I still remember the day Sean died in almost pristine clarity. It’s funny how that works. I can’t remember what I read in my macroeconomics textbook last night, but I can remember every agonizing second of waiting for Mike to call me back. When we got off the phone, I slipped into the passenger side of my car and I screamed.
Lately I just miss him.
Maybe I’ve finally stepped into the acceptance stage.
It’s been four years, but every time it snows I still think of the night of his wake. How that room was the very last place I wanted to be, but the only place I could be. How we slipped and slid our way from the funeral home, cars packed with friends who would’ve otherwise walked in the storm. How, in the morning, the roads were barely clear but we had a funeral to get through. How Sean wasn’t buried ’til the spring, and we had to do it all over again.
Only that time, we stood outside and I cried my contacts out.
I still can’t look at pictures of him. There’s a brief flash of delighted recognition, then a hard pinch and I have to look away. Because this person who was so vibrant and colored so many other people’s lives is just… gone.
Three years ago today, I was sitting at the desk at my part-time office assistant job, chatting with the 90-something-year-old woman who’d helped build it from the ground up. Mrs. D was an absolute doll—though I can’t say the same for her son’s girlfriend. Anyway, it was a slow day, so Mrs. D and I kept each other company while working on odds and ends. Then I got the text.
“Sean passed away,” Mike wrote.
The world flipped. My mind went as white and cold as snow. No. Then I entered the first stage of grief: denial. This has to be a joke. And it’s not funny.
Sean and I had been friends for 12 years—ever since the day we’d sat together on the bus my freshman year and bonded over our Gameboys. Our friendship was the oldest one I had, one that had changed very little over the years. We were super close, though a little too alike in our short tempers; we often had heated but friendly debates about anything and everything. We’d seen each other through tragedy and milestones: his first painting sold, my first book published, him moving in with Gabi (the love of his life), me marrying Mike (the love of mine).
So when Mike texted me those three little words, I couldn’t believe it.
“Excuse me,” I told Mrs. D. “I need to step outside and make a call.”
“Of course!” She smiled warmly at me, then continued what she was doing at her desk.
I walked out to my car on shaking legs. I hadn’t had a cigarette in two years, but at that moment I needed one. I opened the passenger door and sat down. Then I called Mike.
I tried to take long, slow breaths. Why, my brain demanded to know, would Mike text me something like that and then walk away from his phone? It was starting to feel less like a sick joke and more like a horrible misunderstanding. I couldn’t just sit outside forever. So I logged into Facebook.
As I scrolled through my feed, I told myself that I’d see everything was fine. I’d see Sean’s or Gabi’s latest post, and then I could kill Mike for pulling such a nasty prank. Who does that? my brain insisted.
He’s never done anything like that before, though. He may be a goofball but he’s not mean. Never mean.
And then I saw it.
A mutual friend of Sean’s and mine had posted something along the lines of “Just found out an old Kaynor friend passed away.”
Just as the tears started to blur my vision, as I frantically tried to tell myself maybe it was someone else, Mike called.
My poor husband couldn’t talk.
In his shock, he’d managed to fire off those three words and then he’d broken down.
He’d seen it on Facebook, too, but the post had specifically named Sean.
“No,” I sobbed. “We would’ve heard something from Gabs.”
Meanwhile, our lovely, sweet girl was barely keeping it together while she sat with his parents and helped make arrangements. She’d wanted to tell us herself because she didn’t want us to find out via Facebook, but understandably hadn’t had the chance to yet.
It was true.
All of it.
Still, my brain insisted that if I just went to Sean and Gabi’s, I’d see that it was all a joke. Or a mistake. I wouldn’t even be mad that they’d pulled such a mean prank. I’d just give him a big hug.
This was the second stage of my grief: bargaining.
The rest of January passed by in a haze. There were nights at Sean and Gabi’s place. I stopped sleeping, binge-watching Lost instead because we’d long had a debate about it and I guess I needed to put that to bed. There was a wake and a funeral, and two autopsies that gave us no cause of death.
Only a black hole in all of our hearts.
He was only 28. He had his entire life ahead of him—along with a beautiful, loving girl who he was going to marry. It wasn’t fair. They’d been in our wedding; we were supposed to be in theirs, too, damn it. The four of us were going to start families together, continue our Friday night tradition of games and drinks, and grow old together. I still hadn’t even gotten him to sit down and watch Game of Thrones or Firefly with me—two shows that I knew he’d love but he hadn’t made the time for yet.
He left paintings unfinished and goals unachieved. None of us could grasp that someone so young could just pass away, for no reason at all.
I still can’t, not really.
It has gotten easier, though—at least, a little. I no longer hope he’ll text me on a Friday morning with “What are you guys doing tonight?” Hanging out with you guys, duh. I still want to text him every once in a while, before I remember. And I always wish I knew what he’d think about certain things, like the new DC and Marvel movies, the LEGO movie we all went to see just weeks after losing him, and the new Coheed album. I know we’d probably debate it, but I’d give whole limbs to be able to argue with him again.
