Personal Stuff

Hello.

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 All the darkness of the night is no match for a single candle that refuses to die out.

Hello friends. It’s me. Just a little candle that’s been holding on in the wake of the darkness of grief.

I haven’t been writing or sharing regularly, because, when living with grief, it is hard to tap into creativity or really anything in addition to the daily things needed for survival. If that sounds dramatic, it is. But it’s the truth.

What I have learned is the timeline for “feeling better” is fluid. The feelings ebb and flow with periods of light, then darkness, then a little more light. Annnnnddddddd, repeat.

There have been so many times when I thought about sitting down to blog but something stopped me. I felt blocked. I had no energy. I didn’t know what to say. There was this emptiness in me that made it hard to channel any words. I felt like I had nothing to give.

My therapist gave me good advice – just start writing. Write something. Anything.

So here I am, writing something.

Losing My Mom

For anyone happening upon my story for the first time, I lost my mom to pancreatic cancer in 2016 after a 10 month battle from diagnosis to death. My super happy and “normal” life got turned completely upside down in an instant. I will look back at photos, and there is a definite, distinct separation of time. Life before, when everything was okay in the world and life after, when nothing would be the same again.

When my mom got sick, I stopped everything, including blogging regularly, to help her and my dad. I researched about the disease, treatments, clinical trials and attended every doctors appointment.  I would have done anything to save her. When she got sick, nothing else mattered. It’s all I could think about. She was my best friend. I couldn’t lose her. I couldn’t live without her. But then the news came, there was nothing else doctors could do, the cancer had taken over. She was home for 27 days on hospice care before she died and our collective hearts, mine, my sister’s, dad’s, my precious girls’, were broken into a million pieces.

The First Year of Grief

The following year, the first year after she died was a blur. I remember getting through the memorial service, and then each day thereafter was a mix of fuzziness, grit and despair. The pain and anxiety was so bad, my mind had to put an end date on it. I tell myself if I can just get through this first year, I will be better next year. There is no choice, it has to be better, it can’t be worse.

So we power through as a family all the firsts. The first birthdays, anniversaries, Christmas, etc. without her and the list goes on and on. I find the anticipation of the event in the days and weeks leading up to it are not quite as painful as the actual day. When you have kids, you can’t spend Christmas in bed sobbing, so we fake it, we make it magical for them. Because that is what my mom would have wanted. We do this, over and over again, until we make it through the first anniversary of her death. We survived.

The Second Year of Grief

Okay, time to “feel better” now. I have lived a year without my mom. I “should” be better this year because I have gone through it before. I know what to expect.

Except it doesn’t quite work that way, at least it hasn’t for me.

It is sort of cruel to think that year two could be worse than the first year, but for me it has been. I didn’t think that would even be possible. But the hole of missing her so much keeps getting deeper.

I am now able to deal with the obvious hard “event days”, because we know how to do it. It’s the surprise ways that the grief sneaks up on me I wasn’t prepared for.

Like looking at a photo I snapped of my girls on their first day of school this year. They looked so pretty and grown up. My heart swelled with love and pride.

It was the “second” first day of school since she died, but this year, looking at that photo, I just started sobbing uncontrollably because I couldn’t share it with my mom. She would have been equally enthusiastic about their cuteness and agree my kids were THE most beautiful kids that ever walked the face of the earth. And I would say, RIGHT?! But I couldn’t.

The fuzziness of the first year is gone, but as the fog lifts, the reality becomes more clear. She really is gone. She’s not coming back. It’s those moments like the above that reinforce that fact over and over. Little things, incidental things. The loss is immense.

Enter a little depression and anger. And loneliness, so much loneliness. It’s hard, so hard, to lose someone who can’t be replaced.

Finding Some Light

About halfway through this second year, I knew I had to get back to therapy. I have always been a huge fan of therapy. I have always gone on and off on in the past, but for some reason, when I needed it the most, I stopped going. Didn’t have the energy to face it. But I decided I need to get back and found a new therapist who has been really good for me. When you are struggling it’s important to realize we don’t do life alone. There are people to turn to for help. In this case, I needed a professional!

There are many, many, many difficult emotions that come along with grief, and they will wait there for you until you are ready to deal with them.  At some point you have to look at them smack in the eye and say, “OK, bring it.” Therapy has given me the space to do this. In facing them, I have started to find healing.

