Two years and four months ago I stretched out across my bed. Matt walked in with a manilla folder and said he wanted to go over some things before his heart surgery. Etched all over it were dates, names of doctors, and notes he had taken during conversations. At the top:
He went through each page with me and explained what to do if something happened to him and he couldn’t take care of it. It bothered me we were doing this. He was only 34. There was no reason except for blatant pessimism for us to go over this with such detail. As the kids shuffled around us, playing with their toys and jabbing their fingers on the piano next to our bed, I teased him that if he were taking this that seriously he should give me the password to his computer. Seven years prior I was using his computer and it crashed…deleting all of his files. I swore I didn’t have anything to do with that happening except it being pure chance I had been the last one to touch it, but alas, I was never quite trusted again.
He hesitated at my request for the password.
I laughed in delight.
But then he gave me the password.
Laying on my side with my head resting on my hand I looked at the papers. A wave of realization swarmed above me and crashed down. I looked up at him.
“You’ve never planned your life past 35, have you?”
“No, I haven’t.”
Tears created a blurry film over my eyes. My heart dropped and a hollow feeling took over the back of my throat. How could I just realize this? After eleven years of loving him, of hearing him talk about needing this surgery in his mid thirties, and living with a man that savored life but was haunted by time?
This mentality he had about life is one of the main things I loved about him. When he was nine months old he had heart surgery that saved his life. It left a large scar that said to him, “Do not forget you are mortal.” When he was nineteen he was in a horrendous car accident that took the life of his friend. Prior to that accident he spent a good amount of his teen years wondering what the point of his life was.
Though the accident brought tragedy, from it he went through his own spiritual rebirth. A song he wrote called “Some Kind of Accident” explains:
And your life wasn’t for nothing.
And you lay covered in blood.
Consequences of actions you created yourself
A story to tell, a story to tell
God smacked me,
Me in the head,
Got my attention
Oh with the dead
Find my purpose
And I’m so thankful.
Now I understand.
I can move forward and now I have
A new direction and a newfound hope
Sometimes tragedy even, can change you, help to cope
A great testimony that I hardly give
There was a purpose, a story to tell
Testimony again, testimony again.
I thought he was preparing for death based on a probability that was not likely at all. Technology is amazing, doctors are healers, bodies are miraculous, and God can accomplish anything. I was his Pollyanna, believing all would be well. That’s what he loved about me. So while I punish myself for not seeing the truth, I also realize that what I was, is what he needed.
For a normal, young couple I do not believe it is ordinary for you and your spouse to have recurrent conversations about “when they die.” He mentioned it so much in jest, in earnest, in sorrow, but mostly as fact that I began to tune it out. Like a funny quirk that one of Doris Day’s movie husbands would have. If I didn’t treat it that way it would crawl under my skin and make me mad. As if he were saying to me I didn’t love him.
But I can tell you that as much as Matt’s death shocked me, I was prepared.
He planned for the possibility there might not be a tomorrow.
We bought a house we could afford on a single income, just in case.
He wrote journal entries that fill up drawers.
He archived songs and poetry he wrote.
He took so many pictures only a computer could count how many there are.
He created tangible evidence that he was here.
He spent every moment making connections with people and telling them about his love for Jesus.
He told me everything he wanted.
I knew on his death certificate for occupation it would read Musician.
I knew he wanted a casket and for his life to be celebrated.
I knew what instruments he wanted to give to each of our three children.
I knew that he wanted me to fall in love and marry again.
I knew that death could not stop him from his desire for me to be happy.
I knew that he would take care of me, whether he inhabited a body or not.
Two weeks before the heart surgery he became very ill. I forced him into the car and to the hospital. Each time the doctors came in our room the news became worse. And we didn’t talk about it. He knew what was happening. I refused to confront that possibility.
Four days after being admitted he died while a room of medical professionals tried to revive him. They continued while I screamed and cried, my body flung over his legs telling him not to leave me. When I finally realized he could never live in this broken body, I told him I loved him and it was okay to go into the light, but to please always be with us.
As I laid my head down in defeat, they called his time of death.
They asked if I wanted to spend time with him. I became angry.
