The Second Year Burn

Grief never ends…But it changes.  Grief is not a sign of weakness, nor a lack of faith,  it is the price of love.

They tell you that time will make it easier; that time will mend your broken heart with stitches and the scars will fade to the light pink that is only noticeable under the right light. They say that with time, the grief lessens, that the sadness lifts up out of your life and the gaping hole left in its midst is filled with memories and bliss.  While time might make it easier, I firmly believe that the second year is the hardest.

It’s hard to even say it. It’s hard to admit that someone you loved so dearly, someone that was a huge part of your life has been out of your life for two whole years.  I still find myself struggling to get the words out when people ask me about my dad. And what’s frightening is that it hasn’t gotten easier to admit by this second year. In fact, I think it’s gotten harder.

What makes the second year so hard? Well, I think it has to do with the year full of memories that you have created, but that the person you love is not a physical part of them. It’s how you notice that a few days go by where you don’t think about it and then it just hits you like a freight train roaring at full speed. It’s the idea that they have been gone for a full two years, making the fact that they won’t return more concrete than ever.

Personally,  I think it has to do with seeing all of these families around you,  whole and creating new memories.  It’s bittersweet to witness your friends growing up and sharing milestones with both of their parents. It’s a happy sight, to witness families creating these memories,  basking in the happiness they bring.  However,  I cannot help but feel a twinge of pain and jealousy mixed with guilt for feeling that way. By the time two years rolls around,  you have accumulated a multitude of memories that feel empty without your loved one.  And I think that’s what makes the second year so hard, the memories you have of your loved one start to become more distant as the new memories you’re accumulating start to fill those spaces.

There is no timeline to follow when it comes to the loss of someone you love,  especially a parent. The years following the loss can feel like you are submerged in an ocean of grief. The pain flows and ebbs, like the tides of the ocean.  Sometimes the water is calm,  and sometimes the water can be overwhelming.   We can never learn to control the motion of the water, all we can do is learn how to swim.  So that’s what the third year will be for me,  a trial and error in navigating the sea of life without my dad.

Pheonix Burning

She liked to watch things burn, to see the colors consume whatever was before. For so long it felt like she had been burning too bright, a star on the verge of a supernova. She had felt like everyone around her was blinded by her,  unable to see past what was outside.  They seemed confused when she talked,  unable to process the journey she was undergoing. When she realized how bright her aura was growing, she began to get worried, worried that she would burn out and no longer spread light into the depths of the world. So she began to diminish her flames, so everyone would understand her.  However,  she realized that by dimming her glow,  she was diminishing herself.  She began to become dark,  mentally and physically.  But that’s when her fascination with fire began.  She saw the beauty in the way the flames danced against the black sky,  the way they cut through the darkness and spread hope into despair.  That’s when she realized that fire doesn’t destruct, it creates.  It destroys to create,  but never to wreak havoc. It never leaves despair,  instead it leaves remnants so that something can be rebuilt.

Knowing that,  she spread her wings and embraced her destruction. She watched the flames with awe as they swirled around her,  engulfing all aspects of her life. To her this wasn’t her demise,  this was just the beginning. Because just as the beautiful, mythical pheonix,  this was her rebirth, this was her chance to rise from the ashes and recreate herself.  This was the part when she becomes born anew, into a  truer form that would allow her to soar to new heights.

So she watched with glowing eyes as the flames danced in her vision because she knows that demise is not synonymous with destruction. No, demise is simply rebirth,  an entry point to new paths and possibilities. And almost instantly, she felt the warmth from within as she embraced her old friend,  fire.

Choose Beautiful.

Today, as I took a break from reading about the lac, arabinose and tryptophan operons, I opened Facebook and saw yet another wonderful Dove campaign (link here: As I watched I couldn’t help but smile, because it is one of those videos that makes you see the beauty in others and yourself. It was a shocking revelation to realize that I would have walked through the average door without a thought, and would have encouraged many of my friends to go through the beautiful door. And so I thought to myself; what makes me see them as beautiful and myself as average?