Today makes three years since the day Sean passed away. Much has changed since then. Our group is now scattered across Connecticut, rarely connecting because of our hectic schedules. Mike started painting, beginning with a memorial piece for Gabi. And me… I poured my grief into my stories.
Rather than feeling sad, I now cherish the memories—of which there are so many good ones. Though I’ll always miss him, the grief is no longer debilitating and consuming. I’m not religious, so I don’t know what I believe about the afterlife, but I do know that someday, somehow, we’ll cross paths again.
Because ever since I met Sean in 2002, our paths crossed again and again—even when we weren’t really speaking. I’ve always believed that there are certain people we’re meant to have in our lives—people we instantly connect with because in a sense, we already know each other.
So even though my heart is heavy today, it’s the good memories that make me smile and remind me of how precious the people in our lives are. As they say in Rent, there’s “no day but today” to live our lives and appreciate the people we love.
If you’ve been around for any period of time, you know I’m all about goals rather than resolutions. Setting actionable, achievable, and accountable goals is far more productive than making promises.
Usually, I keep my goals for the year down to a short list. Recently I heard about Level 10 Life, which is basically just your life, broken down into 10 areas. You’re supposed to set 10 goals for each area—100 in total—with the objective of eventually fulfilling all areas of your life. I don’t know about you, but I don’t think it’s possible to ever reach 100% fulfillment; there’s no such thing as perfection. Plus, I think 100 goals is a bit overwhelming.
Goals are supposed to be challenging yet within reach. If you set the bar too high, you’ll set yourself up for failure.
A few weeks ago, I found a wheel of life pin that I loved. It focused on eight areas of life rather than 10, with one goal in each area. The objective is to achieve more balance in your life; once you reach a certain goal, you set a new one in that area.
I tried making the wheel of life and failed epically. After several attempts, I realized I didn’t need a Pinterest-worthy craft to help me set goals for 2017. I sat down with my white board and several dry erase markers, and got busy. This list is the result.
My Goals for 2017
Get curtains for all windows. Though it has its quirks, I love our little country apartment, and hope to stay here until we’re ready to start a family. (That’s a whole other blog post, so stay tuned.) To make our place look even more home-y, I’d like to get curtains for each window. Fortunately—in this case, anyway—there aren’t many windows; our apartment was an attic in a former life. I’m starting with the kitchen, with the front door (which naturally has the oddest measurements ever, and I can’t seem to find anything). Challenge accepted!
Get arrow, hummingbird, and spade tattoos. 2013 was the year I got married, and probably one of the best years of my life. But 2014 and 2015 were easily two of the worst years of my life. I lost one of my best friends in 2014 and in 2015, I lost myself. PTSD finally caught up with me and I completely bottomed out. But in 2016, I got better.
There’s a quote that really spoke to me in 2015-2016:
An arrow can only be shot by pulling it backward. So when life is dragging you back with difficulties, it means that it’s going to launch you into something great.
I don’t know where it originated, but it really resonated with me—especially regarding my PTSD. I truly cannot explain how strong I feel. I’ve got my voice and my magic back, and I feel more me than I’ve ever felt. This is why I want to get an arrow on my ribs, on my right side—to remind me of how I shot forward in 2016. Something simple and delicate (my ribs do swell, after all, so tattooing that area might be a bit… challenging). Something like this, in this same spot:
I think this design is the one I’ll go with.
I’ve long wanted to get twin hummingbirds on my collarbones, for my Popi. He loved watching the birds at the lake, and the “hummers” were his favorites—especially the ruby throated hummingbird. Growing up, I always felt enveloped by magic whenever I could look fast enough to see them. Popi had hawk eyes and saw everything; he was the magic.
I like the general placement of the hummingbirds in the above pin, but I don’t love the design. My plan is to have Jay—the artist who did my hydrangeas and tiger lilies—design and tattoo my hummingbirds. I love his style and I know he’ll help me come up with something I love.
Finally, I want to get a spade in memory of one of my best friends, Sean. He loved spades—I’m pretty sure it was an old nickname, though I have to check with his girlfriend to make 100% sure—and had one tattooed on his forearm. I’ve been racking my brain, trying to figure out the perfect tattoo to remember him by. It suddenly dawned on me the other day that I should get a spade. I’ll probably add it to the sleeve I’m working on, on my left arm.
I’d like to get something for my Biz Noni, too, but for one, I’ll be lucky if I can afford three tattoos in one year. Plus, I kind of already got something for her: my hydrangeas around my Fievel. She was still alive back then, but my dad was talking about transplanting her hydrangeas in the yard. I thought about how amazing it was, that those hydrangeas stubbornly continued to bloom year after year after year—even though she couldn’t physically get outside to nurture them anymore. It reminded me of her; she was “up there” in age, but remembered everything and had survived much. I got the hydrangeas tattooed as a reminder that I can survive, too, even in the toughest of circumstances.
Pay off all debt and past due bills. I won’t bore you with the details, but between my student loan, some credit cards that I opened to help us out, our bills, and my creative team from Booktrope, I’ve racked up a teensy bit of debt. I say “teensy” because I was panicking but when I added it all up, I realized it’s really not that bad. Some people are thousands of dollars in debt; I’m only about $5K in. Still, I’d really like to make it go away—especially the damned student loan that’s been hanging over my head for years.