Steely, infuriated, and defeated, I replied in a voice with so much weight:
He is not there anymore.
* * *
The months after he passed it felt like a constant emotional circle.
I would be strong, a survivor, a single mom rocking the shit out of what was left of my life. There was always a deep, never-ending sadness, but I could handle that. But the moments I couldn’t process or I tried to push aside became a rock and those rocks stacked up higher and higher. In the beginning one rock on top of the other was just too much. Then I could get three, five, ten, fifteen…but the rocks still fell. Sometimes it was a song. Some nights it was while I did the dishes looking at the clock thinking, “He should be coming home from work now.” One day it was while I walked from the car to my front door and I fell to the cement walkway and sobbed into the warm, rough sidewalk.
To even try to summarize my grief to you feels like trying to tell you about ten lifetimes in one sentence.
Even if I had the words, I could never describe what I endured.
Loss is double sided—because it is a great unifier—the emotions of loss are universal, but each one is individual and different so it is also isolating. I do not know what it is to lose a mother, a child, or friend, so I could never and will never compare my loss to yours.
None is more, none is less—they are different.
Each wholly earth shattering.
Each fragmenting your heart.
In it you stand alone.
After four months I decided to take advantage of the free grief therapy sessions my insurance was giving me. I walked away from my third session pissed off because all I had done was tell him my story, give him website advice, and taught him how to use social media to connect with his grandkids. What angered me the most is I thought if I went to therapy I WOULD STOP FEELING SAD.
I was wrong.
Sadness and grief is the price you pay for pure love. For the most part we leave this world at different times so it’s going to happen if you let yourself really, truly love. The pain was horrific. It was embedded in me, it was part of me. This deep sadness is an underlying note that constantly hummed deep in my stomach. My biggest fear was that this pain would never go away. I called my friend one night unable to even talk because my sobs took my breath away. I told her I didn’t know how to feel sad. I didn’t understand this emotion and it didn’t feel right in my body. I wanted it GONE and there was no way to get rid of it.
When you are in those moments people tell you it will get better in time and you do not believe them.
But I will tell you, I hope I give you some kind of relief to tell you that YES, it will get better.
That deep chord of sadness will buzz and hum so strong for months, but over time it becomes fainter until you've grown so used to it you can’t hear it anymore. You learn to live with it and keep moving.
And then I discovered the magic ingredient to healing:
When death brutally grips its hands on life there is a darkness, a fog, a weight that washes over you. But it makes you realize the true value of life, love, and simple joy. My soul was awoken. I could see with eyes that were mine, but they could now see new dimensions. I could see so much beauty it left me in awe. My grief let me feel the deepest of dark emotion, but its gift was that now I could feel the highest point of joy. I could see magic in the once mundane.
I wasn’t a radically new person with a drastic personality change. The core of me was the same and always will be. I was now an expansion of myself. I had been awoken.
This clarity enlightened me and expanded my understanding for the questions of “why did this happen?” I could see the ripple effect of Matt’s death on everyone. In life he made an impact, but in death, oh, I could see even more. We all changed. We all saw with new eyes or at least we were awakened to some part of our self that we were blind to before. We all had a choice at that point to let grief heal us and change us or stay the same.
Most of us woke up and there was no going to back to being asleep.
Grief was my new companion that would not leave until I had learned all that I needed to.
As I surrendered to its lessons, seeds of happiness were planted. I could not see their stem or leaves, but I knew one day I would see them again.
I continually imagined me standing on train tracks, my feet fastened to the ground, waiting for a train to hit me. But it wasn’t a train really, it was a gush, a blast, a force. It was a rainbow of sparkling light that contained happiness. One day it would hit me whether I was ready or not and there would be no turning back.
I prepared for that moment, I looked forward to it.
As the humming of constant sadness faded I began to feel that I yearned to experience more joy. I knew that all my husband had ever wanted for me and our children was to be happy. I found myself finding new ways to bring light to my life. I spent more time with friends and building relationships than I ever had before. I was braver in my decisions and opinions. I became liberated when I realized the worst that could happen is death.
Because even in that, that is not forever.
When life is done, what is left? Love.
Love, love, love.