Ever since I was little, I have never considered myself beautiful. I mean of course my mom has always told me that I am beautiful, but I shrugged it off as her unconditional love blinding her. I have never once felt beautiful according to society and their standards. And that’s when it hit me: society. Ever since I was a little, impressionable girl I have been exposed to the standards of society. The standards that they require for beauty: a perfect complexion, a thin yet strong figure, exotic facial features and hair with just the right amount of gloss and shine, all while looking like their skin is bare and void of make up. However, I was never exposed to the beauty of an open heart, a genuine smile, and a selfless soul.

Since the beginning of my involvement in the leadership minor here at the university, I have been challenged to defy the standards, to challenge what I see in our world and change what I want. In more ways than one, these leadership courses have caused me to evolve, to change the way I see people and the way I see myself. Take for example, the idea of vulnerability. I hated to be seen as vulnerable, to trust others enough to open up and let others see what I had been through, but now, I see nothing as more beautiful. When we are truly ourselves, we are vulnerable and there is nothing more beautiful than that. There is nothing else that can make us strong. Ever since the first course in this minor, I have seen the makings of my peers. I find myself riveted listening to their stories, reveling in the experiences and lessons they bring to our communities. And never have I ever felt surrounded by this many beautiful people. It is in the kindness in their eyes, in the genuine emotions they speak, in the vulnerability they share when telling stories, in the help their hands selflessly offer…This group of people are the most beautiful humans I have encountered, and not one reason is directly related to society’s standards.

So I’m here to say screw society. Screw their standards. There is only one person who can deem themselves beautiful and that person is you. You have the power to define yourself: you and you alone. As of this day, I am beautiful. I am a survivor, a fighter, a giver, and a lover and that is what makes me beautiful. You are beautiful. Never forget that, and never let anyone tell you anything else. You are powerful. You are intelligent. You are strong. You are kind.

You. Are. Beautiful.

21st Birthday

It is a mere thirteen days until my 21st birthday. For many of you who do know me, I personally hate having birthday celebrations. I’m not entirely sure when this trend started for me, or maybe I’ve always been this way because I hate having attention on me. I’m content with a small, family and extremely close friends type of soiree. I’ve always been fond of more intimate, relaxed type of events for my birthday like this because it allows me to spend the most time with those I cherish and love the most. However, turning 21 is a big deal in this day and age. While I will go out to dinner and probably to a few bars as well, there is one important thing that I wish to accomplish by the end of my 21st birthday. In this past year and a half, I have learned that life is too short to act in a selfish manner. We need to celebrate our lives by being thankful for everything this world has to offer us. So instead of asking for gifts or money this year, I will be participating in 21 random acts of kindness in hopes of paying it forward. So before the girls and my family force me to go to the bars of downtown Minneapolis, I will have these random acts of kindness already done and I hope that it will inspire someone to do the same. After all, I’ve found my best days to be on days that I am able to help others, even if it is only in a small manner. So here are the random 21 acts:

  1. Compliment a stranger
  2. Buy the person’s coffee behind me
  3. Give food to the homeless
  4. Leave extra money in a vending machine
  5.  Leave a “You’re awesome” note on someone’s desk
  6. Take flowers to a hospital or nursing home.
  7. Leave a gift for the mail person
  8. Help someone load their car (groceries, luggage, etc…)
  9. Bake treats to hand out to random people
  10. Carry a free High Five or Free Hugs sign and  hand them out
  11. Tape popcorn bags to red-box movie stands.
  12. Leave random notes of happiness on windshields of cars.
  13. Hold the door open for as many people as possible
  14. Hand out random complimented notes to those on the street.
  15. Leave treats at neighbors’ houses anonymously.
  16. Hand out balloons to kids at a shopping center.
  17. Give flowers out to people on the street
  18. Donate clothes and old toys
  19. Write a thank you note to my mom, grandma, and those who have passed for they have made me who I am today.
  20. Smile at everyone I pass.
  21. Buy my family and friends coffee along with cute thank you cards for just being amazing :)

Their Final Resting Place.

