Sunday, August 31, 2014

Stars Hollow

In the days following Rick's death, I never imagined that something as simple as a TV show could help me heal. But today, my good friend Jennifer and I finished season one of the Gilmore Girls - the first in a long line of seasons we have on our agenda - and I began to reflect.

Several Wednesdays ago, Jennifer had the idea that we should start watching the show during our time together each week, because it is one of her favorites, but also because it's light and witty, a perfect escape. It's been hard for me to find shows or movies that won't hurt me in places, that are predictable enough to ease my fear of getting blindsided by storylines of suicide, violence, or tragic loss. Anything too sad or dramatic also seems to be wrong as a mood-lifter.

Jennifer brought over the Gilmore Girls one day and we've been watching ever since.

My time with my friend is sacred to me, as is the time I spend with all my friends. Wednesdays with Jennifer give me something to look forward to... something to plan on as a bright spot in my week... and it's a comfort to know that the Gilmore Girls are there with us as an escape from reality.

I can tell just how much of an escape the show is for me, because when we turn off the DVD for the evening and Jennifer goes home, I get a sinking feeling in my stomach again, like someone is whispering in my ear: "And now, back to reality."

It feels good to smile at the characters on the screen... to laugh at the antics of the plots... to lose myself in the town of Stars Hollow. I feel much the same way I always felt reading and re-reading Anne of Green Gables... there's an idyllic comfort in the Gilmore Girls and Stars Hollow, like a modern day Avonlea.

That's the thing about the show - it's like a place. You're there. Home. Happy. Invested. Content.

What makes the escape better is being able to share it with my friend. Actually, my friend is sharing it with me. I often feel like she wrote me a prescription for grief and it said "at least one dose of the Gilmore Girls one time per week."

It seems funny to credit a TV show with healing powers... but I do feel like my heart hurts less when I watch it.

Today, we held a mini-marathon, in a way we can't do on a Wednesday night after working all day, and finished the first season. She'll be back on Wednesday to begin Season 2. My heart already looks forward to hurting less.

Saturday, August 30, 2014


Tonight's post is a poem I wrote today in the quiet hours of the morning. 

With every day that passes,
With every night that falls,
I hear you in the background,
An echo in the halls,
A voice inside my ear,
A thought inside my head,
I sense you in the sunshine,
Anything but dead.

I feel your calm approval,
Your reassuring shove;
When I’m crying in the darkness,
I can feel your touch of love.
I can almost see you nodding
At all I think and do,
Sending me encouragement
To slowly make it through.

I know the things you want for me,
I know the things you’d say.
I know you wouldn’t scold me
For still crying every day.
But I also know you’re cheering
When I triumph over pain.
I smile when you’d smile
If there’s something I attain.

There is so much that I want,
So much waiting out in space
As I move and become stronger,
As I reach, and grasp, and chase.
I want, I want, I want…
I list things in my head.
You push and nod along,
Anything but dead.

I want to wake up safe,
To feel a loving touch.
I want to feel some freedom
From all the things I fear so much.
I want to use my writing
To get me somewhere great.
I want to master patience,
Because I know I’ll have to wait.

I want to have adventures,
Both near and far away.
I want to feel content
At the end of every day.
I want to hear you in my head,
But run independently.
I want to live, and laugh, and love -
And you want all that for me.

Friday, August 29, 2014


What is it about handwriting that feels so personal? So moving? Seeing Rick's handwriting rips at my heart, but at the same time, I want to see it. I want to find it, to embrace it, to remember it.

In the week before he took his own life, Rick was sure to post this reminder on the half used box of kitchen trash bags we kept in our large kitchen drawer. He wanted me to know that there were more stored above the refrigerator, so I would know I didn't need to buy more. Every time I see that little note when I use a new trash bag, my heart rips... but I can't seem to throw it away.

Tonight, as I wrote a grocery list, I consulted a recipe for sweet potato enchiladas so I knew what I'd need. There at the bottom of the recipe was Rick's handwriting, giving me advice about the meal. "Use flour tortillas - corn ones break," he wrote. And he was right. We always adjusted the recipe to our preference. He knew I often blindly followed the recipe when listing ingredients, so he gave me a reminder.

The simplest words, even if they are about tortillas, fill me with a sadness if they are written in Rick's handwriting. Maybe it's because they are one of the only tangible things left of him. He won't be writing any more notes. He doesn't have a grave site. Just a photo urn with his ashes in my living room, a beautiful pendant made with his ashes, and his handwriting. 

After Rick died, I saw his to-do list on our kitchen counter. Some items were crossed off. Others had yet to be completed. He never did the laundry. He never sprayed weed killer. He never mowed the lawn. The list laid on the countertop, a tangible reminder of unfinished tasks. An unfinished day. An unfinished life. I couldn't bring myself to throw away the list from his last day on earth. I always found it strange that he did some mundane things and not others. I always found it strange that he seemed prepared to do them. Like suicide was a snap decision when he realized he just couldn't take it anymore. 