I wanted to fill my life up with it. I didn’t want to lay on sidewalks crying anymore. I didn’t want to be frozen in time, frozen in an emotion that erodes your spirit.
I wanted to be resilient, ever-growing, and alive.
I wanted to love.
And so, I gave myself permission to date.
It was a winding psychological path to get to that point. I argued with myself because at first I said no, I will never even think about being with anyone else. When people said to me, “You are so young. You will meet someone again,” I was repulsed and wanted to yell at them. Matthew Chan was the love of my life, no one could ever take his place. It also felt to me like they were saying my love for him wasn’t strong, that death could end it. I KNEW that love does NOT die; love does NOT end. Our love story is one with no ending.
While I knew this and still feel that love does not end, I knew that God put me here on Earth to love. I had learned by Matt's example that you have to take the time we are given and fill it up so that at the end when we meet our maker we can say, "I used my whole heart."
I knew that if I were to date I would have to be open to the possibility of anything. I did not want anyone like Matt—what we had could never be recreated. What was, is sacred to me. I wanted something new, but I was resolute in the idea it had to be magic.
Magic should never, ever be compromised.
With a desire for change and overflowing hope, I sat down and wrote out what I wanted in a man. I had to be clear with myself as well. I did not ever want to get swept up in emotion and forget what was important to me.
“Please, this, or something better, God,” I said aloud.
I began to date. I decided each person I spent time with would be an adventure and my goal was to learn something new about myself—what I liked or didn’t. To remind me that every step forward was indeed a major accomplishment, I wrote on a sticky note:
Your task is not to seek for love,
With that, I learned my barriers. On one occasion I learned I was afraid to watch someone walk out the door for fear they might never return. Another I learned that you cannot make magic from dust.
The effort I had put in thus far was very little compared to friends that have dated for years before they found the love of their life, but this was an awful lot of soul-work for a heart that had one year prior had been broken in half.
But then one day, tired and exhausted, I went on what I was ready to call my last date before I took a long break,— I met Adam.
* * *
The day I met Adam I had only spoken with him once on the phone. Seeing that we lived so far from one another he found a place that was equal distance for us— a restaurant on the Long Beach pier. We sat next to the patio railing overlooking the ocean while lights twinkled and music softly played.
He was tall, handsome, kind, intelligent, thoughtful, and funny. Sitting across from him at a table for two I should have been more nervous. His intelligence by far surpassed mine, he was little bit older, and had seen the world—and yet, I was so comfortable and at ease with him.
He made me feel like I could just be my authentic self.
After a year of being The Widow, I wasn’t.
I was just me.
I eventually delivered him the dreaded information, because it felt like lying if I didn’t. As much as I did not want this to be who I was, it was a big puzzle piece. Trying to have even a casual interaction without mentioning this detail can make conversations really awkward. I was just really, really hoping he didn’t become fascinated in it like a previous date had. As sweet as that man was he couldn’t stop asking questions and it made it really uncomfortable for me--as if it were a test to see how okay I was talking nonchalantly about the most horrifying experience in my life. But Adam took in the information, said he was sorry, and then he didn’t dwell on it. When it came into the conversation there was room for it, but it was not the focus.
He was focused on me.
Adam impressed me with his thoughtfulness—he was always considering of the wellbeing and feelings of others, particularly me.
When we had talked on the phone prior to our date we had joked about how I would be more than happy just to go to a buffet. Somehow Jello and Cool Whip tastes the best when they are sitting next to salad and cottage cheese. After dinner a dessert showed up that I had not ordered—Jello. We laughed and I was astonished to find that he had called earlier that day to request they make it for our evening. It made me laugh to think of the poor person who had to run to the store to buy it and make it for this fancy restaurant that would never, EVER present this on their menu!
The little things kept adding up. The whole became greater than the parts. He walked me to my car and did the most romantic thing:
He didn’t kiss me.
Yes, be shocked. The most romantic thing he did was not kiss me.
These other dates I had been on, the men always leaned over for a kiss and it left me in the most awkward position possible because not once did I want to. Here was a man that I clearly liked. We had spent hours talking and laughing and now here we were holding hands walking to the parking lot, but he knew from my body language that I was not ready for that. He had thought of me before him.