An ode to anyone who has lost someone they loved.

The hardest part about mourning the loss of a loved one is the uncertainty that accompanies it. The uncertainty of where they are, what they are feeling/experiencing, and the uncertainty of if you will ever see them again. It’s not necessarily the fact that they’re gone, because eventually time helps you come to terms with that sad fact. Instead, it’s the idea that they are gone forever, the idea that there will never be a love-filled reunion in lives to come. It’s the sadness in the fact that you feel as though they will never experience your life with you. It’s the uncertainty of what comes after death. It’s hard to imagine where their final resting place is, where they will spend the rest of eternity.

I think for me, that is what is so hard about accepting the loss of my dad and grandpa. It’s not that they’re physically gone, but instead the idea that their essence is gone. That I will never feel the comforting, loving aura they emitted in life. But that all changed a few days ago. I was visiting their grave sites, and I was more distraught than I had been in a long time, telling them everything that had occurred in the past weeks. As I finished my story, this overwhelming peace filled me. I looked up, over the walls that encircle them, and watched as the pink and red hues filled the sky as the sun began to set. I felt the wind brush my cheeks, instantly drying the tears and caressed my hair just as a loved one might. I felt the warmth in the final rays of the sun, bringing a glowing feeling to the center of my being. That is when I realized something of great importance: our loved ones don’t have one final resting place. We may bury their physical remnants in a crypt or grave, but their essence, their love, is all around us. As I experienced, they are the wind that dries your tears and helps you see clarity. They are the sun, providing a feeling of warmth and a glow of optimism in our lives. They are the birds that take flight, watching from above as you journey down the road of life. They are in all of our surroundings, even when it doesn’t seem like it.

It took me a long time to realize this for myself, and maybe this is something that varies by person. But ever since that experience, I have noticed myself at ease. I find comfort in my surroundings because I know that my dad and grandpa, the essence of who they were as human beings, will never be gone from my life. It’s ingrained in the world, in my mind, in my soul, and most importantly, in my heart. So bear with me for the rest of this entry, I was feeling inspired and wrote my first poem in a very, very, very long time.

Their final resting place

Is not in a grave, nor in a vase.

They aren’t stuck in one spot,

Nor confined to the area of our thoughts.

They are neither here nor there,

Instead, they reside everywhere.

They’re the wind in your hair,

Just rushing through to say they still care.

They’re the warmth in the rays from the sun,

Proving that the darkness of the world hasn’t won.

They’re the birds flying high through the sky,

Free to travel and keep a watchful eye.

No, the ones we love never leave us behind

All we have to do is look to find

Their essence surrounds us from the inside,

It flows as smooth as a tide

From their souls to our life,

Filling us with peace and replacing our strife.

Grade A cheesy poem, but the idea still rings true to me.

Happy Birthday, Daddy.

Another year – a new set of memories of you is what I should be writing about, but instead I write of memories from the past. You left us with beautiful memories, ones full of grace, tenderness, love and laughter, but they are becoming older with each passing day. It’s hard to not be bitter on a day like today, a day filled with raw emotion that has me praying to keep the flood gates of tears closed. I promised myself that I would not be full of bitterness today, that I would smile and laugh while reminiscing of the days I was blessed to spend with you. While you were given 51 beautiful birthdays, I can’t help but wonder what it would have been like to have had these past two birthdays with you, to wonder what you would have been like at age 52 or 53 and beyond. Would you still claim to be “on to me like white on rice?” Would your bald spot have increased in radius? Would your laugh sound the same, or would it have aged with accumulation of knowledge and wisdom? Unfortunately, these are questions I will never know the answer to, but I can always look to grandma to see what the potential outcome was.  I can’t help but feel jaded that you are not here to answer them, but I could not be more blessed to share another beautiful celebration with grandma.

