Be real


Grief strikes in the strangest moments.

I work really hard to write honest and raw emotion in my blog.  I don’t do it for anyone but myself.  It forces me to work through some of the toughest emotions I have ever had to work through in my life.

The other day, I was talking to my boyfriend and he mentioned a particular fitness membership that he wanted to join.  I don’t remember much of what he said after he started to talk about it because inside of me froze.  Why?  Jay had this membership.

I am about to get real with you.  I am going to break down how my brain processed this VERY simple mention that there was no way he could have known would affect me the way it did.

I heard my boyfriend mention the membership.  My brain instantly shut down on listening to him.  In my mind I relived a conversation I had with Jay about this membership and how I had wanted to join.  I ended up not joining for my own (and some of Jay’s) reasons.  It may not have been one of our best conversations.

Still not listening to much of what my boyfriend was saying, I then see in my mind when Jay came home and said he had joined the membership.  As he worked hard and got healthier, I watched, being so proud of him and what he was able to accomplish.  Truthfully, a little jealous at what he was able to do.

Still not paying much attention to what my boyfriend is saying, I then hear Jay from May 9th, 2012 when he walked back in the house to get his workout clothes before he left for work and finding him sitting next to Aaron when I walked back down the stairs to our first floor.  I see him walk out the door.  The last time I would see him alive.  Then I see myself answering my cell phone around noon that day getting the news.

Most people watch their words around me, hoping to not say something that will trigger my grief.  They try not to joke about things like “I about had a heart attack”.  When they are angry with their significant others they try not to say “I could have killed him for saying that.”  Or the classic in reference to their own life…”It happened in a heartbeat.”

Being real with you, these words don’t get me so much.  It is those things you least expect.  It is the animal of grief.  They sneak up on me and it’s not obvious to many why I am having such a reaction to things.

I am blessed beyond words because when these moments happen, when I am in my head as my boyfriend says, we talk it out. Is it an easy conversation?  Not always.  What it does is brings me one step closer to understanding all of me.  It puts that piece of the past where it belongs, in the past.  Those in my present and in my future are here to enjoy life with me.  They do not need to be drug down by my past and my grief.  But, they can take the journey with me in understanding myself.

Going to this level of things was not always easy.  It was hard as hell sometimes.  I cannot anticipate it happening, that is not living.  What I do is I recognize when it is happening and I work through it.  I make time to understand what is happening.

I choose to understand.  I want to be understood.  I want to be real.


United Way and Amanda the Panda

I am a member of a United Way committee at my employer.  It is the story below that guided my interest in putting my name in for the committee.  When I was selected I was excited.  During conversations planning out our part of the campaign there was mention of “personal stories” making an impact.  I didn’t offer in the meeting but later emailed a few of the members and said I was willing to share my story if they were OK with me doing so.  They were excited to have someone willing to share.  So I wrote it out, I spoke in front of a group at work and then posted the story on our site for others to read.  I post it here for you to read.
Starting in August gave me the opportunity to be here for last year’s United Way campaign. Although my previous employer did a lot with United Way, I had never really looked into it further. Last year, I looked through the organizations helped by United Way thinking I could find an organization one of my friends had utilized, but as I browsed the list, it surprised me to find an organization I had utilized. Today I am going to share my experience with this organization… Amanda the Panda.
Amanda the Panda is a center for Grief and Loss. They offer a full year of FREE grief support, including Weekend Grief Retreats, a Summer Day Camp, 2-4 & 8 week grief support groups, monthly Family nights and fun days sprinkled throughout the year.
Why did I need Amanda the Panda?
In May of 2012, at the age of 33, my husband Jay Taber died of a heart attack. He not only left me a widow, but he left our six-month-old son Aaron without a father. One minute we finally had our family and were living the life we wanted…
…and then in a heartbeat, he was gone.
There are emotions and feelings from the events of those days I fail to find words to describe for you.
When I answered the phone call, being notified something was wrong…
When I walked into the Emergency Room and saw my world crumble in front of me…
Calling Jay’s parents telling them he had died and calling my parents to tell them I needed them as soon as they could get down here…
Or making decisions and answering questions about final wishes, funeral homes and organ donation — things I didn’t expect to talk about until after Jay and I were many years into being grandparents and retirement, at the earliest.
Initially after Jay’s death, I put myself in counseling by myself with a counselor. I had friends talk to me about Amanda the Panda but I didn’t see the point. No one understood what I was feeling. No one could feel the way I did. Four months after his death, I decided to give it a shot. I decided to see what group grief sessions could do for me. What happened, to this day, still shocks me.
In our first week I was asked asked to do this “Pie Chart of emotions.” Slice how I felt into pizza slices, if you will, of which emotions I felt more than others. After the eight weeks of our group sessions were done, we were asked to do this exercise again.
What this picture shows is the difference eight weeks can make. My first pie chart consists of anger, hurt/disbelief, loneliness and sadness. After eight weeks, I still had anger and sadness, but would you believe I added acceptance and happiness? I even cut into my sadness I originally put to make room for more acceptance. I no longer felt alone. I was no longer in disbelief. Two very gray areas in grief were essentially gone. I could breathe again knowing I had worked through those emotions and in the process made some amazing friends who were just like me.
Another exercise we did was picking rocks from a box.