My therapist also happens to practice something called EMDR, which I had never heard of before, and she believed would help me. I didn’t realize how much trauma, anxiety and post-traumatic stress I was holding on inside me. The visions, the snapshots, the memories of those last days, were all there. The EMDR has helped me process them in a way that doesn’t elicit the same panic response it used to.

I am not done, I don’t know if you are ever “done” but I am on the way to days filled with more light than dark. The journey continues.

Writing

My therapist has really encouraged me to start writing here again, she must know how healing it will be for me, and I know she is right. But I am also a bit scared because blogging isn’t the same as when I started in 2008! This summer will mark my 10 year anniversary of starting Tiny Oranges.

My baby, Emma, who was 2 at the time is turning 12 and going to Jr. High next year. This summer I will have a 12-year-old and a 9-year-old. I have TWEEN ORANGES. There is so much I want to write about but it’s not the same vision I had here when I started. We don’t go to many parks anymore but, oh my, there a lot to talk about.

Moving Forward

Let me let you in honestly, on what I am thinking, I am just going to blurt it all out. I welcome, encourage, and would run to your house with a latte and hug you if I could, for any and all feedback or thoughts. Here are some ideas I have been pondering for this space…

How about a branch of Tiny Oranges called TWEEN ORANGES? A place for me to talk about the issues parents of tweens are facing today. Would you be interested?

But what about all those mamas with TINY ORANGES? I loved having resources and tips and sharing life when I was in the trenches of having babies and young kids. I feel like I still want this to be a place where mamas can connect. But it’s just not my phase of life anymore. Is anyone out there reading this, someone with littles, who might want to take on writing about life with tiny oranges? Drop me an email, jennifer @ tinyoranges.com. Let’s talk.

I don’t have the answers today, but like my therapist said, just start writing.  The posts to come might feel more like a stream of random consciousness but I just want to get back in the saddle. Will you take the ride with me?

Life is so hard. Life is so beautiful. Life is so unpredictable. I want to share it all.

In the meantime, here are 5 random things I want to share in upcoming blog posts since I am talking about random streams of consciousness, and want to get some ideas out on this paper.

No. 1.  I love my Instant Pot. You might be saying, welcome to the year 2018, Jen. But truly, for anyone that doesn’t have it…TOTAL game changer! I will share my favorite recipes please share yours when I post because I am really obsessed and finding those no fail IP recipes make me happy.

No. 2. You guys. This article on teens and phones. Wow. I am working on a blog follow up with my own letter that suits my 11-year-old in the stage she is at and want to share.

No. 3. Books. I love to read. Love, love, love to read. But I need page turners, books that grab you from the get to. Recently discovered Holly Seddon.  I am a fan. Want to share more page turners. Here’s a list of 15 of my all time faves. Want to do a new updated list.

No. 4. OC Locals. Have you been to the old lighthouse / lookout tower thing in Laguna? Lived here my whole life and just discovered with the family this weekend. Will share deets. Super cool. 

No. 5. Gotta EARN it sometimes! My daughter begged me to go to a $675 gymnastics camp this summer, of which the price seemed exorbitant – just learned how to spell that word – and we said, OK, if you want to go that badly, dad and I will pay for half, but you have to find a way to make money so you can pay for half as well. She has made over $240 selling something in just over a month! Super cool, will share.

How about we start there? Love you guys. Until next time…

xo,

jen

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Marriage Advice Better Than “Don’t Go To Bed Mad”

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My husband and I celebrate 15 years of marriage today, and while that makes me feel giddy and proud, there is also something about the fact we have been marriage for that long, that is making me feel really…old. Like, really? Has it really be 15 years? Wow.

We have been through a lot in those 15 years.

The first 14 pretty much fell in the “for better” category.  When life is sailing along crisis-free, it’s easy to take life for granted. This year, with the tragic loss of my mom, we have been undoubtedly been through “for worse”. Yet, he has stood by my side every step. God bless him.

For all the awful things I am going through grieving the loss of my mom, I think how awful it must be for him, to always being the strong one while watching your wife grieve. But we made it through, and we are still making it through. Witnessing his commitment to us has strengthened us. It might be one of the silver linings, we are stronger as a result of this “for worse” year. Nothing tests a relationship like crisis.

