Personal Stuff

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

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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Increase Your Happiness in 2 Minutes a Day

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increaseyourhappiness

Before Christmas I was bedridden with the flu and unable to do anything except watch endless T.V.  I watched countless Sex and the City reruns, episodes of Hoarders (which made me feel like I actually am pretty organized), This is 40, the comedy which I actually found to actually be a little depressing, then I happened upon Oprah’s SuperSoul Sessions on the OWN Network and

I

was

hooked.

You guys, please DVR the shows or watch the speakers online, INCREDIBLE. And

Get

ready

to

be

inspired.

One speaker I fell in love with was Shawn Achor who spoke on The Life-Altering Power of a Positive Mind < – watch it now. Please.

I am a total believer in the power of positive thinking and found his research and points to be SO powerful. We can transform our lives at any time, with the power of our thoughts and the renewing of our minds and optimism is a daily spiritual practice.

Increase Your Happiness in a Daily 2 Minute Positive Habit

One of the biggest take aways I got from this session were simple ways we can increase our happiness in just two minutes a day. That’s all! Fast forward to about the 27 minute mark in the talk if you are short on time, but please go back and watch the whole thing when you can.

Here is my favorite 2 minute daily positive habit:

Take a moment to send a positive email or text, thanking or praising someone you know.  Like he says on the video, after doing it for 3 days you will be hooked. And maybe, just maybe you will start a ripple effect of happiness.

Thanks for letting me share this.

Here is my 2 minute positive email to all of you taking the time to read this sentence right now. I want you to know just how deeply I appreciate you taking your time to read my words and how much I appreciate your support. More than words can even express, THANK YOU!

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