Perhaps the thought of wash was just too much. Maybe the weeding seemed too daunting. The straw that broke the camel's back when he was already feeling so hopeless and in despair. I mean, he made lunches. He made them and crossed that off his list just the day before. He made sandwiches for the whole week. They sat in my refrigerator after he died. He made them as though he planned on eating them. But he didn't. His unfinished to-do list showed he tried. He tried to make it work. He tried to do his best. He tried to live. He tried to work. He tried to be okay. And ultimately, he decided he couldn't anymore.

A few days after Rick's death, I tacked the list to the refrigerator and there it stays. I may get rid of it one day, but right now it feels like documentation of his last hours. It feels wrong to toss it in the trash.

Even more than photos of him, Rick's handwriting stirs up emotions. I want to touch each letter he penned in his big, deliberate print. I want to trace the words with my finger and remember all the beautiful and funny notes he wrote to me over the years. I don't want to miss him. But...I want to miss him.

Thursday, August 28, 2014

Rays of Light

Today, I left work and cried along with the music in my car. I couldn't help it. I was feeling lonely. Nothing extra terrible has happened, I still receive daily support, and I always have hope. But still - the loneliness is there, my little shadow of darkness, and I feel like crumbling sometimes. 

In my car, where memories of happier times float freely through my mind like a slideshow and music paints with sound the pain I feel deep in my soul, I get a pit in my stomach or a tightness in my chest. My heart hurts, everything seems bigger than I am, and the unknown future is just so scary. It holds all kinds of possibilities and greatness too, but it's scary because it's new, blank, unknown, uncharted, and at times it really does feel bleak. 

I can always look for the silver linings...the positives...all of that still exists for me. I feel its reality strongly and I'm grateful for that... But I also feel alive with pain. The pain beats in my heart, it travels my limbs... It is the heaviness in my abdomen, the throbbing in my head... 

And where will I go now...
When my world is cold and broken...

Those lines in the last song of my new favorite album just drum into me. In the car. In the Grief Zone. And they're not sung angrily or depressingly... They are just soft and searching. And that's how I feel. Soft and vulnerable and searching.

With a bit of fear.

So I drove to my vet clinic before heading home, to pick up fluid bags and needles for my high maintenance kitties I love so much...crying softly...empty and worrying about too many unknowns in this complex thing we call life. 

And when I composed myself and went inside the vet clinic, they told me I owed nothing, because I had a $300 credit on my account. I told them there must be a mistake. They read me a computer note that stated someone had put $300 towards Juice and Tumbler's care and wanted to remain anonymous. My mouth hung open. I almost cried. 

The Universe has my back at the lowest moments. I am so grateful to the kindness that is bestowed upon me. When you put good into the world, it really does come back. Rays of light shine through to illuminate hope when fear seems so overpowering. I cannot personally thank the kind person who helped me today, but I can definitely worry about one less thing. 

My cats are loved. And so is the Cat Widow.

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

The Arielle Express

Rick used to marvel at my energy. He would look at me in amazement if I penned a quick poem while we watched TV and asked if I could read it to him. He would go to bed at night while I stayed downstairs replying to endless emails after a long work day and leading a support group. He didn't see how I could work and attend grad school, write a paper, and still have time to make a YouTube video. 

But most of all, he was bewildered by how I could so easily take him along for the ride. He called me the Energizer Bunny with curls.

He was astounded by how much I could get done in one day and still have energy to devote to something with a smile. He'd watch me multi-task and laugh.

When he fell in love with me, he said he was on the Arielle Express. He was caught up, moving, and moving fast. 

He loved me for who I was... And it was refreshing. There are times, in the midst of my going-going-going attitude and momentum, that I remember the "Arielle Express" with fondness.

The Arielle Express still reigns...still chugs along...even in grief. There are times I catch myself remembering that life has changed, for I seem to do and say the same things at the same pace with the same drive. And there are other times when I stand glued to my place in the spectrum of grief, wondering how I got here...a buzzing and energetic train careening to a shocking halt, shaken and dazed. The Arielle Express stops at so many stations on this journey.

Every station is different. Every station holds some kind of lesson. Maybe some new people. Perhaps some old ones. Every station appears far away and remote, a dot in the distance, until the Arielle Express shows up. Then it becomes more familiar... Face to face agenda is presented... And then the Arielle Express chugs onward, a new station glittering in the far-off distance. 

And so it goes... 

But at least it goes. 

Tuesday, August 26, 2014


Last night, I had a nightmare, which was made scarier when I couldn't wake myself up from it. Which was made scarier when I felt someone holding on to my shoulders and shaking me awake but still couldn't wake up. I was trying to open my eyes. I felt the pressure on my shoulders and torso, the hands gently around my upper arms, and my mind was racing with "I can't wake up! Who's touching me?! Who's shaking me?! Is it my mom? How did she get in my house? Why is she here in the middle of the night? Maybe it's a stranger shaking me awake to hurt me! Why can't I wake up?!"

I heard Rick say, "Arielle," and someone shook my shoulders harder. I woke up, sweating and bleary eyed.

No one was there.

I think Rick woke me up from a nightmare again. Like he did that night when I heard the noise downstairs and jolted awake to find the glowing photo frame. Like he always used to when he was alive.

I sat in the dark, in my bed, cats at the ready, my head still racing, but my heart comforted by the loving presence I know was there.

