Pain is Beauty

30F2A7BC-B850-4B0F-860B-F8B64632B445

”Mommy I need my Batman costume!”  My three year old demanded me this morning. I was avoiding getting up even though I had been awake since about 7 am. Today hurts. My heart was heavy when I went to bed last night, knowing the emotions and emptiness today would bring. Somehow though, my son demanding his favorite costume got me to smile, and I was able to get myself out of bed.

Three years ago today my mom was rushed by an ambulance to the hospital. My sister in law Melissa discovered her on the floor of her bedroom early that morning and it was clear she had been in distress all night unknown to anyone. My dad was out of town for work so she had been alone.

As the day went on she was admitted into the hospital from the ER with acute pneumonia and was continually going downhill. By 3 PM the doctors told us she probably wouldn’t survive the night, and by 6:30 PM she was gone.

I have concluded through the harrowing experience of losing my mother that the painful experiences we go through in life can bring great sorrow, but also great beauty.

What’s Lost is Found

Soon after Mom passed away, my siblings and I along with my brothers wife, and now former brother in law and sat down on the floor in the hospital hallway. We were all heartbroken by what had just happened, and the emotions in the room when Mom slipped away from us were very strong. In the hallway, however, our moods got a bit lighter as we started telling stories about Mom. We re-lived some of our favorite childhood memories, and things that Mom did that were special. It may be hard to believe, but we were laughing, genuinely laughing! In that night the loss of our Mom brought us together in a sibling unity, and I am grateful for that tender mercy.

The next day, we had the hard task of visiting the funeral home and planning out the funeral and picking a casket. It all felt surreal that we were doing this for Mom, but once we got back to my parents home we began to dig through boxes of photos to find some for a slideshow that would be shown at the funeral.

Once again, even though our hearts were breaking the mood was lightened. Dad told lots of stories about the pictures we were finding and we found ourselves laughing through the tears.

I grabbed Mom’s journals too. I sat for two hours and read through one of them. I couldn’t stop reading her words- it was like she was there next to me telling me her stories. There is so much we didn’t know about the struggles she went through, and having those words is something I will cherish forever. It’s a huge reason why I am very vigilant in making sure I always journal too. I want my kids and grandkids to have the same treasure of my words when I am gone.

Turning the Bad Into Good

My son momentarily snapping me out of my grief this morning so I could help him is just a small example of what I am aiming to do. Even if it was just finding his beloved Batman costume. If he hadn’t gotten me up I’m sure I would have laid around reveling in my sadness. Later today, my sister Aly and I are using all the donated funds to buy the rest of our items needed for our cancer care packages we will be taking in memory of Mom to the Huntsman Cancer Institute on Tuesday. Using the pain we have gone through to do good helps make the pain just a little more bearable.

Ever since Mom died, I have tried to do good. I love serving others, and I know it’s something Mom loved too. Whether it’s our yearly cancer care packages, or working for the American Cancer Society, and most recently in working with the Rape Recovery Center in Salt Lake. I also use my blog to talk about my personal battles and struggles to help others out there not feel alone. Nothing is too big or too small to be good.

Emotions aren’t a bad thing- it’s what makes us human. I woke up this morning so sad I almost was not sure I could make it through today. So I cried a little bit; it was impossible not to. Thankfully my son got me up. After making the kids breakfast I got ready and went to the gym where I ran until my lungs burned and I felt alive. Now that I am home we are preparing to go see my other son play in his basketball game, and then Aly and I will be finishing up the cancer packages.

The grief I feel is always there, but definitely is magnified today. But I choose to utilize it for good. Using this pain as a motivation to do good in the world and just be the best person I can be is what I aim to keep doing, one small step at a time.

XoXo,

Heather

The Raw Brunette

I Won’t Back Down

44B88816-50A6-4740-89A5-FCE2F635798A

For Christmas this past year my husband and I bought the DNA kits from Ancestry.com . I had wanted to do it for a while, and we jumped at the opportunity to get them at a decent price on Cyber Monday. Once we filled the vials with our spit, (yes, its gross but it could be worse right?), and mailed them back I anxiously watched my email everyday for the results. The morning that I finally got the alert that the results were in my email, I could hardly contain my excitement! I seriously was like a little kid, and my results didn’t disappoint!