Marriage Advice

Photo cred: Melissa Wilson

 

My mom and I had the time of our life planning our wedding back in 2001. We were two peas-in-a-pod with our love for parties, celebrations and “cute details”.  The wedding was the party to end all parties for both of us and we had SO much fun together.

After the wedding, she gave me as a gift, a secret journal she kept starting with the day we got engaged. In it, she documented all the details of the engagement, planning and wedding and all the things we did together.

At the end of the journal, my parents both shared their tips and advice on marriage. My parents were married 46 years and were one of those couples that had something special. They were genuinely, truly happy together.

Here they are on August 16th, 1969…

parents collage

I pulled out the Journal today to read her words again.

Here are some my mom said…

“The promise and commitment of marriage is the most incredible gift.”

Treat your husband as your best friend every day of your life.”

“There will be ups & downs, highs & lows, but always be there for each other.”

Listen to each other and compromise if needed.”

“….and kiss him every night when you or he walks in!”

“Always” and “nevers” advice from my dad…

“Always listen to your partner twice as much as you talk. After all, God gave us two ears and one mouth.”

Never use sarcasm with each other, it’s often times an insult in disguise.”

“Always remember what is easy or difficult for you might not be easy or difficult for your partner. Embrace your differences, for they are what makes your marriage unique.”

“Always make your partner look good in front of others.

Never keep secrets from one another. Share feelings and try not to keep things inside and you’ll both grow.”

Never make major decisions when you are acutely emotional. Wait a day, take 100 deep breaths.  Most of the stupid decisions I have made in my life have been during times of high emotion.”

“Always treat your partner even better than you would your best friend.

“Never set your partner up to fail, rather set your partner up to succeed.

And then my moms ends with…

“And now you can even better understand why I love your father so much! He is an incredible person, I am so lucky to have him as my partner in life!”

Someone hand me the tissues.

This past weekend we celebrated our anniversary in Laguna Beach and had dinner at The Deck, which used to be a wedding venue called Pacific Edge, where we got married.

When we walked in I felt immediately nostalgic, thinking of that day, my mom and how special that place was to her as well. At that exact moment,  a guy walks right towards me with this amazing monarch butterfly on his finger and I tell him I believe it is for me. He hands it to me. I just know it was a sign from her, letting me know she is still right here with us.  Hug your loved ones today friends. Give your husband or wife an extra kiss. Appreciate each other.  Life is fleeting.

thebutterfly

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Things To Say to Someone in Grief

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grief

Today I am writing about “things to say to someone in grief” because I am that someone.

I lost my mom in June, you can read about it here if you missed it. I never envisioned writing about Grief on my happy blog dedicated to sharing juicy ideas but to not write about Grief would be unauthentic because life isn’t always happy.

Losing my mom was my first great Loss, and Grief is new for me. When broken with pain life shifts. Please bear with me as I pave the way through it and navigate this new world.

Because I am my mother’s daughter, and she was the most positive person you ever would meet, I am consistently looking for the blessings and silver linings  and I hope this post might help someone at a loss of what to say to someone in grief.

When you have a friend or loved one living with Grief things can get awkward in face-to-face interactions. Especially the first time you see someone post Loss.

I have been that person, wanting to say the right thing, wanting to express myself in a way that is comforting but not really knowing what that is. But unless you have lived through this, you don’t really know. Therefore, lots of times people will not saying anything. So here are some ideas.

Things to Say to Someone in Grief 

If you have a feeling you want to say something, PLEASE DO! Worrying about what to say or if you should say something can be sensed and saying something is better than nothing.

Truly.

If it is the first time seeing the person since their Loss, acknowledge it with a simple hug and “I’m so sorry for your Loss.” You will know quickly if the person wants to talk about it or brushes it off and changes the topic, but at least you acknowledged it and then you can move on.

And instead of a blanket, “How are YOU doing?” or “How is your dad?” get more specific and ask “How are you doing today?” or “How has this week gone for you?” or “How was your dad the last time you saw him?”

A general “how are you?” is hard to answer because there are no words to even describe how I am after losing a Great Love. It’s AWFUL. Horrible. Heart-wrenching. Painful. Lonely. It SUCKS beyond measure.

But not all of the time.

The truth is that some days and some moments are OK, some moments even better than OK.