When the darkness settles and the light of my phone is a softness near my pillow, I contemplate so many things.

But most of all, I wonder if I will ever be loved again. The way I want to be loved. By someone who can wake me from nightmares and tell me it will be okay. 

For now, I just settle into the sheets at night, phone close by, cats curled up around me... The echoes of the empty house are like sorrowful music. The empty half of my bed is vast. I know my strength and resilience...but I feel at loose ends. The unknown is scary. The grief is an unpredictable sea.

There should be a law against widowhood before age 30. It's the agony of widowhood at any age, but amped up on drugs or something. I'm like a fish out of water. Part of a weird little club. With the added burden of suicide to follow along behind me like a shadow...

I try to imagine a window opening to flood the shadow with light. I try to feel less alone.

So I thank Rick for waking me from my bad dream, I close my eyes, and I curl up with my baggage and fall asleep. 

Monday, August 25, 2014

Instead, Dwell on Cake

I spent some time with my brother tonight. I saw Rick's obituary photo on his fridge. I saw the Christmas card from Rick and me on there too. I smiled. We talked about work stuff. Nothing sad. It was for the best.

I came home to my cats and took a shower. In the shower, I cried. I ended up on my knees, slamming my hands into the sides of the shower wall, crying tears that mixed with the hot water. The switch of emotions is devastatingly shocking at times. Grief is a strange, strange beast.

When I got out of the shower, I felt lighter, as though I had already poured all my grief into the void the way I do on my blog at night. Like a little chime in my head, I heard Rick say, "Then post something funny tonight."

So I will.

I found this excerpt from an old blog post from 2010.

Rick has written "vanilla cake?" on the store list (complete with a question mark).

Arielle questions this.

Rick (with a thoughtful look on his face): "Well, I was thinking...since you're going to be going to grad school, I thought I should learn how to make cakes."

Apparently I make him so many cakes and now won't be around enough to provide for his needs.

So he bought ingredients, he asked me some questions, and when I came home from my mom's on Sunday, a two-layer frosted cake was sitting beautifully on a glass cake pedestal in the middle of the kitchen counter.

Very humorous. But very impressive for a man.

He totaled up the ingredients and decided that with oil, eggs, frosting, etc. it had only cost him about $3 to make his own cake, therefore he plans to do this on a regular basis instead of buying a cake if he wants one.

My husband is HILARIOUS. I love him.

He may be dead. But my husband is hilarious. I love him.

Sunday, August 24, 2014

Team Bair

Over the years, it became painfully clear to me just how entrapped in his pain Rick had become. He LOOKED fine, so he must BE fine, right? That’s the age-old concept almost everyone follows. I knew better, but no one else did. That was what frustrated him the most.

I used to suggest things, that hopeful lilt in my voice, and he would sometimes scoff or get angry because it was so easy for me to say, but nothing ever worked. 

Getting your hopes up over and over and over again for decades only to remain in a prison of emotional and physical pain is pretty debilitating itself. 

He couldn't sleep. He had no energy. I saw him cry. I heard him yell out in the middle of the night. I watched him breathe in and out with sincere effort to experience a relaxing moment the way other people do.

I’m cranky when I have PMS or cramps, when I have a sore throat or sunburn, so can you imagine how depressed/irritable/angry/hopeless/rotten he must have felt on a yearly, monthly, daily, hourly basis? It boggles my mind. His genuine Rick-ness shone through, bright spots of sun poking through insanely dark clouds, but he was a broken snow globe. Put it back together after it experiences something terrible and it can never really be repaired. My grad school trauma instructor told us that analogy once and it fits Rick perfectly. Who can wake up with a happy outlook, day after day, knowing that he is a shattered snow globe? Knowing that he can never get back what was lost?

It always struck me just how dependent Rick was on his regimens, rituals, and routines. I liked to tease him about it, but I realized it was more of a survival tactic than anything else. When something gets you from one day to the next, you stick with it, even if that means never deviating from the plan. Even if that means other areas of life become ritualistic and routine as well. 

Saying that Rick was frustrated is a severe understatement.

I had a revelation one day last year that extended to my role as Rick’s wife. I realized that my role was to ADVOCATE for him. To get in there with him and fight the pain and depression and explain - to doctors or whomever - that he needed help and care and had not been getting it for far too long. Until then, I had always considered my role to be a cheerer-upper or a cheerleader. 

My role as cheerer-upper meant I would try to brighten his days, make him smile or laugh, do sweet things to help him through, or attempt to lighten his dark moods. The problem with this role is that I would put energy into it like a full-time job and not always get the results for which I hoped. The other problem is that it could be a lot of responsibility, especially if I was having a sad day myself. 

My role as cheerleader was a bit different. It meant I would encourage him to try new things or suggest more positive ways to look at things. It also meant telling him when I did not condone poor choices and refusing to let him wallow in despair. The problem with this role is that my encouraging words and positive suggestions always sounded unsympathetic and proved how little I truly understood his anguish. He would say, “Who’s side are you on?” and I’d say, “I’m not on anyone’s side,” thinking this was a justified and appropriate response. This was the WRONG answer, because as much as my tactics would be helpful with a client, Rick as my husband WANTED ME ON HIS SIDE. Playing devil’s advocate to his negative attitude wasn’t the answer – it only made him feel more alone.