He told me to follow him out, and as I took my turn to pay for my parking, the man told me that it had already been paid for by the gentleman ahead of me.
Each of the dates following contained even more of these sweet actions. He took me next to a fancy hamburger restaurant because I told him those were my favorite things to eat. Next he planned a whirlwind of a date—he met me at Dana Point (and had already paid for my parking pass) with the most elegant and complete picnic I have ever seen. As he pulled out each item I laughed, because I had never had anyone pack such an extensive setup or meal for the beach. We watched the sun set, the stars twinkled a show, and the moon beamed on us. We walked over to the hotel lobby near us which just happened to be having a small art show with sketches and paintings from Renoir and Picasso. We drank a drink on the patio of their bar. We talked, and talked, and talked. And I couldn’t get enough of him.
We talked every night and made dates every week. I began to fall in love with him. I felt so guilty in the beginning. Here I was doing something that scared me with the faith love would come if I believed it would—but this soon? This strong?
I’ve always believed that there are many soulmates in our lives. They are in your family, the people you fall in love with, and your friends that feel like sisters. I knew it was possible for me to meet another, but I never imagined I would love another man so completely. I came to realize that Matt was my soulmate and we were perfect for where we were in life. But now I was different. His death had changed me, whether I liked it or not.
Every time I looked at this man I was so moved by the beauty of his soul and how grateful I felt to be loved by him that I would repeat silently to God, "Thank you for Adam, thank you for Adam."
I once wrote about how I felt as if in my marriage we had been creating a crystal bowl, but in Matt's death it had shattered. I wanted to learn how to pick up the pieces without cutting myself, how to hang them in the sun and let rainbows fall all around me, and to learn to dance with the beauty of the past while creating a new future. It seemed like a wish that might never come true.
But it did.
It was hard: I bled and I have scars. But I hung those crystals up. And I danced.
And then God sent me a gift; he sent me Adam.
And then Adam took my hand and twirled with me in my room of rainbows.
He embraced our past for all that it was, because that is what made today. We may have come by way of sorrow, but that path brought miracles and finding each other was one of them.
I believe our past may have been fated, preordained by God for a greater purpose that I cannot understand in this lifetime. Accepting the mystery of what happened and moving forward is what faith required of me and has more rewards than I could have ever imagined. I have learned my heart can grow, that there always is room for love. There are no limits.
Today I am happy. I am so content. Each day is brimming with things to be grateful for.
With Adam our home is full of love; it is multiplying.
He loves me and I love him.
He loves our children as his own.
He loves their father, because in this beautiful puzzle the present could not be without the past.
There is so much love.
I learned I never had to do this by myself. My family, friends, and strangers let me fall into their arms. I believe we each contain a spark of God; in you I saw Him. You gave me love when my heart was broken, you held me while I wept, and you listened while I poured my words out to your ears. You told me it was okay to be happy, that it made you happy to see me love again. Thank you.
This morning after I dropped the kids off at school I parked the car and headed inside. I abruptly stopped when I spotted two yellow birds happily singing and sitting at the top of my tree. Beneath them was a hummingbird sipping sugary juice from our feeder. It flew up and around those two yellow birds and then dashed over my head. Tears fell from my eyes. Hummingbirds in this house symbolize Matt's love.
I knew that God would take care of me, but I had no idea how beautiful my life could be after.
I never could have imagined this. This is so much better than anything I could have hoped for.
Last year Adam and I found heaven on Earth on the foothills of a Swiss mountain.
As darkness settles in each night we say goodnight prayers with our children.
We eat every dinner by candlelight, because he's a romantic.
He plans adventures for the four of us that require planes and trips up mountain roads.
He makes me stop working and leads me by my hand so I can catch the sunset with him just in time.
We laugh, we share, and we plan.
We give thanks for the past,
savor the present,
and we are open to the future.
Because no matter what, it's going to be beautiful.
My fairytale isn't over.
Especially with this new bundle of magic on its way.
I am thrilled to show you a book I illustrated for Klutz, a division of Scholastic. As described in their about section, Klutz creates award-winning, premium activity books for kids and kid-minded adults.