Being adopted, I have always been fascinated by my genealogy. My adoptive family has done extensive family history, but naturally, I still needed to know my biological genealogy. Once I met Sherri, my birthmom, she gave me a copy of her families history, which I treasure. But even still, I was curious about my birthdad and his family.

At the top of the results with the biggest percentage was Ireland/Scotland/Wales and Western Europe which was not a surpise to me. What did surprise me, was the high percentages of my DNA that came from the Middle East, Iberian Peninsula, and Scandanavia. I am now more than ever motivated to keep digging into my families history and am hoping one day to visit these amazing and very different places of the world that I have ancestry from.

Skoal!

Obviously, all of my results from my DNA test were fascinating to me, but I am particularly interested in the fact that I have Scandanavian blood. My husband Jess when he got his results discovered he does too, which was relatively unknown by his family. We were probably so psyched because we have been extremely obsessed with the show “Vikings” on the History Channel. If you don’t watch it- WATCH IT! Some of the characters are based on actual people (the show itself is not historically accurate), and there are some amazing fight scenes, intertwining characters and stories, all minus the seriously excessive nudity of Game of Thrones. Have I convinced you yet? I hope so!

To now know that I have Scandanavian ancestors has me even more fascinated with Vikings and their history. One of my favorite parts of the Vikings folklore, is their stories of shield-maidens. For centuries, this was thought to be just that, stories and folklore. Just last year, it was discovered that a famous Viking warrior who was long thought to be a man, turned out to be a woman when they did some DNA testing on the remains. Seriously, how cool is that? Turns out the women were just as brave, if not more so, than the men on the battlefields.

I like to think that I inherited some of this “warrior” DNA. No, I have never been in actual battle, and would never try to pretend or compare my life to a real war-zone. I have the highest respect for men and women who protect our rights and freedoms everyday with their lives. I have gone through some battles in life, so in my own way I am a warrior of the hurdles life has thrown at me. I mean, everyone is a warrior of their personal struggles and trials.

I have many female examples in my life who are “shield-maidens” in their own rite like the ones in Viking times. Whether they are friends or family, or friends who I consider family, each one of them inspires and brings their own sets of experiences and insights that they teach me whether they realize it or not. I am extremely blessed and grateful for every one of them, but there’s an aching in my heart everyday for my mom.

Ripples of Grief

Grief is an interesting process. I like to think of it as a ripple in water when you drop a stone. The ripples move naturally outward from that initial spot and never seem to stop. In real life,  when something tragic occurs, we may feel like life stands still, we have to keep moving forward and living. When my mom died, I wanted nothing more than to stay in bed forever. My kids, however still needed me to be a mom to them. Even though they were heartbroken as well from losing their Nana, they still were kids and kept me moving. I am grateful for them because they helped me continue to have purpose and would distract me, although momentarily, from my grief.

When the ripples are closer to the start, they are compact, and still extremely raw and painful. As they move away, and get bigger the pain, although never fully ebbing, gets less strong and easier to deal with.

In a few weeks, on February 17 it will officially mark the third year since Mom passed away. The third ripple from the day she died. Just when I feel like I’ve got a handle on my grief, something happens in my life and I wish so badly I could call my mom and talk to her. I often visit her grave and have full on conversations with her, simply because there is so much I need to tell her. When she was still alive, I talked to her every single day; she literally was, next to my sister Aly, my best friend.

To my knowledge my mom did not have Scandanavian heritage, (she was mostly of Irish descent), but she had more of that shield-maiden fight in her than anyone that I know. Her tough 18-year battle with mulitple myeloma Cancer is proof enough that she deserved to be taken to Valhalla by the Valkyries and to feast with the gods.