We were told to pick a rock that caught our attention. We were asked to share why the rock caught our attention. This particular rock caught my attention because although there was darkness on one side, there was light on the other. I sat there looking at my rock and I began to understand. There can be darkness in my life, but there is also so much light.

At the end of the eight weeks we were entering December. I felt as prepared as I could be for our first Christmas without Jay. Amanda thePanda gave each of us a “Cheer box.” This cheer box had 25 wrapped presents. Each day either Aaron or I would be able to open a present. There was everything from toys for Aaron, candles for me or a plant for us as a family. After losing such a huge part of our family, to do something simple like this was such a comfort to us in a difficult time.

Amanda the Panda helped me in a way I never imagined I would need. I never wanted to go, but I did. Every day since then I am grateful their service was available for me to utilize.
Amanda the Panda helped me be the daughter, sister, friend and most importantly the mother the people in my life deserve.

Aaron’s heart


I love when people see my posts on FB and then ask me questions.  It reminds me I still have so many emotions and feelings to share with all of you.

The other day, I had to take Aaron to his cardiologist appointment.

When I first told people about his appointment I could see the look.  “Is this a routine visit or is he going because something might or is wrong?”

To set the record straight, Aaron is fine.  The cardiologist appointment we had is a 3 year follow up.

Follow up from what?  Did he have an episode and he is taking medicine?  No.

In September 2012, a little less than 4 months  after losing Jay, I took Aaron to a pediatric cardiologist.  Did we have a true medical concern with symptoms to back it up?  No.

I had visited with an adult cardiologist.  After he explained all the mumbo jumbo from the autopsy as well as the disease listed in the report he asked me a simple question.  He asked, “Alyssa, with everything I have told you, do you have any other concerns?”  I brought a close friend of mine, who understood medical mumbo jumbo, as well as Aaron with me to this appointment and to answer the cardiologist’s question, I pointed to Aaron.  He then said, “Alyssa, the disease is not genetic.  This said, do you still have any concerns.”  Clearly the cardiologist thought I would change my answer but I again pointed to Aaron.  He looked frustrated and so I looked at him and respectfully said, “You did not ask me if I understood everything you have told me about the autopsy or the disease on this report.  You asked me if I had any other concerns, and I am pointing to my concern.”  He nodded his head.  He then referred us to a pediatric cardiologist.

What I think the cardiologist finally understood was it wasn’t about what had happened to Jay.  I understood research had been done to show no genetic tie to what they say caused Jay’s heart attack.  I also understood technically you cannot diagnose someone with a disease like this postmortem.

He finally understood it was about Aaron.  I needed some assurance medically that Aaron was OK.  He understood in order for me to sleep, I needed to have Aaron checked out.  I had to do everything within my power to make sure Aaron was medically OK.  He understood that as Aaron grew older his heart would break when he started to understand and realize what had happened so early in his life.  I had to know I had done everything in my power to understand what I could not see and have evidence his heart was normal.  I had to be able to look Aaron in the eyes and tell him he was physically OK.

As Aaron went through the tests the other day it was only once or twice he was impatient and cried a little bit.  The nurses kept telling him this was not a dr. appt that would hurt.  They just wanted to listen and take a look at his heart.  It is one of these moments I  held his small little hand and said, “baby…they just want listen and check out your heart of gold.  It’s going to be just fine sweetie.”  Deep down I held in every emotion I was feeling.  I could hear myself asking “Why is she taking so many more pictures this time?”  “Why is this test not done yet?”  “Are they hearing something wrong?”  “Can I handle it should he need some kind of treatment?”  I kept them all inside, tucked underneath the hope and thought that everything was going to be fine.