While it would be easy to write a list of 53 things I wish I could experience with you, I’m not going to. I could write 53 ways in which your death has altered my view point on life, but I’m not going to. Instead, I am going to limit myself to one thing that I think is direly important to remember. We need to start living life like every day is our birthday. Every single morning we are blessed enough to wake up, we should celebrate. Some days it will be hard to keep a positive mindset, but in the long run, there is no reason to wake up and create a crappy day because you have a negative attitude. The days we receive are limited. So when you wake up in the morning, wake up like it’s your birthday, a day to celebrate, a day to remember. The moment we start waking up like this, the moment we start acting like life is a blessing, then it will finally start to feel like one. There are days where I would exchange my life for my father’s, but in the end, this is the card I was dealt and when I realize that being alive and healthy is all anyone could ask for, then I will realize the true beauty of leaving a living legacy behind after I take my last breath.

I’m not entirely sure where I stand on what happens to one after they pass, but, today, I do know that I hope you and grandpa are somewhere, enjoying a rum and diet coke and gin & tonic, respectively, in honor of the shared birthday with your mom and his wife. No matter where you are, I want you to have the most beautiful of days, dear father. I have failed to resign to your death thus far and continue to  wish it was just a dream, but for today, I will walk with the knowledge that you are by my side, taking in the celebration of life that we have commenced. I know you’re watching from above, and I’m sending love and warm birthday blessings to my angel upstairs.

To end, I would like to send my daddy a few birthday wishes:

  1. I hope you are resting peacefully somewhere, with unlimited access to your favorite foods and drinks.
  2. I hope you have reconnected with the friends and family who passed before or after you.
  3. I hope that you are proud of us.
  4. I hope that you celebrate your birthday along with us.
  5. But most importantly, I hope that one day, we can all meet again.

Happy 53rd Birthday, Dad – have a rum and coke for me.

I love you with all of my heart.

Atlas Burning.

Her thoughts are darker now, consumed with the fears and sadness life has brought to her feet. She works harder to hide the pain behind a whitened smile, erasing all physical defects so that she may appear physically, and consequently, emotionally put together. She channels all of her energy, picks up her bag and walks out the door to live another day.

She knows that she is not alone in her battle, that she is not the only one fighting these demons who have made home in her soul, heart and brain. The demons are a similarity that connects people, no one goes without fighting demons. The only difference is the heads these ugly demons rear. The nightmares are not solely unique to her, but spread across the world, reaching even the deepest cracks of the most well put together people. The negative thoughts are not a side effect of her condition, instead they are a side effect of living. The fight to rid her life of negativity is a constant battle, one that every human must fight themselves at some point.

However dark her thoughts may turn, however stained she believes her life is, she knows that there is a silver lining waiting to burn up her sky. She may be exhausted of the warring in her mind and body, but she knows that soon she will find the light to burn these ghosts that haunt her. Despite all of the negative, all of the evil, she hangs on to that sliver of hope. Although it may not be for a while, she knows that she will set her demons on fire, that she will win this fight and light up the sky with the remnants of her past. While she may not be in perfect condition, physical, emotional, mental, or spiritual, she knows that it will eventually be okay. She will one day make peace with her scars, and that, that is why her spirit burns alive, refusing to be blackened to a mere shadow of her previous self. No, she will fight, she will light the fire that keeps her spark alive, because she knows that she is her own hero – capable of saving herself.


As she curls the last piece of her light brown hair, she stares at her reflection in the mirror. Without her makeup, her face betrays her true self. The dark circles under her eyes show the countless sleepless nights, the nights where she can’t silence her mind. The wrinkles etched in her forehead tell the stories of her worry, of her fear of never being enough and the constant belief that people will never accept her.

Slowly, stroke by stoke, she paints away the evidence of her true self, altering her reflection into one that the world will accept.