If you ask how the person is doing today or this week, it allows them the freedom to say, “I am doing actually pretty good today!” Or, “Today is a bad day.”  Whatever the case, the question is not as overwhelming as the general “How are you?”

Other comforting things to say to someone in grief or crisis:

“There are no words. I’m so sorry.” Because there are no right words or magic words.
“I’m here for you.” Always nice to hear someone cares about you and is there for you.
“You are so strong.” I had a mom at school look at me, put her hand on her heart, and say, “You are so strong. So strong.” I realized it DOES take strength to carry on “normal life,”  so I really appreciated that. 

Thanks for being there with me and for me through this. If you have anything to add that have brought you comfort, or any other pieces of advice, PLEASE comment below.

So much love,
Jen

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The Hardest Year

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Me and Mom on our last Mother’s Day together 2016

I wrote and rewrote this sentence so many times I am sick of thinking how to say this, so I am just going to say it because there is no good way:

My mom passed away at the end of June after a 10 month battle with pancreatic cancer at 68 years old.

Writing that my mom passed away still takes my breath away.

I started this post many times over the past month and wasn’t ready yet. Grief is a giant roller coaster. The previous drafts were written when I was at the bottom of the coaster.  Today happens to be a day when I am at the top so I figured this was a good day to get this post done.

My blogging was really put on hold as we took on her illness as a family. I am starting to realize now how much I want to be back here, writing, although I am not the same person I was a year ago.

The Story

I am going to be brief and to the fact.  Mom was diagnosed with Stage III (could have possibly been IV) pancreatic cancer last August. At the time of diagnosis, her tumor was advanced and inoperable. She underwent chemo for six months and the beginning went as good as it can for chemo. We were very blessed that she got five “good” months during treatment where we were able to spend as much time together as possible.

After six months of treatment, scans and blood tests confirmed the chemo had stopped working and the cancer had spread. She was supposed to start a new chemo regimen when the pain escalated so much she was admitted to the ER where tests confirmed she had a blocked bile duct due to the cancer and a stent had to be replaced to open it up.

After the surgeon got in there he could see what the cancer had done. It had spread, it was aggressive, it was invasive. Not only on her pancreas but was eating away at her intestine so much that her stomach couldn’t empty. She was in so much pain.

He told us the words you never want to hear. “I’m so sorry. There’s nothing else medically we can do. It’s time to call in hospice. Get her home and keep her comfortable.”  My dad asked how long she had left. “Days to weeks.”

Days to Weeks

She lived for 27 days at home with hospice support. My dad, sister and I were there with her every day. Being a part of the death process is mystical; it transcends human understanding. It was a sacred time, equal parts beauty and love mixed with extreme grief and overwhelming anxiety. The people who work with hospice are truly extraordinary human beings with a calling.

We surrounded her with love, conversation, laughter. We watched old movies together. My sister sang to her. We prayed. She fought to get every last second with us here on this earth. She was SUCH a fighter. To live for 27 days in the state she was in was nothing short of a miracle.  Although it was by far the hardest thing I have ever experienced, I will always treasure this time with her.

Life After

When she did finally pass we all had a sense of relief that she was finally released from her pain and the disease that destroyed her body.  We are Christians, so we have our faith and believe her spirit lives on in heaven with God and we will see her again. Having a spiritual belief and faith has been so important to our family during the most difficult time.

That doesn’t change the fact that there is a huge hole in our family and in our lives.  She was our beacon, the rock of our entire family.  Figuring out our roles and how to exist without your beacon is a process, and a painful one, but one we are learning, baby steps at a time.

We let almost seven weeks pass before having her Celebration of Life memorial service, which was last weekend, and it was an overwhelmingly beautiful event filled with so much love.

Preparing for the service over those weeks was incredibly hard, but turned out to be an important part of the grieving process for me.  It was so painful I found myself wondering how people DO this?

We decided to do a slide show and at first I couldn’t even stand to look at photos of her, it was so hard.  But the more I did, the more my eyes were opened to how HAPPY she was. How HAPPY our family was. How much time we spent together. How much LOVE we shared. These images of her…. healthy, vibrant, sparkly….these images started to replace the ones I had of her at the end when she was so very, very sick. It was a gift to remember all the happy images.