A Call to Arms

One thing is for sure, I consider myself a modern day warrior in the fight against cancer. I hate everything about it, and want to help find a cure so no more people and their families have to suffer it’s effects.

One of my goals for 2018 is to continue helping in any way that I am able for cancer patients and the American Cancer Society where I have been honored to be a part of their events here in Salt Lake.

As of right now, we are planning our next big event for the ACS in September. I can’t leak any details just yet, but it will be an amazing event so I will keep you all posted as soon as I can!

Aly and I are currently working on our third year of Kind Like Karen day, which is on the anniversary of her death. We put together care packages for the patients at the Huntsman Cancer Institute here in Salt Lake City and deliver them in person (with hugs), to help brighten their spirits and day. This year we are collecting blankets, socks, slippers, and beanies. We also get donations from local bakeries of cookies and other various treats that really get people excited! It is always such a emotionally charged day, filled with lots of tears and gratitide. We love using that day to give back to others, because it’s what Mom would have wanted.

I will continue to be a warrior against the disease that took my mom from me. I will keep doing everything I can for the patients and their families and do everything in my power to raise money for them through my work at the ACS. My hope is that a cure will be found in my lifetime- to live to see such a miracle would be indescribable. Until then, this is a fight I refuse give up on.

A56A23C8-9A93-416D-BF91-D141FA295511

Photos by Angela Marie Photography

The Beat Goes on

IMG_1956.JPGFrom the moment I opened my eyes this morning that famous song by Sonny and Cher has been playing over and over in my head. I have no idea why “The Beat Goes On” chose to be on repeat today but I think it may have something to do with the fact that it’s my mother’s birthday. This is the third birthday we have had to commemorate since she passed away, and the sting of her being gone is still a sharp one.

Thankfully, we were exploring the gorgeous Columbia Gorge in Oregon for most of the morning and afternoon with my birth mom and her husband so I was distracted. But now that we have been on the road back to Boise (I took the first shift driving), I had a lot of time to sift through my feelings of what today means.

There is no direct link that I have with that particular song and my mom, although I know she loved Sonny and Cher back in the day, but those four particular words just kept standing out to me. It took me back to the night that she passed away. The wave of initial shock of her passing had gone, and my siblings and I had moved to the hallway from the hospital room she had been in. I decided to go back in for a few minutes to be with her alone. It was peaceful in there now that all the machines were off and all I could hear was my steady breathing as I sat on the edge of her bed. I held held her hand in mine. It was now cold and seemed foreign without her life inside it. I couldn’t physically speak but was sending her my love through my broken heart as tears silently slid down my face.

My eyes were drawn to the watch she was wearing. It was a beautiful silver one my dad had given her a few years before. I stared at the face for a moment and watched as the second hand was still ticking away- completely unaware that it’s wearer was now deceased. The thought suddenly was impressed upon me that this was not the end for her, but just a small part of eternity. Her mortal life was over, but there was much more ahead for her in the afterlife. Life continued on. It was a tender mercy for me to physically be able to see and feel in that moment that life doesn’t end here. It goes on.

Life has continued, and even though she is gone mom lives on in us. I feel her with me so often and I know she makes it a priority to check in on us. She lives on in her three children, her six grandchildren and countless friends and family members. Her spirit and who she was and what she stood for gives others inspiration.

I know she wouldn’t want me to be sad on her birthday, and I kept feeling her presence as I watched my birth mom with the littles today. They are as much my mom’s grandchildren as they are my birth mom’s. It’s beautiful, really to think about the fact that these two women who never met have a motherly (and grandmotherly) bond. I could not have spent my mom’s birthday in a better place than I did today, and for that I am thankful. My heart wasn’t as heavy today as I was dreading it to be and I know it’s because we are continuing this  crazy journey of strengthening my bond with my beautiful birth mom. Mom would not have had it any other way. Through our hardest trials and heartaches comes change and it always opens doorways to new roads to travel down. It’s pretty crazy, this life, and I am thankful to know that life and the beat goes on.

 

Happy birthday Mom.

XoXo,

Heather

The Raw Brunette