White North…yeah, I know I’m not Canadian, but it still gets funny when you see the terror cross their faces as they realize just how cold it gets “up north”).  I’m glad I bought a backpack style camera bag when I got the camera.  It’s going to be super helpful!

My mom had suggested checking my suitcase so that I could bring both my camera and laptop, buuuuuuuut I just got my adorable Mickey Mouse suitcase, and the thought of an airline manhandling the thing made me all sad inside.  Mickey Mouse does not deserve that treatment.  (As an aside, after purchasing said adorableness on wheels, I realized that it matches my Disney purse exactly, as it has multicolored silhouettes of Mickey himself all over…I promise you I didn’t do that on purpose.  My boyfriend does not believe me any farther than he can throw me.)  So now I have to figure out how to fit my tablet in the camera bag since I’m not sure how to reconfigure it to fit everything there.  I don’t have much in the way of equipment yet since I’m still a noob (again – I used to be old school and developed my own black and white film and such when I took the courses in high school and refused to change for the longest time…heh).

Tonight I’ll finish packing and try to get everything situated.  Easier said than done.  Ten bucks says I have a small freak out about whether or not I’m bringing the right stuff with me (I am), and I’ll get to thinking that I have to unpack everything I’ve already packed to make sure it all matches my list (it does).  The way my brain works is mystifying sometimes.

Too Real

Author’s note:  This was written in the wee hours of 19 April on the eve of 18 April, which is why it looks like I posted twice on the 19th.

The obituary on my cousin came out today.  I still can’t believe he’s gone.  We didn’t get to see each other often, but we were close.  No matter how long we were apart, we could sit down and strike up a conversation as if we hadn’t had any time apart at all.

My great aunt, his mom, told me that she thinks we were a lot alike, Tom and I.  Tom was outgoing, funny, intelligent, kind, and had one of the biggest personalities I’ve ever known.  He was one of the first people I wanted to emulate.  He went to college and later moved away from our family in Ohio to Florida to make a life for himself.  I remember crying when he left, not realizing that I would do the same thing myself at the same age he was when he moved.  I still moved south, but I came to Texas.  When Tom heard about my job and move, he offered to let my parents use his air miles.  I thought that was the sweetest gesture ever, and so did they.

I’ve been asked to take part in Tom’s funeral this week, something I view as an honor.  But I can’t help but feel a little empty.  None of this feels right.  Maybe it’s because it was so sudden, or maybe because it’s Tom.  I’m not sure.

When I get on the plane to go home in a couple days, I know I’ll be going to be with my family, to people who feel the same way I do.  But it’s really going to hurt because one of the family’s biggest personalities will be missing.  I’ll miss his smile, his stories, and – maybe most of all – the way he made people laugh.

Rest in peace, Tom.  We all miss you.

Počivali u miru, Tom.  Volim te.

Not How I Planned to Spend My Day

I’m hurting really badly today.  I received some news that totally stunned me and threw me for a loop.  At the moment, I can’t share, but it feels pretty shitty.  Hurting sucks.  Grief sucks.  Anything involving pain sucks, no matter what kind of pain it is – emotional, physical….it all just bites.

All I could think about while I was eating (which I had to force myself to do, by the way – I sort of noticed the feeling in the pit of my stomach, but I felt the numbness more) was that it can’t be true.  No way is this happening.  I’m going to wake up tomorrow, and everything is going to be fine.  This will all just be one, big, bad, stupid dream.

My heart really hurts right now.  I keep going through phases of being completely numb and just losing it.  I break down and cry.  The only word I can really muster is a four letter word ending in “k.”  Yeah, that one.  Eloquent, right?  For someone who is typically loquacious, I have been reduced to a pile of tears, numbness, and – not to be gross – snot.  My eyes feel heavy, almost like sandpaper.  I am almost dreading work tomorrow, but I keep coming back to that one line from Sleepless in Seattle.

“Work!  Work will save you. Work is the only thing that will see you through this.”

I suppose it’s better to be busy than to sit at home on your guza (butt), thinking about something like this.  Because the only good it’ll do you is to bring the endless tears and questions.  I know that questioning things is part of being human.  I keep coming to “What exactly was the plan here with this?”  I guess it beats the classic “Why?”

At the same time that I’m grieving, I feel lucky, too.  When my mom called, she couldn’t get a hold of me, so she called my boyfriend’s phone.  I can only guess that she gave him some pointers on how to help me through this and how to be supportive because he’s never gone through anything like this himself.  He’s been pretty great.  I’ve been able to snuggle close.  I think, after the last three and a half years, that he has learned how I process sadness and grief.  I need to be touched.  I want to be touched.  It helps me ground myself, realize that I’m still breathing, and understand that I have support.  I told him thank you a few times today already, and he’s told me not to thank him.  I’m not sure why.  Maybe it’s because he knows I would do the same for him?  I don’t know.