I also decided I wanted to speak at the service. My mom was so awesome I wanted to share her awesomeness as a mother with everyone.

Writing has always been cathartic for me, and going through the process of writing my eulogy was healing.  I sobbed and sobbed for weeks while working on it, but through the pain, I was able to recognize just how BLESSED I was she was my mother. How special and close our relationship was. How wonderful my memories were. I was able to find joy in my words. And as a bonus, I cried so much writing it that I was able to get up there and deliver it without one tear. I was able to speak with a sense of gratitude instead of grief.

What I Know for Sure

In the midst of the darkest days when you are most shattered with pain and grief, opportunities also arise to see beauty and light and I now know these things for sure….

Angels exist. They are the people God sends to take care of you and love you during the most difficult of times. People we knew who stepped up and showed up in such a way our hearts will be forever touched, and people we didn’t know yet who were there to help us through. From the moment she was diagnosed, people have been put in place all along the journey to see us through. We are on earth to love and care for each other.  There is no other time than in a crisis when you will see angels shine so brightly.

Grief is too much to take on alone. My dad, sister and I are all in individual counseling and my dad has been regularly attending a bereavement support group, to which there are no words for how grateful I am he is getting help and support. Feelings of grief are so intense and so overwhelming, you need the help of professionals to navigate the emotions and give you tools to help you heal.

There is no way around the grief, you have to move through it. I found myself saying, I wish I could just push a button and fast forward to next year.  I wish I didn’t have to live this upcoming year of “firsts.” You know, the first time I don’t call her to share which teachers my kids got, first time she misses my daughter’s soccer games and gymnastics meets, first birthday without her, first Thanksgiving, Christmas…the list goes on and on. It hurts. SO BADLY. But there is no short cut, this next year and likely the year after that are going to hurt, a lot. Some days hurt more than others. There is no recipe for getting through it, but you have to grieve. Some days hurt less than others, and some days it changes from moment to moment. My hope is for time to help heal.

Her spirit is with us. People have said they feel the presence of their loved one after they passed and I never knew exactly what they meant, but I do now. I have felt her presence with me and have seen signs that she is very pouring out her love on us and her spirit lives on. I am certain of this.

There is no time like the present. I don’t want to sound cliche… but each day with your loved ones is a gift! One year ago today we didn’t know my mom had cancer, today she is gone.  No one knows what the future holds so take the days when your loved ones are healthy and CELEBRATE. Tell people you love them, take lots of photos and videos of your loved ones, spend time with the people you love, heal stupid arguments or misunderstandings.  With the people that matter to you – live your life in such a way that you would feel like you had no regrets.

Pancreatic cancer sucks. It’s horrendous. It’s often detected too late and the five year survival rate is in the single digits. Unacceptable. My family will fight for progress for pancreatic cancer until there is a cure.  In honor of my mom’s legacy, we have set up a fundraiser in her memory to benefit the Pancreatic Cancer Action Network. You can make a donation of any amount here – > http://support.pancan.org/goto/InMemoryofJulie

Please pray for me and my family. This is going to be a process for us all. I look back to getting back here more regularly. I miss you and I miss our community.  I will be back.  Once again, in baby steps, as we all adjust to our new normal.  So much love to you all….xoxoxo jen

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Facing a Fear to Save Lives

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Facing Blood Donation Fear to Save Lives

Facing Blood Donation Fear to Save Lives

Was it Eleanor Roosevelt that said, “Do one thing every day that scares you.”?

Well, last week I did something that has scared me for my entire life when I put on my big girl panties and donated blood for the very first time and I DID IT!!!  Man, does it feels good to conquer a fear!

Now that I know what to expect, next time will be easier, and for anyone who has feared donating blood, I am writing this post to share the real scoop on exactly how it works.  You too can do it! It’s really not that big of a deal. But first…

Why Is It Important to Donate Blood?

From www.redcrossblood.org:

* 1 pint of donated blood can save 3 lives
* Every 2 seconds someone in the U.S. needs blood
* Approximately 41,000 blood donations are needed every day
* 1.6 million people are diagnosed with cancer yearly, many will need blood sometimes daily, during chemotherapy
* A single car accident victim can require as many as 100 pints of blood
* Donated blood has a shelf life, which is why continuous donations are needed

blooddrive Facing Blood Donation Fear: I Did It for Ben

This beautiful boy, Ben, lost his life last year at the tender age of 4-years-old to rare forms of leukemia.