Long story short, that student loan is from a half semester that I had to withdraw from due to health issues. It was too late to withdraw without penalty, so I got stuck with the bill. I’ve been trying to pay that thing off for almost 10 years now.
My accumulated debt grew to a ginormous monster in my head. I’d wake up in the middle of the night, heart pounding, terrified I’d go to jail for delinquency. That’s totally not the case, but anxiety lies. When I actually broke it down on paper, though, it suddenly became a teeny baby monster. Now that I’m writing for Textbroker and regaining momentum in my career, it doesn’t seem completely impossible to overcome, either.
They say the best way to pay off debt is to make regular payments on everything while going really hard at one particular bill. I haven’t quite decided which one to tackle first, though.
Finish all currently open series. 2016 was all about regaining some lost momentum; 2017 is going to be all about closing boxes.
Right now, I have three unfinished series: the Comes in Threes, Not Just Any Love, and South of Forever series. While the Not Just Any Love series is actually just two companion standalones (Just One More Minute and the forthcoming Char/Amarie novel), the Comes in Threes series has been in limbo for almost four years.
I’ll be releasing the final South of Forever book soon, and then my plan is to get back to Quinn, Tara, and everyone else from Crazy Comes in Threes. I’ll be rewriting CCIT; I won’t be changing anything about the story, but I’ll be making some structural changes—that way I can pull off my master scheme. I’m super excited about what I have in store. More news on that soon!
Go on one date every month. Thanks to the holidays, health issues, and financial stress, Mike and I haven’t been able to spend much time together lately. Our hot dates have recently consisted of doctors’ appointments and him helping me put pants on. So romantic. 🙄 Not!
Money is beyond tight, but I’d really like to do something every month—even if it’s just a movie night in. We’re both always busy, but I make sure we eat dinner together (unless he’s working), with no tech at the table so we’re really focusing on each other. Still, I’d like to do actual dates.
Last month, my Noni got us a gift certificate to our favorite sushi place, so we went to lunch after my rheumatology appointment. (Note to self: blog about that ASAP.) It was nice to get out and spend time together, and we have enough left on the gift certificate to do it again. Little things like that keep our relationship strong.
Host at least one family dinner. Due to my arthritis, it’s really hard for me to pull off gatherings at our place. Not only is it physically difficult, but it also takes a major toll on my energy. The last time we hosted anything was Mike’s birthday party—in October. It was so nice to have both sides of our family all together, but I paid for it dearly in the days after. I always do.
Originally, we really wanted to host weekly Sunday dinners, but that’s just not possible. I’m slowly adjusting to my limitations, which means not pushing myself and accepting things for what they are. Still, I’d like to have at least one Sunday dinner this year; they were a huge part of Mike’s family when he was growing up, and it’s really important to him that the tradition continues.
My plan is to give Plaquenil and Prednisone some more time and, when the weather gets warmer, set a date.
Find a treatment that brings pain down to a 4/10. I’m hoping Plaquenil is The One. I’ve accepted that I’ll probably never have a zero pain level again, but if my new normal could be a 4/10, that would be great. At that level, the pain is tolerable; once it gets to five or even six, it’s debilitating. Honestly, I’ll even take a five at this point; last Sunday, it got all the way down to a five, and I felt amazing. It’s been an eight lately, which is still better than a nine or 10.
But four is about my normal level when I’m not in a flareup. If Plaquenil can decrease the flareups and their severity, I’ll be happy.
I’d also really like a diagnosis more definitive than “it might be Lupus” or “it’s definitely enthesitis-related arthritis.” Right now, my chart has Undifferentiated Connective Tissue Disease (UCTD) as my diagnosis, which translates to “undiagnosed autoimmune disease.” It means there’s definitely something inflammatory and autoimmune going on, but my labs are inconclusive. There are two camps in rheumatology: one that relies more on symptoms to diagnose, and the other that relies more on labs. My rheumatologist falls into the latter, and so did my former rheumatologist. There’s nothing wrong with that, but for my own closure, I’d really like to know the name of the disease that has completely and irrevocably changed my life.
I may never get that. I may have to practice accepting that. Time will tell.
Write “writing through trauma” book as a blog series. I’d like to tell my story—and help others write through theirs. Writing has long been a huge part of my life. I’ve written my way through every major event, be it in a journal or weaving my pain into a novel. The most important writing I’ve ever done, though, were my trauma stories.
I’d like to teach others how to write through their pain. Eventually, I’d even like to lead workshops for local organizations who help sexual assault survivors, but I’ve got to start small. That, for me, means writing a how to book.
I’ve started several times. I keep getting stuck because I’m not sure how much of my personal story I should share; I don’t want to take away from the advice I’m giving, but I’d also like to show how writing through my own trauma helped me. I’ve decided to take my outline and the roughly 10K words I’ve written, and turn it into a blog series that can be later converted into a book. This way, I can get some reader feedback on it while I’m putting it together.
Stay tuned, because that will be starting very soon.
What are your goals for 2017? Let me know in the comments!