So when the revelation that my role was to be his ADVOCATE came to me, I was stunned that it hadn’t occurred to me sooner. I didn't have to be a cheerer-upper, because I made his life brighter just by being in it and being myself. And I didn't have to be a cheerleader, because in advocating for him, I was on his TEAM. That was our thing: I’d smile and say “Team Bair.” Automatically, he was less alone. Problem solved.

I am always so relentless, won’t give up, and will work tirelessly to advocate for everyone else – so why shouldn’t I have filled that role for my own husband? 

I wanted to fight for him when he was tired of fighting.

When he was feeling hopeless and wanted to give up, was skeptical to try something, or didn't know how to explain his situation to others, I could. Alongside him.

There was no more Rick with an Arielle cheerer-upper. There was no more Rick with an Arielle cheerleader. There was just Rick + Arielle = Team Bair. 

But now there's just me. I miss Team Bair.

My landline rang yesterday. "Hi, you've reached the Bairs," said my voice on the answering machine. "We can't come to the phone right now. Leave a message and we'll get back to you." I mentioned to my mom that I supposed I ought to change the message. She advised me to keep it so that to outsiders it would not appear I lived all alone.

When I mentioned it to Jennifer and Matthew, Matty said to keep it because it was still true. The Bairs still live here. Arielle, Tumbler, and Juice. 

Team Bair used to be for Rick's benefit. Now it's for the benefit of the Cat Widow. 

Saturday, August 23, 2014

Results of Darkness

There was a time back in 2008 when Rick and I often came home from work to a dark house. The power used to go out in our whole neighborhood for hours at a time for no reason at all. 

Rick and I would light a bunch of candles and distribute them around the house. Then Rick would take a shower in the dark and if the power still wasn't back on, I'd call the electric company to see if I could find out any details--such as if we were going to have to go out to dinner because we'd be unable to cook.

Usually, Rick and I headed out to dinner. What started out as a hardship became enjoyable. I started not minding if the power went out, because it meant impromptu dates with my husband. We had more fun coming home to power outtages than we would have had otherwise. 

I was thinking of those days in 2008 when I was cleaning my house with my mom today, because I moved the lantern I always use when the lights go out. I found myself smiling, remembering dinners and laughter that were a direct result of darkness.

It got me thinking on a more figurative level, because tonight I went out to dinner with my friends Jennifer and Matthew who are married. I wished so much that Rick could have been with us, but laughter carried us through the evening. I laughed quite a lot. And as they left tonight, I thought again about dinners and laughter from 2008 that were a direct result of darkness. 

Dinners with Jennifer and Matthew seem to be too, just darkness of a less literal nature.

I know that I am lucky. And if I stop to think about it long enough, I know that I am gaining things in the wake of this tragedy that I would not have had otherwise. 

Friday, August 22, 2014

3 words

The great thing about being a writer is that I kept journals and blogs and logs and notes of so many memories over the years. That means that I am blessed to have real time documentation of snippets of my life with Rick. Tonight, apparently on a quest to make myself cry, I came across this gem from 2010.

I used to have a blog called One Page at a Time. I kept it for 7 years before starting The Cat Widow after Rick's death. Someone asked a question one day on my old blog, and I answered it.

---"How would you describe yourself in 3 words? How would you describe Rick in 3 words? Now, how would you describe each other in 3 words (you describe Rick and he describes you)?"---

Me describing me: romantic, neurotic, creative

Me describing Rick: romantic, spiritual, appreciative

On the way to work, I said to Rick, "How would you describe me in 3 words? My blog readers want to know." He looked at me thoughtfully and said nothing. I added, "And you too. Describe YOU in 3 words." He still looked at me without replying. I took this to mean he would get back to me as soon as he was ready with the answer.

Well, we got to work and went to our separate floors and offices. After about half an hour, I logged into my computer upstairs and checked my office email. Rick had sent me an email. This is it:
SUBJECT: In 3 words...

You are the "sweetest thing ever" and I am a "very lucky man."

I miss him. 

Thursday, August 21, 2014

Dreading Summer's End

Summer was Rick's favorite season. And this year, he missed it. He didn't make it to the summer.

I lived this summer without him, knowing that it will likely be my hardest. The sun and warmth contradicts the cold emptiness that I feel at times. But still, I am so grateful that I didn't have to live through the winter first. 

The fact that Rick died on May 18th meant I could ease into a life without him with the sun shining. I dread the windy fall and cold winter nights when daylight savings will force me to return home in darkness. A dark house is a lonely place. 

The summer is welcoming, soothing... It seems to say, "I'll make this as easy on you as I can." There is fun and family and days off. There are outside events. The neighborhood is bursting with life. 

It might sound silly, but I'm afraid of summer ending. I have always loved the fall, but this year I'm scared. I worry about the darkness, the end of upbeat happenings and sounds. 

And I'm afraid of the holidays. My birthday in October. My 30th to boot. Thanksgiving in November. Then Christmas. Then the New Year. 

The closer we get to the end of the summer, the closer we get to the things I fear will make me sadder than ever. 