When the tests were done we were sent to our room to wait for the doctor to review the results.  Some of the longest minutes of my life.  As Aaron found the toy to play with in the room he started telling me the colors he saw and plopped down on the floor to play. I found myself thinking, “This is the same room as 3 years ago, that has to be good right?”  “What is taking them so long to review the results?  They must have found something”  And ultimately I forced myself to say “Alyssa…get your shit together here…things will be what they will be…you got this…be the mom he needs, not one who is falling apart.”  Nothing like getting real with your most inner emotions and feelings.

When the doctor walked into the room, I tried to read every mark on his face.  Was he about to give us bad news?  Was he about to tell me everything was great?  I begged to have some glimmer of warning to what was about to be revealed.  Nothing.  Doctors are good at this.  The first thing he did after giving Aaron a high five and shaking my hand he asked, “So how are things going?  How is Aaron doing?  Is he keeping up with the other kids around him?  Is he short of breath or passing out?”  I thought to myself, “Oh good grief, he is asking me questions…what are the answers?…the true answers…he sometimes trips but I mean if you had seen his dad’s feet you would understand…he is 3 almost 4…what do you mean how is he doing…he is a question answering lovable 3 year old who loves epalators (that is elevators for those who don’t understand Aaron speak) , is that normal???”  I opened my mouth and gave him the answers.  After a little back and forth between us he looked at me smiled and said, “everything looks normal and sounds great.”  He must have known after my reaction, that is all I needed to hear.  I held back the tears of happiness.  I smiled and we talked about when we would follow up again to make sure things were still perfect.

We had made it through tests and through hearing the results.  As Aaron and I walked out the doctor popped his head out of his little desk area and said “I have one suggestion for you…”  I instantly thought to myself…”YOU ARE GOING TO TELL ME SOMETHING BAD IN THE HALLWAY???”  He smiled at me (probably having seen the panic in my face) and said “Don’t change the “epalator”.  It will soon be gone and you will be sad.  Enjoy it while you can.”  In that exact moment, this extremely intelligent pediatric cardiologist became human to me and a man I hold close to my heart as the man who helped me see what I couldn’t see and that was that Aaron’s heart is physically fine.

So as we left the doctor’s office, I walked with Aaron hand in hand knowing his heart looked good.  And as I drove to work I thought back to the doctor appointment and even after the tests the nurses had done on him, I had asked Aaron what we do when someone helps us.  He looked at me and walked up to each nurse and gave them a hug and blew them a kiss.  As I shared Aaron with my co-workers for an hour while I worked I watched him hug almost all of my coworkers and blow kisses as we left.

The tests show Aaron’s heart is healthy.  This is great news.  What is most important is Aaron has something the tests will never show…a heart of gold.

Let’s catch up

So, it’s been awhile since I have blogged.  No excuses.  Many reasons.  On the eve of what would have been Jay and my 11 year wedding anniversary, this topic fits.

Life has been happening all around me.  I have had so many ideas within the last few weeks to blog.  I get two sentences written and something happens.  I fall asleep, a handsome little boy begs me to do something with him or I have a few minutes to share some quiet time with my boyfriend.  You know, the important things.

The one topic I do want to talk about is one that stems from 1FW’s blog she posted the other day.  It was the one “Dear Widow police I won’t revoke my card.” (Link below, you should read it)

I felt like I was reading my own thoughts and feelings and I won’t recreate but I want to elaborate on it.  I want to add more of my thoughts.

As I look at my life right now, things are good.  Great even.  Job…good.  Friends…the best.  Family…my foundation.  Boyfriend…my love.  Aaron…my life.

With these amazing things in front of me, why would I want to look at the past?   Why would I want to continue to talk about someone who is gone…something that is done?


Who is gone and what is done is what has made me the person I am today.  I do not dwell on my past.

My past granted me a membership to a club I BEGGED and PLEADED to take back the fee of entrance.  I screamed until I no longer had a voice.  I cried until there were no more tears.  I begged God to make it not so.  I laid next to Jay in hopes he would take my heart beat and come back.  In the first months after Jay died while sitting with Aaron in my arms, I would cry and I watched as Aaron not knowing why would cry with me.  I have navigated through feelings and emotions I cannot describe to you.  My mind, body and soul were broken in ways I do not wish on anyone.

I entered club widow willing to lay down and let life pass me by.  I have met amazing women from club widow who helped me stand back up.  They are amazing and although I share a membership we never wanted, I love them like sisters.

I slowly came back to life.  One step, moment of awareness and lesson at a time.

I move forward in this beautiful life.  But as 1FW said, my statements are just as true.

I will someday be someone’s wife again.  That said, one fact will always remain no matter what my future holds.  I will always be Jay’s widow.