Over the course of his treatment, he received over 50 blood transfusions as well as a bone marrow transplant from a donor that was a match in Germany.

Ben’s family goes to our elementary school. His passing affected our community deeply.

One of his mother’s friends organized an American Cross Blood Drive and Be the Match bone marrow registry collection at our local elementary school.

When I saw the flyer and heard about it, I knew this was my chance to face a lifelong fear, donating blood. I might not have been able to do it before, but I could deal with facing blood donation fear for Ben and for any people who might need my blood.

How to Donate Blood

First off, here is information eligibility. All good? Time to find a drive!

1. Find a Blood Drive Near You

It’s really easy and blood drives are going on every day. All you need to do is visit www.redcrossblood.org, then put in your zip code under “Find a Blood Drive” and you will see all the blood drives close to you.  Select the one you want, then make an appointment that is most convenient or drop in during operating hours.

2. Prep Your Bod for Blood Giving 

I was told it is important to eat a healthy meal beforehand, not too heavy or greasy, and drink an additional 16 oz of non-caffeinated fluids before as well. Also, pay attention to getting some iron-rich foods in your diet in the days before and get a good night’s sleep. You can find out more tips on how to prepare here.

3. Save Time with Rapid Pass 

The day of the blood collection ONLY (has to be the day of) visit www.redcrossblood.org/rapidpass and you can complete the health questionnaire online before going. You will also be fascinated with the types of questions you will be asked.

4. Show Up + Go Through Registration 

Bring your photo ID, list of any medications you are taking, and budget enough time for the whole donation process, which for me was about 1 hour 15 mins total.  You will first be given a little mini physical…temperature, blood pressure, etc. and they will take a prick of blood from your finger to test and make sure you are eligible to give.

5.  It’s “Go” Time

I told my registration lady that I wanted the very best, most experienced person to do the needle since it was my first time.  She told me OK, and matched me up with someone. Now I have no idea if this really was the best person, but psychologically it helped me to think so. Finally the moment arrived, and it was time for me to face my fear. I was led to a bed and laid down.

It’s so mental.

It took several minutes to prep everything, and then finally I was given a little foam block and told to squeeze.  It was go time. The needle went in, little pinch, and I was told just to relax and lightly squeeze the foam thing about every 5 seconds for the duration.

If you are squeamish, just don’t look. I actually closed my eyes for the WHOLE ENTIRE TIME. I didn’t look one time at anything. I just tried to think of other things.  In the future I would bring headphones and listen to music or listen to something distracting.  I took the time to pray and so some deep breathing and relaxation. I tried to keep my mind off of it.

Next thing I knew, the guy said, “You’re done!”

I was DONE?! That was it? I asked him how long it took to actually get my blood they needed, and it was 8 minutes.  Interesting. I asked him the average amount of time, and he said 7 – 12 minutes.  It’s quick!!!

6. After You Donate Blood 

I was told to just lay there for a few moments after, and then slowly sit up. They gave me a bottle of water and told me to drink all of it while I was sitting on the edge of the bed. I felt a little light headed, but nothing terrible. However, I thought I was OK to get up finally, but one of the nurses turned me right around and told me to go sit down for a little while longer.  I must not have been as ready as I thought. I probably sat on the edge of the table for about 15 minutes.

Afterwards I transitioned to the snack station where I drank another bottle of water and had some cookies. By the time I was ready to leave, I felt pretty good, and then I made sure to go home and eat a meal and drank extra water for the rest of the day.

They told me no alcohol for 24 hours and no lifting or vigorous exercise after, so plan accordingly.

The rest of the day I felt a little woozy and out of it, that’s the best way to describe it, but could carry on my normal afternoon activities. By evening I felt almost 100%.  Overall, I was FINE!!! And I DID IT!!!!!

I felt so blessed to be able to face this fear. More than that, I loved feeling like I was a part of something good that came out of something so tragic.  Ben and his legacy are saving lives and that is so incredibly powerful.  Here I am with his beautiful mom, Liz, what an amazing event to be a part of.

Are you interested in hosting a blood drive for your community? Click here to find out how. It’s easier than you think!

meandliz

 

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