And I know it's normal to be sad. But I feel like I was just getting used to THIS season without Rick. To do it all over again, in a new season, with new months and feelings, seems nearly impossible. 

I know it IS possible. I know I will do it, as I have been doing it. I also know that the dread of something is usually much worse than the thing itself. I am trying to remind myself of that. 

Summer has not yet reached an end...but I know it's coming. One more month... Just one more. By then I'll be 4 months into this widowhood...and a new season will spread before me. 

Every other year of my life I've looked forward to the fall. And this year, I'm afraid. 

And the spirit of hope and positivity, I'm going to repeat this quote every day until the fall hits. 

Fear will not stop me. I want so many things. And they're all waiting for me in the fall...the winter...the year to come.

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

All Roads Lead to Rick

I find that I am most pensive in the car. Everywhere I drive, memories loom or linger. Every road matches up with the songs that fill my car and my heart beats to the sounds of loneliness and nostalgia.

Even the most mundane or ordinary drives are ingrained into my brain on autopilot, and yet they are laced with thoughts and memories of Rick. He lived in this area longer than I did. He showed me places. He told me stories about his childhood. Where he fell in the creek. Where he swam with his brother and friends. Where he climbed trees. Where his mom lived. Where his friends lived. Where his doctors' offices were. All the places he lived before he lived with me. Where he raced his car. Where he worked before he worked at the place where I met him.

I drive to the store and it reminds me of Rick. We went there together. I drive to work and it reminds me of Rick. We worked at the same place for 7 years and the place at which I work now is on the same street as my last place of employment. I drive to my parents' house and it reminds me of Rick. We spent so much time going there. I drive past restaurants where we ate together. Tons of them. Every day. I drive to Rick's mom and it reminds me of Rick...

Every place I go involves a drive. And on the drive, I travel the roads we travelled together. And my mind travels too. We lived here. We worked here. We spent so much time in the car.

If I drive the roads of Allentown, Bethlehem, Northampton, Catasauqua, Whitehall, and beyond, I am bombarded with memories of places we passed, we talked about, and we frequented. I remember so many conversations that happened in my car.

Recently, I drove the route I used to take to grad school. For three years, I drove there, the same way every time... and as I drove that familiar route, I remembered all those long nights. I remembered fondly the classes I had and the people I met. I remembered late night drives home through Center Valley, through Bethlehem, through Allentown, and home to Northampton. And I remembered that back then, I drove home to Rick. I remembered how on winter nights, I'd listen to Christmas music in my car all the way home, a smile on my face and happiness in my heart. It struck me that I will never listen to Christmas music again on my way home to Rick.

Thoughts like that hurt so much.

I drive here and there and everywhere, and I remember times when I would stress out about finding my way to a new place. I would tell Rick how anxious I was, because of my fears of getting lost and my poor sense of direction. He'd reassure me, but I'd still worry about whatever the upcoming event/situation/commitment was that meant I had to use directions or a GPS to find my way to an unknown destination. I'd come home from a work day to find that Rick had set off on his own to find the place for me, armed with a pen and paper. He'd present me with a hand-drawn map of the route he took and walk me through it so when I had to do it without him, I'd feel better.

One time, I came home from grad school upset because the main road I usually took had been closed down in both directions and I had to find an alternate way home that was less direct. My GPS hadn't been working and I was panicked. On his next day off, while I was working (I used to work Saturdays), Rick found me a backroads-alternate-route to grad school and drew me a diagram complete with street names...just to keep in my glove compartment should circumstances ever arise that caused me not to be able to drive home directly due to emergency.

I remembered this today while I was driving somewhere that was nowhere near the place I attended grad school. In my driveway, I sifted through papers and manuals in my glove compartment to find the little Rick map. I pictured my husband driving around Center Valley, pretending Route 378 was closed and pulling over on every back road to write down the names of the streets to add to the map for his directionally-challenged wife. He even calculated the approximate distance using the car odometer as he went.

He preferred to do it this way for GPS. No internet. Just pure masculine reassurance coupled with love, time, and effort.

I miss him as I prepare to drive. As I drive. And when I return home from a drive. But mostly, I miss him when I reach a destination that worried me. When I find my way somewhere with my GPS or with my own common sense. I want to tell him that I did it. That I made it.

On these unfamiliar roads of grief, both figuratively and literally, I am making my way without a personalized map.

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Under Construction

Sometimes, late at night, I dissect myself. Not on purpose. Not with intention. Just a sleepless wondering that becomes a science class of myself. I'm well put together on the outside, but inside I'm under construction. My brain is a jumble of thoughts and worries mapped out by sleepless nights and pieced together with memories of a life that is gone.

My heart is a bruised contraption that still somehow has the ability to beat and feel and love. As one of my new favorite songs professes:

I'm bleeding in my heart
When nothing is for certain

I picture my heart as a tender onion, layer upon layer upon layer...the first several layers are ripped and shredded and bruised beyond recognition, but the inner layers leading to the core are strong and resilient, waiting to be seen.

My legs are the force. They move me forward day after day. They propel me as I run. They keep me standing.