When the last brush of mascara leaves her eyelashes, she  flashes one of her never failing smiles to the mirror, but like all of the others, it doesn’t reach her eyes. Idly, she wonders when the last time her smile has been genuine. A smile free of the fear of being found out, but she quickly banishes that thought from her head. For from this moment on, she is the girl that is always happy, the one who is optimistic, the one person who can be counted on to have the best advice.

Maybe, she thinks, she brought this upon herself. Maybe she spent too much time worrying about other people’s issues, about helping them, that she forgot to help herself along the way. Maybe, just maybe, it is all of her fault. Maybe, had she seen the signs earlier, she wouldn’t have to fight the desire to stay in bed and sleep all day long. Maybe, if she hadn’t tried to put the world on her shoulders, she would have her world in line.

But, that’s not what her life has been. Her life has been one of putting others first. She doesn’t understand why she’s hardwired this way, but it’s always been second nature to her. If someone is hurting, she takes their pain away. She can’t stand to see the sadness and hurt etched into the planes of someone else’s face. Instead, she finds ways to replace their pain with happiness, even if it means taking their burden upon herself.

For she would rather take the pain and suffering of the world upon her shoulders instead of having someone else paint away the scars and wounds of life from their body.

Dear Grandpa

Mourning, pain and grief are not emotions that I don’t have experience with. I’ve experienced more of these than most my age in the past year and a half alone, and today is no exception. Today I said goodbye to you, the final, tear-ridden goodbye that I never had a chance to give my dad. In fact, saying goodbye was just as hard because you have been my second father.

Ever since I can remember, I have spent countless hours at your house, annoying you with my questions and pestering you with my mood swings, but you still loved me through it all. You spent countless hours watching my sister and me at dance and poms competitions, never once complaining. You spent countless weekends cheering my brother and me on from the sidelines of whatever sport we were playing at the time and never once complained of a missed Packer game. You were always there, a silent presence emitting unconditional love and support. No matter what it was, even something as minuscule as a middle school choir concert, you never failed to miss a single event in my life. How you managed to do this, I don’t know. It must have been some of your mighty ba-ba-ba-Batman skills. :)

When dad passed, you promised us to be a father just as he was. And now I know why he always spoke so highly of you as a parent, you were an impeccable one. If he learned anything from you it was how to be a great father. I’m sure he will be excited to have you by his side once again, in a happier, more peaceful place. I’ve had some amazing times with you. From our games of chess to our games of “love taps”, there was never a dull moment when I was with you. I’ve already decided that that’s going to be how I remember you. When I think of you, my head will fill with memories of our jokes and my heart will fill with love, smiles and laughter. While it won’t be easy, the knowledge that you are at peace and reunited with my father is more than enough to get me through the bad times.

For the first time this past weekend, I saw you as a cancer patient. Not as a living, breathing, fighting human, but as a patient. I didn’t see my grandpa fighting lung cancer, instead I saw a stranger. I saw a fragile, tired man, nothing like the man I have come to know as my grandpa. That was what the hardest part of this process was. I saw the loss of your identity and that’s when I knew. That exact moment is when I knew why you chose to stop treatments, why you chose to be at peace. You were taking control. For once it wasn’t the cancer determining your fate, it was you and I admire that. While I wish it never even happened, I have never been in more awe of you than now. You are one of the bravest souls I have ever met, grandpa. You had the ability to look cancer in the eye and say try me, and you put up a hell of a fight throughout the first cancer and now this lung cancer. I thought that was brave, to have the courage to fight not one, but two of the most threatening types of illnesses. But this, facing death without apprehension, without fear of the unknown, that is true bravery. As humans we have an innate fear of death, doing everything in our power to avoid death prematurely, or even death at all. However, you defied all odds when you accepted your fate. You came to peace with death and that – that is awe inspiring, grandpa.