By my standards, it’s late.  I’m usually at least lying down in bed by now, unwinding from my day, but my brain just…can’t.  I can’t really unwind because I can’t feel too much of anything right now, except maybe a little hungry.  I guess hunger is a good sign.

Hopefully I’ll work this out and get to feeling better.  Either way, I’m going to work and likely lifting some heavy weights tomorrow.  I know I need the exercise for sure.  After that, who knows.

Welp, I’m here…that’s something!

Lately, when people have asked me “How are you?” or even “How’s it going?” I respond with “Welp, I’m here!  That’s something!”  Because it really is.  I get out of bed between 5:15 and 5:25 (sometimes I hit the snooze for a whole whopping 10 minutes, as if it’s going to make up for the two hours of sleep I skipped because I wanted to chat with the boyfriend about his day after he’s worked late).  Yes, I do have coffee every morning, but there are those non-morning people that understand the fact that sometimes it really doesn’t work.  And when that’s the case, you’ve gotta wonder…what exactly is it that you’re paying for?  Maybe I should invest in Death Wish Coffee…see if it will, in fact, wake me the heck up in the morning.

I know for a fact that some will understand that first paragraph.  More may understand this…I live in Dallas, right?  The ninth largest city in the U.S.  This isn’t by accident, either.  I wasn’t born here; I’m not from here.  So, how did I end up stuck in the ridiculous traffic that plagues the city for hours twice a day?  I’m glad you asked.  I took a great offer to come here to work for an awesome company – and it’s kick started my career.  I enjoy my job most days because I get to work with all sorts of different people, and no two days are really all that alike.  For example, I could be sitting at my desk, but I’m not always working on the same stuff.  Anyway…I’m from Cleveland.  Yes, that city in Ohio.  No, it’s not the “Mistake on the Lake,” and quit insulting my home, you ass.  You know what the mistake on the lake is?  Toledo.  Now, I mean no disrespect to the people that are reading this and happen to be from Fair Toledo (after all, I got my degree from the University of Toledo).  What I mean is this:  Ohio and Michigan got into a war over Toledo.  No, you didn’t misread that.  They got into a damn war, and Ohio just so happened to win.  I’m not kidding.  That info is here.  Maybe we should’ve let Michigan have Toledo after all – I mean, Toledo and Detroit used to be tight – to the point of where if the Detroit economy sneezed, the Toledo economy would catch a cold.  At least, that’s what one of my professors used to tell me.  Anyway, I got way, way off topic.  I don’t like fighting traffic more than once a day (and it took me 90 minutes to make my 30 mile commute home last night…ewwwwww).  Therefore, I get up before the sun does, put my sleepy behind in my car, and come in to work.  I usually get there around 6:15-ish, and there’s not much traffic then (thank God).  It’s the going home after 4:00 that incites my disdain with others and especially in the way they drive.  Oh, and if it’s raining?  Be prepared for people to panic over the fact that water is really wet.  Who knew?

So here’s another fun fact about me.  I have Generalized Anxiety Disorder, or GAD for short.  I know!  Imagine my surprise when the panic attacks started!  My boyfriend and I were discussing a house and where to look and such, and with each house we went to go see, I got angry and stressed because it wasn’t what was shown on the pictures, nor was it anywhere close to what the description of the house had been on the websites.  I was really frustrated, and the poor guy was frustrated with me because I was making the whole process more stressful for him without intending to.  It wasn’t until about a month ago that I realized I needed some help.  (We finally found a house in November and moved in in December, and I wasn’t able to be here on closing day, like I had planned…long story for another post.)

So I naturally turned to my friend Google and asked it to help me find someone I could convey my worry and anxiety to.  Google happily obliged and sent me over to Dallas from my new to me, happy home in the southwest corner of the city, where I met my awesome therapist.  I say therapist because I want to try talk therapy before going anywhere else.  I don’t feel that it’s so bad that I need pills (yet, if at all, anyway).  So I’m trying something called ACT – Acceptance and Commitment Therapy.  It’s basically accepting the fact that I have anxiety and committing myself to living along side it instead of fighting it.  Fighting it only makes it worse, as I’m sure some of you know.

Living with anxiety sucks because the people who don’t have it don’t understand you, and the people that do have it and actually understand you identify with your frustration at those that don’t get it.  And when you try to send pictures and cartoons to your boyfriend who currently doesn’t have anxiety, he says “Well, you need to stop caring about that stuff and overreacting.”  Now, the boyfriend is a very strong, supportive man, and I’m very grateful to have him in my life (even though he doesn’t know when I’m really complaining and when I’m actually venting).  But he doesn’t have the anxiety, so he doesn’t really get the lovely revolving door of doubt, worry, fear, and confidence breaking distress.

But you might get it, right?  And that’s what counts.  At least my fellow anxiety ridden people will understand.  At least someone does.