My eyes bear the brunt of everything. They cry. And cry. And cry some more. Even on the days I hardly cry at all...I still cry. When I went to the eye doctor recently for contacts and an exam, I told him if my eyes were more sensitive or appeared different, it was because they were used to being rubbed with tissues on a daily basis.

My hands are the legend to the map that is me. Look at them and know what I want to feel and exude. My fingernails used to be black... for weeks... after Rick died. I couldn't bring myself to let natural sheen or color into my world. My hands showed the world what was in my heart: my mourning. And eventually, the blackness lifted and my fingernails told the story of fresh perspective. The black was gone. My hands are the legend to the map that is me. The tips of my fingers tell my story on this blog. Click clack, click clack, click clack, I type at the speed of light... no other agenda but to grieve outwardly and be a voice in the darkness. My fingertips say what my mouth wants to whisper and scream. My fingertips say what my heart longs to put into words. My fingertips make sense of the jumble in my brain. My left hand is home to my wedding ring and my engagement ring. These rings are bittersweet. It hurts to have them stay, but hurts more if I were to take them off. They remain and my hands remain the legend to the map that is me.

I'm under construction. But I'm fairly certain that the framework is sturdy and the final design will have a lasting impression.

Monday, August 18, 2014

Exhausted in Flight

Today it is 3 months since Rick took his own life. Today I have been wrestling with the feeling that Rick is less of a person and more of a memory every day. Right now, I hate that feeling.

I am moving forward every day...

I consider this amount of time. 3 months. I feel like I have been alone forever. Every day, back home alone. Every night, sleeping alone. I long for someone to kiss me. To hug me. To tell me that everything will be okay. I am tired of the loneliness. And then in the same breath, I feel like it was last week that I came home to a suicide note. How could 3 months possibly have passed? Wasn't Rick just here?

The concept of time is still strange to me. I don't try to understand it.

I swirl around in this timeless Grief Zone, feeling every emotion possible. Sorrow. Hope. Pain. Joy. Anger. Love. Loneliness. Peace.

I feel sore all over, like I ran 100 miles and then lifted weights. Grief is hard work. I am tired.

Exhausted. Wanting.

I feel like Jimmy Stewart in The Spirit of St. Louis, making a 33 hour transatlantic flight. I can't keep my eyes open. I can't find enough things to distract me. I can't go back, but moving forward is so difficult. I know it's all possible, but it feels so unreachable and tiring at times.

I think about 3 months of this. And when I imagine 3 months more of this, I cringe. I shake my head. I hang my head. I cry. It is hard to keep my eyes open.

On days like today, when time is marked by a date that sticks out like a painful spike, I remember the end of The Spirit of St Louis - exhausted and spent, barely achieving what seemed impossible, Jimmy Stewart (as Lindbergh) reaches land and is met with crowds of cheering people who believed in him.

When I feel like I can't keep going, I remember the end of the movie. I'll get there. I'll make it. This grief is my 33 hour flight alone without rest. Through uncharted air currents. Through fear and loneliness. I'll get there. I'll make it. Thank you for cheering me on.

Sunday, August 17, 2014

Whining and Wineries

After a day of wineries with some great friends, I'm thinking about my husband. My three buddies are all planning their weddings and I'm trying so hard not to be the self-pitying widow in their midst. 

I love hanging out with them and we always have a good time. I laugh and it's real laughter... But at the end of every bout of laughter is a stillness of sadness that lingers. It pokes me. It doesn't allow me to be fully engaged in happiness or excitement...and I hate that. 

I can shake my shoulders...try to get that stillness of sadness to fall away...but it's difficult. 

Because I want to go home and tell Rick about the great day we had today. Because I want to bring him with me to these weddings instead of going alone. Because I want to be able to contribute to the wedding conversations, but talking about my own wedding makes me sad. 

So I'm just going to get it out of the way. I'm going to tell Rick what I would tell him if he was here:

Dear Rick, 

The weather was beautiful today. It was perfect. I'm so happy my friend is happy and is celebrating getting married next month. I'm so happy my other two friends are so happy in their lives. It's the best feeling to see them smile about their guys and talk about fun stuff like dresses and honeymoons. Nothing makes me happier than seeing my friends happy.

It makes me miss you, though, Rick. Remember when we danced to Kenny Chesney for our first dance at our wedding? Remember when we ended our reception with a last dance together to our special Bob Dylan song? 

Remember when we had the time of our lives in St. Lucia on our honeymoon? The pictures still make me smile when I look at them. 

These girls always make me laugh, Rick. It's hard to believe the four of us have been friends for 12 years. It's always so easy with them. 

We saw a sign for sale at the first winery that said THIS WINE IS MAKING ME AWESOME. It was really funny and we all liked it. Wish I could show you a picture. 

I wish you could come to these weddings with me. Try to keep me company in your own way if you can. I miss you so much. 

Love, Arielle 

PS. Being a widow at 29 sucks. 

Saturday, August 16, 2014


Finally, a good Saturday.

I made a to-do list last night to prepare myself for today. I had a list of things I wanted to do. I made my own agenda. And as I crossed off each one today, I felt great.

I woke up at 8:30... which is definitely "sleeping in" for me. I fed and medicated the cats. I drank coffee and did laundry. I paid bills and balanced the checkbook...