I will remember your bravery. I will remember the grin on your face as I jokingly called you by the name of “Peachy” when your hair first started growing back from chemo because it was as soft as peach fuzz. I will remember the stories of how you got the name Batman and Chippy. I will smile when I remember how you don’t like Chipotle (pronounced Chi-pot-el) because they put beans in your burrito. I will laugh when I remember the way you used to imitate grandma when she called your name, but I will recall how evident your love for her was throughout the 55 years you guys shared together. I will never forget how you shaped me into the person I am today, and if I am anything like you at all, I am one lucky girl.

So grandpa, I hope that wherever you are, you are with my dad and you two are fishing for the biggest bass you can find (although I do hope you give him a good talking to and booty kicking). Please do send my love to him. I know that you are in good hands with him and that I am in good hands with both of you as guardian angels. I know that you will watch over me and our family, and I have never felt safer in this world than I do at this point.

This isn’t a goodbye because I live with the hope that I will see you and my daddy again one day, it’s what keeps me going on my hardest days. So, for now, it’s goodnight grandpa. I hope you have found peace in your new life and I look forward to seeing it one day, but for now, I’ll pray to you and dad every night.

Life starts all over again when it gets crisp in the fall.

I absolutely adore fall, it is deliciously refreshing. The way the cold air feels as it brushes past your face to get tangled in your hair…the way it feels to snuggle up in a warm hat, scarf, sweatshirt and vest…the way it feels to have a salted caramel mocha (or pumpkin spice latte for all of you non-vegans out there) warming up your hands as you wander through the pumpkin patch on a quest for the perfect pumpkin. There’s just something about fall…

I think it’s the way that everything seems to come to life. The colors turn a beautiful hue of scarlet, orange, gold, yellow…it’s so vivacious and bright. How could someone not smile when they walk in a forest of these colors? Watching the leaves dance from trees as the wind picks them off is a feeling like no other. It’s the only time of the year when nature seems to interact with us, playing with our hair and filling our vision with bright colors.

Maybe it’s the idea of apple orchards and pumpkin patches. And we can’t forget about the hay rides while visiting these places! Nor should we forget the countless caramel apples that come from these excursions.  Or maybe it’s the fact that after spending hours outside in the crisp, fall air, we can come inside and warm up to a cup of apple cider with some (meatless) chili or soup.

Maybe it’s the idea that it’s socially acceptable to maintain “white girl status” as I walk to class with my leggings, leg warmers, Uggs, Minnesota sweatshirt, North Face vest, and infinity scarf while slowly sipping my coffee. Maybe it’s the fact that I can layer up in warm, cozy clothes and finally feel comfortable.

Or maybe it’s the way the football fans of the world come out of hiding to emphatically support their team and insist that this is the year they will finally win the Super Bowl.  Maybe it’s my ability to boast about the Packers and wear my green and gold every single weekend.

While all of these are great, I think what makes me love fall the most is the fact that the atmosphere of society changes. Instead of sullen, drear-ridden people, people actually take on a thankful, happy tone. It’s as if this one time of the year makes everyone realize how lucky they are to have a home, family, food on the table, wardrobe, an education…the list goes on. In fall, everyone is reminded that not everyone is as lucky as them, and that makes them happy. It’s a time of gratefulness, thankfulness, happiness, and giving. After all, it’s not happy people who are thankful, it’s thankful people that are happy.



So, in honor of my favorite season I’ve made a fall bucket list:

  1. Go apple picking
  2. Go on a quest for the perfect pumpkin
  3. Carve the perfect pumpkin
  4. Roast pumpkin seeds
  5. Take a hay ride
  6. Plan a fun Halloween costume
  7. Make caramel apples
  8. Watch every Packer game
  9. Make pumpkin or apple pie
  10. Take beautiful, crisp, autumn nature walks
  11. Play in the fallen leaves
  12. Successfully complete a corn maze or haunted house
  13. Have a Friendsgiving
  14. Make a thankful tree
  15. Volunteer and donate
  16. Reflect on how lucky I am to be alive for another beautiful autumn :)