Watercolor Crush contains 18 illustrations to paint--it also includes a complete and fun set of instructions as well as a top quality set of watercolor paints and paintbrush! I cannot even begin to tell you how pleased I am with it. The watercolor paper is fantastic, the paints are bright, and instructions are thorough.
The best part? You don't have to be a kid to enjoy this!! All kids love this, but I have even sat with friends for a girls' night and painted together. For my book club, they so sweetly suggested we paint the book instead of reading a book that month. It was a blast! Even the women that declared adamantly that they were not artistic found fun in it!
You can find it at Klutz, Amazon, Target, Michael's, Barnes & Noble, and many other places!
In the book I show you different ways you can paint an illustration. In the image above it is fun to try different techniques! You can use an ombre effect for a sunrise or use a bleeding technique and a white crayon to create a starry sky.
Below is a video of my 5 year old daughter painting the mermaid picture. She did a great job!
On a personal note, Klutz contacted me last year to work with them. It had been six months since my late husband passed...and being asked to do this was such a blessing. It was a dream I had always dreamed coming true. It was focused and something I really could lose myself in. I remember painting at night after my kids had gone to bed and staying up way too late to finish work before deadlines were due.
This book means so much to me.
It was a childhood wish.
It was a push from my angels.
It was a gift from Matt, from the other side.
It was a symbol of me being able to make it on my own.
But ultimately, it is a piece of work that brings joy to others.
A couple weeks ago I showed my work at the Hello, Sunrise Market and had this book on display. I kid you not--little kids were drawn to this book! They would walk over to it and couldn't put it down. It was the BEST feeling!!!
My favorite part was when my friend brought her daughter by and had me sign her book for her. I started to write her name in it but wrote it wrong.
I told her I could fix it.
We all make mistakes, but as an artist you can use your creativity to fix them and somehow your work comes out even better because of it.
I scribbled out her name and turned that into the grass. From it grew a grouping of flowers.
She was so pleased! Her mother told me not long after she had made a spelling mistake. In classic artist fashion she made the best of it and turned it into a bed of flowers.
Honestly, as I said it, I was just trying to console her. But hearing how she had done the same as me struck me and stuck with me.
The lesson being:
Make the most of whatever happens.
When you do, it just might end up even more beautiful than you could have imagined.
This is my absolute favorite painting from the book!
The colors are vibrant and when you add salt on top of the wet blue paint it creates a unique effect as the salt absorbs the water around it. Leave the salt until it dries and then brush the grains off.
There are fun tips on the ways you can display your artwork or further projects you can make with them.
There are two pages that are perforated so you can send them as postcards in the mail or display as smaller works.
This collaboration was a dream come true!
I LOVE hearing how happy it makes little girls! I love to see how they imagined the colors and the creative ways they paint them. I love hearing that grown women are buying this book and treating themselves to time painting.
Paint away, dear friends!
If you post it on instagram be sure to post the hashtag #watercolorcrushbook and feel free to tag me!
Oh, I have learned many things this year and months past.
To accept what is.
To let go.
To keep a light of hope in my heart.
To have faith.
And my proudest lesson?
To move past Sorrow.
In order to do this I had to acknowledge that there was a possibility that life ahead of me could be beautiful.
I could sit beside Sorrow. Sleep with it. Cry with it in my car. Lay on the sidewalk and let it wash over me. It planted a seed in me and it grew and grew and grew. I could have let it inhabit me forever.
I never wanted it to live in me or around me.
But it is a price you will inevitably pay if you love.
Sorrow stayed and would not leave till I learned from it. It is a contrary relationship—because while it took me to the deepest depths of sadness it taught me truths that I could only learn from it alone.
When I learned what I needed to it was time to release it from my soul.
Its time was up.
And even though I know it will visit me again in my life, for now it is time for it to leave.
The final step to saying goodbye? I had to start imagining a life where I was ALIVE.
Death taught me something wonderful:
It said, "Do not take Life so seriously."
I thought about it.
I asked myself---in life what is the worst that could happen?
I could die. They could die.
Death, you don’t scare me anymore.