Then I went to see my mother-in-law. It was a good visit. She was having a good day. There were tears, but I left feeling restored rather than drained. She told me she can still see Rick and she described him to me in detail. She said that if she closes her eyes, she sees him standing there.

I told her about the little bear and the cookie sheet. She smiled and laughed and her eyes filled up. She said it seemed like something Rick would do and that he probably loved me so much, he wanted to still talk to me somehow. She said maybe Rick would still come visit her on a Saturday if she asked him for a message.

"You were always so nice to my Ricky," she said. "I'm sorry I can't do anything for you."

I told her I had everything I needed and I was okay. And for the first time when I told her that, I believed it.

I had planned not to go grocery shopping on a Saturday so that my routine would be altered from the old norm, but I had to buy some things that couldn't wait, so I went today. For the first time since Rick's death, I did not cry at the grocery store. I felt very victorious as I walked back out to my car in the parking lot.

Back at home, I ate lunch and went for a run. I went over some things in my head while I ran and returned home feeling great. I showered and got ready for dinner out with my work friends. It was a dinner of laughter. And the post-dinner drinks (and more food) were full of laughter too. I felt very normal.

I didn't feel like the lonely widow out of place in the crowd. I didn't feel like an impostor of a woman trying to have fun. I didn't feel like I was 1,000 years older than everyone around me due to grief. I felt normal.

It's 11:00 pm and I'm just blogging now, because I was out being normal. I considered not blogging at all, but decided I really wanted to document the victory of a good Saturday. I won!

Friday, August 15, 2014


Last night, I had a visit from Rick. I had blogged and I was watching TV with the cats. It was about 11:00 pm and suddenly a loud crash sounded in the kitchen. I jumped a mile and so did both cats. Completely freaked out, I went into the kitchen to see what had happened.

There was a metal cookie sheet lying on my stovetop, because I had made mozzarella sticks earlier and had left the sheet there to cool. And right there in the middle of the cookie sheet was a little bear. One of the bear salt and pepper shakers that Rick had bought me since we are the Bairs. The crash was the sound of the bear dropping onto the cookie sheet. The thing is, the bear salt and pepper shakers weren't in a place where they could have fallen onto the cookie sheet...or placed that strategically.

I took a photo of the event with my phone and laughed as I texted my friend Jennifer to tell her excitedly what had just happened since I knew she would still be awake. It's such a Rick thing to do. And I was pretty certain it was his way of telling me to go the hell to bed.

Well, last night... for the first time since he died... I dreamt about Rick. It was, unfortunately, the kind of dream you wake up from and feel all mixed up and sad, though. In my dream, I discovered that Rick wasn't really dead at all. He had instead been staying at a rehab place of some kind and was getting well. I was so glad to see him, because I thought he had been dead. I was telling him about how I had been blogging for almost 3 months and that now it was all unnecessary because I wasn't really a widow. I was telling him that everyone thought he was gone and we had to explain it to all of them.

Then I woke up, confused and hurting. It wasn't real. He is really dead.

And just as my mind was about to say, "He is really gone," I thought NO. He isn't. That's what the loud little bear and the dream were all about. He's never really gone.

Thursday, August 14, 2014

A Recipe for Positivity

Is it possible that I can leave a trail?

I'd like to think so. I'd really like to believe that amid grief, I can leave something behind. I think we all can. Sometimes, I feel like the world doesn't give me what I need. Things are not offered that I wish were offered. And when that happens, I sigh really loudly and become upset/dejected/irritated for a moment...then, I make the first move. When I want to feel better myself, I send things out into the universe. Today, while at Barnes & Noble after work, I left one of my anonymous letters for a stranger.

I attached the stickers too. I don't know why I'm compelled to do these things... I just am. I don't question it - I just go with it.

As I was leaving the store, I remembered an article I wrote in February for Libero Network, a nonprofit organization and online magazine offering recovery support, fostering self-acceptance, and advocating mental health.

It was called "A Recipe for Positivity" and even on the hard days, I try really hard to remember that it's a recipe I still need to make. Below, is my article. It seems fitting today. 

Being positive is an art. It does not always come easily and it often has to be learned. True artists of positivity master the challenges that come along with it and make life look refreshing, upbeat, and even magical. These artists of positivity are the people with whom we want to surround ourselves, those who have a light that draws us in, those who inspire us for a number of reasons. We see them and we love them, are curious about the ways in which they live their lives, and sometimes strive to be like them.

But positivity is anyone’s game. It is not reserved for a select few and the canvas for the art of positivity is the whole world. Just start inside and work your way out…and you’ll find it isn’t really a game at all.

Positivity is a recipe:

A pinch of kindness
A sprinkle of self-love
A dollop of fun
A drop of acceptance
One heaping spoonful of gratitude

When you make the recipe of Positivity, it’s only 1 serving – food for you and you alone. But if you stick to the meal plan, you actually end up feeding everyone else too.

Let’s break it down.