You are an illusion.
But Sorrow, you are real. You are my teacher. And as much pain as you have made me feel, I have profound gratitude for the lessons you taught me.
this is what
and how I will live:
I will play. I will risk colds to jump in rain and puddles with my children. I will dance in a sparkling dress, with sequin shoes, and a glitter belt.
I will know my worth. I will order what I really want on a menu, not just the cheapest thing. I will not settle, because magic is real. And I am worthy of magic.
I will be authentic. That means being a truth teller: pouring my heart out on a bright screen or white cold pressed paper. Most of all that means listening to my heart.
I will put myself in new situations. I can, have, and will--drive further than I’ve ever gone alone before, sail high above sparkling waters, fly to foreign lands, and so much more.
I will be vulnerable and open to the rebirth of a new life.
I will live for today, because that is all I have. I am promised nothing more.
I will say yes to love. No matter what loss has occurred death and endings are only illusions. There is life after death and love after loss. Love is always worth it.
I am ready now.
Love and Life, I am here.
I was talking with a dear friend--a fellow dreamer--and it got me thinking about things.
As a dreamer you plan your future and events with the greatest of detail. And then when it happens it is different. And sometimes it is disappointing because it wasn’t what you imagined, in fact, sometimes radically different or completely opposite. But you still gain something from it.
I had my future planned out with little details. We were going to move to Oregon. I would have a garden that wouldn’t die when I looked at it. Tall pine trees, old wooden floors, his hands strumming the guitar, and fresh wildflowers on my table. Our kids would be happy, we would be happy, and there would be so much love.
So much love.
But then he died. And I didn’t plan or dream that. But look at all the beautiful things I gained this year because of it. I made so many new friends and created deep relationships I never would have otherwise. I saw acts of love. I saw magic, literal magic from God. I know why I am here. I know why I was left behind.
Before this I guarded my heart and its contents. Only a few were allowed to enter and even then I might have still held back. My heart was broken last year. It will never be put back together completely, but I like it that way. Because I know the darkest sadness, I also can feel the lightest and highest joy. I can feel all emotions. I can feel them simultaneously.
It is magnificent.
It reminds me of my crystal hanging in my studio window. It fell and chipped off a side of it.
Essentially it is broken.
But because that happened which of my crystals creates the most rainbows?
The broken one.
A long time ago, 11 months ago…or was it eleven years ago…or eleven days ago? As Einstein said, “Time is an illusion.”
Back to what I was saying.
11 months ago I had one of my paintings posted as my facebook header. The quote I had painted said:
“Life itself is the most wonderful fairytale.”
-Hans Christian Andersen
The day after my husband died someone who loved me innocently and lovingly commented, “I am so sorry your fairytale ended this way.”
And the comment literally struck my heart as if an arrow had pierced my chest. My stomach sank as I realized once again how my life had been placed upside down.
It reminded me of when I was a little kid and I would lay on the bed with half of my body hanging off looking at the room upside down. I would imagine what it would be like if my room really were upside down. How would I sit in a chair? Will I now be tripping over the ceiling fan every time I run for the phone? It was odd, intriguing, and very uncomfortable--especially towards the end when all the blood went rushing to my head.
That’s what this felt like.
My world was upside down and the blood was rushing to my head.
But I could never straighten it out.
I am still in the same world, the same house, the same room…but even after 11 months I will be caught in a moment where I realize I live in all of this upside down.
When I look back on the beginning it still mystifies me how I understood and knew things that perhaps normal people don’t.
On the car ride home after he died I knew God was going to use me. I knew that this painful, horrible thing was going to be a source of light and demonstration of His love. And it made me sick because the love of my life was worth more than that to me.
I knew when I read the comment that my fairytale was over that it wasn’t. While it made me sob to think that it WAS over, I knew with an almost angry and passionate feeling that it was indeed NOT over. This was merely the halfway point in my fairytale.
Because I am a heroine and this is my story.
I entered into this world on my own and that is how I will end it. All of these people in my life have entered at different points and as such they will exit it. They are the characters that teach me. However brief or lengthy, however minute or profound...
You are all teaching me.
You are all blessing me.