“A pinch of kindness” is the first ingredient, because without it, we are apt to be judgmental or lacking empathy. Though kindness may seem unrelated to positivity, it’s actually the key component. Like an egg, it holds the batter together. It is impossible to have a truly positive outlook without that pinch of kindness. Your server at a restaurant might seem rude, too slow, or incompetent, and that pinch of kindness is what keeps a positive person positive. Without that pinch of kindness, you might be apt to jump to conclusions or let your own anger or impatience turn your experience into a negative one. You might become grouchy about the money you’re paying for the meal or become annoyed with the service and let it ruin your mood. You might wonder aloud to your companion if the server cares about her job or knows what she’s doing. You might say a mean remark or use a word like “stupid.” You might huff and puff in exasperation. Haven’t we all done these things?

Throw in that pinch of a kindness and instantly you have empathy and any judgment is stripped away. Kindness might cause you to consider whether or not the server has eaten yet herself. You might wonder if she is having a bad day. Maybe her husband told her he wants a divorce. Perhaps her child cried hysterically when she left him at a day care center that morning. Maybe her mom is sick or her cat died the day before. She may still be rude or slow or bad at her job, but the pinch of kindness changes YOU, not her. When there is no room for judgment or mean thoughts, there is no room for negativity. Positivity remains. And if you’re lucky, your positive attitude in the face of negative circumstances might just change that server after all.

“A sprinkle of self-love” is the next ingredient, because it’s unlikely that pure, unconditional love can be sent out into the world (by you) if you don’t feel that you are deserving of pure, unconditional love too. Self-love makes the recipe stronger, because no matter what undermines your confidence or who treats you with malice, you can remain positive. See, if self-love does not exist in the recipe for Positivity, outside circumstances will always get the best of you and negativity will surface.

“A dollop of fun” is the third ingredient, because if you’re not enjoying yourself, positivity can’t take hold. Positivity artists know this; almost everything is fun to them. They enjoy waking up in the morning, they derive pleasure from simple things, and they get a genuine thrill from being a source of positivity for others. The fun they have is not superficial, but meaningful. To them, life is not a game to be played, but a gift to be savored.

That dollop of fun is what puts a smile on the face of a person who appears to have nothing about which to smile. Life is not something to be tolerated; it is to be enjoyed. Bad things may happen that are out of our control, but the fun will always be there, waiting to take away the sting. Sometimes we just have to look for it. Joy is INSIDE, not outside. Negative circumstances can cause us to do one of three things: to shut down, to be swept into the negativity, or to seek shelter within. Only those well versed in positivity will choose to go within, so positivity is an art that can save lives – yours first and perhaps others’ later. Tomorrow may bring pain, but it cannot steal your joy. Artists of positivity are having fun all the time, because they know they are receiving messages from the Universe and gifts from life, even when it doesn’t seem so to others.

“A drop of acceptance” is the next ingredient and it cannot be substituted. Interestingly enough, it goes along with the “dollop of fun,” creating a mixture that is unmatched. Living life with joy and fun is great in theory, but it’s easier said than done unless acceptance also plays a role. In order to live with zest, joy, and a real smile, you must accept that you cannot control the storms that may come your way. In fact, you cannot prevent them either. At times, it is impossible to even prepare for them in advance. Accepting the bad as it exists means that your heart doesn’t have to hold on to negative feelings and can instead move forward. Acceptance is what helps push you through the bad towards joy. Acceptance can be tricky. It’s a word often lumped together with patience, another very difficult concept to master.

Acceptance means we don’t have to stay in place. We may not be able to control the storm, but we don’t have to stay beneath it. We cannot choose what happens to us, but we CAN choose how we react to it. That’s part of positivity. Choosing to be positive in the face of hardship, heartbreak, and horror can be quite a feat – but make no mistake, it can be done. And you will FLOURISH if you are able to make that choice.

“One heaping spoonful of gratitude” is the last and most abundant ingredient. You can never have too much, so there’s no need to measure. Just pour. Gratitude changes everything. It turns disaster into opportunity, loss into gain, and dreams into reality. Cultivating gratitude has become a personal quest for me over time and I have seen firsthand the very tangible ways in which it has changed and continues to change my life.

Gratitude makes all the difference in a positive outlook and solidifies the art of positivity on an ongoing basis. Artists of positivity will have unfortunate events happen to them like everyone else, but the attitude of gratitude is what keeps their heads above negativity. Rooted in positive thinking, conditioned by true gratitude, an artist of positivity whose car has broken down on the side of the road will change her way of thinking immediately in a way such as this: “I can’t believe my car broke down…but at least I have a car.”

Another way to remember gratitude is to try not to take anything for granted. Did you get a close parking space at a busy store? Be thankful as you park. Did you have the day off from work on a very snowy day? Be thankful you did not have to drive in bad weather. Did you wake up without feeling ill? Be thankful for your healthy body. Did you wake up? Be thankful for being alive. These are just a few examples of the many things we often take for granted in every day life. We are quick to be upset or annoyed when we come down with a cold, but we weren’t thankful when we were well and full of energy.

The recipe of Positivity is relatively simple and never needs tweaking. It does not go out of style or lose its appeal. It’s a recipe for one person – you – that eventually feeds everyone you meet. You become a light and your light shines on others. Positivity is an art and your life can become a masterpiece.