But this journey is mine.
This fairytale is mine. I might not get to write this story, but I damn well get to choose how I react to what happens to me.
This is my story.
And this is what I choose for mine:
My story is full of magic, fantastical beings, and wondrous sights.
I will be kind, courageous, and determined.
I will use my knowledge to help others.
I will use magic to my advantage; to all our advantage.
I will give up who I was in order to become what I was meant to be.
I will be true to myself and listen to my heart.
I will feel and see the power of love again and again.
I will have hope, feel gratitude, and exude joy despite hardships.
I will always have faith that this story will end more beautifully than I could have ever imagined.
Here is the truth about fairytales:
You have your own fairytale.
Your fairytale doesn’t end when someone you love dies or when something ends.
In fact, when someone you love dies your life becomes more magical because they are busy doing things in their invisible cloaks like making feathers rain from the sky and sending butterflies to sit in your hair. Your life is now magnified in blessings because someone you love is making sure you can’t argue it.
If something in your life ends, I promise you something far better or something just as beautiful will take its place. It will not be the same, but it will still be just as precious, worthy, and beautiful.
Heck, your fairytale doesn’t even end when you die.
Because if you are like me you believe that our souls are everlasting and there is no end.
The completion of this life opens the door to heaven.
So there really is such thing as happily ever after.
Don’t ever forget that you are the heroine (or hero) of your story. No matter what happens to you, this is not the end.
Our fairytale in not over.
Today I found myself telling my friend I can time travel.
As a kid (and even now) I have loved any book or movie based on it. I love the idea of time not having to be linear. For as much as I like rules and to follow them, when I disagree with them--I love to the bend them.
Just when you think you have me figured out I will surprise you with my complexities. This is one of them.
As for my new found supernatural ability....
A few months ago I was driving down the freeway and passed the hospital that I had first taken Matt to on the four day process of him dying. And while other times I silently cursed that lone building or simply did my best to ignore it, that day it was different.
While I was driving next to it, I was also inside.
I was in there.
He was in there.
In some other dimension our two scenarios were side by side, coexisting.
Waiting on test results, staring out the window watching the day slip by, feeding him ice water from a q-tip looking stick with a tiny pink sponge on the end.
I was scared.
Because he was sicker than I had ever imagined and the doctors were puzzled.
Nobody had any answers.
In that 3 second spans of me whizzing past that building I was transported in time and into that stretch of a day.
I can walk into a frozen yogurt place that just cleaned with bleach and want to gag. It sends me silently in my head whirling back to when the nurse walked me back into his hospital room that was permeated with the harsh, cutting smell of it. It makes me look at myself standing above him, rubbing his arm, telling him the reasons why he has to stay…and not knowing whether or not I should tell her he will never open his eyes again.
I spent a lot of those hours in the hospital awake. By his side. In a place where time is of the essence, but all there is to do is wait. I had no patience for reading and nothing was more important than sitting by his side smiling and being his comforter. I was doing my best to be a light of blinding love. Unintentionally, one night I stared at that box full of latex gloves more intently than perhaps anyone has.
I went to the doctor's a month after he passed and the sight of that box of gloves made my teeth start to literally chatter.
So now it is clear to me that the gift I had always fantasized of having is something I can actually do now.
I can time travel.
Sometimes I wish I couldn’t.
This must be what happens when your emotions are stirred. When your senses are shocked. When your life is changed.
The experience rouses your senses and magnifies them, thus making it impossible to forget.
The images do not fade.
The sounds do not muffle.
The smell does not dissipate.
The feeling of his scared hand in your scared hand cannot be forgotten.
And while I know that in time I will learn how to refocus this gift to positive things, sometimes it sends me back to the saddest and scariest days of my life.
This month has been my best yet. I think I am finally getting better at stopping the time travel. When I feel the mind buzzing, force pulling sensations I slowly talk myself down from its vortex.
I hear my sweet angels telling me:
Let it go.
Do not travel here.
Travel to that time you played that corny love song and forced him to slow dance with you in the backyard. Feel his hands around your waist. Feel his scruffy face against your cheek. Feel your hair flying from your neck as he twirls you and you can’t figure out how to twist back so you both end up laughing at your clumsiness. See the glittering stars, his sparkling eyes (albeit rolling eyes). Hear his voice, the hollow sounding music coming from your cell phone speaker, and your children laughing as they ride their noisy tricycles around you. Feel the safety of his arms and the kiss that was lovely but one of many like a field of flowers—so easily dismissed because there were so many, but treasured now as a single flower for its striking beauty.
Feel your heart’s content at the comfort of knowing this love is endless.
Know that it still is.
And as I settle back into Now I have a pile of tissues, but I am thankful because I have more of those kinds of memories to time travel to than ones that include bleach and beeping medical instruments.
These memories have warm sand beneath my feet, pink sunsets, the vibration of music being created by freckled hands I love, and the sound of our babies laughing. These memories are full of so much love they could warm the earth. Surely they could sustain me the rest of my days here--though I know our God is generous and there will never be a need for that.
But how lovely to know.
I am arriving upon the point in my journey where I can choose where I will go in time. When I do travel back to scary or sad times, it will be a choice and I will be visiting to learn something.
When I stop and step back I realize how amazing it is I can do this.
How magical it can be.
I am thankful God gave me eyes to see, hands to feel, ears to hear, and a heart that delights. More than that, for those moments. Most of all, for a timeless, transcendent love.
Because of this,
I can time travel.
This was written 6 weeks prior to the posting date. Writing this was so incredibly healing for me that almost immediately I was able to control my "time traveling." Sometimes I do not even know how I am feeling until I begin to write and the mere act of doing so awakens me in some new aspect.
Thank you for going on this journey with me.
.Today I am happy.
I am happy!!!
Last night my mom and I drove to Seal Beach for my niece Cora’s farewell party before she heads off to Montana for college. I always love my time with my mom. She is my best friend. And she is always honest. I braced myself when I asked her:
Have I changed?
And she thought about it and said no.
Part of me was surprised. Another part was relieved.
You haven’t changed. You just did what you have always done when a challenge comes your way: you take it by the horns and you deal with it. You calmly take the challenge or task and you handle it. Remember when you would wait till the last minute to write your essays in college? And I would be freaking out and you would tell me it was fine, that you work best under pressure anyway. And you would do just fine and it would be amazing.
This is just another challenge.
Earlier that evening when I was standing at the kitchen table with my back to guests, I scraped the last of the onion dip onto the crumbs of leftover chips. And I listened to everyone. I felt separate. I tend to flow separately from the current everyone else flows in.
But when it comes down to it, I always have.
That was okay with me then. And I think I am still okay with it.
Every morning on my birthday I have woken up and expected to be different. As Matt and I said “I do” on a windy Hawaiian shore I expected a major shift to occur. When I gave birth to Calvin I expected to see with new eyes.
Every time I was shocked at my sameness.
I had somehow assumed that out of all the events in my life this one would make me different. That last year I was a caterpillar and because of this I was turning into a butterfly.
But maybe I was always a butterfly.
And that makes me so happy!
Because I like who I am.
What a comfort to know that my true self cannot change.
The core of me cannot be altered.
I can learn, my heart can grow, but the true essence of who I am is a constant.
And as I drove the last street to my house the brightest and largest streak fell from the sky. A falling star is an occurrence that Science informs me is nothing out of the ordinary. But I don’t believe it. How could I be looking at that sky in that exact place, in that specific moment and see that glorious, surprising streak of magic? What are the chances of that?
It was my love.
And I laughed!!! I smiled and I felt happy!
Because I am still that girl he fell in love with.
I am the same girl that he loved to surprise.
He still loves me.
He still surprises me.
And he always will.
So today I feel so happy with my realization:
I was always a butterfly.
Sometimes when I look back on the past it feels like a beautiful crystal bowl that was dropped and shattered.
It shattered the day my husband died.
The last 11 years of my life included my love, so every memory somehow includes him. When I pick up each piece to remember it, it is beautiful, somehow even more precious, but its edges are sharp and they hurt.
Sometimes they cut me and I bleed.
And every day I am reminded:
My life is no longer a beautiful crystal bowl.
I did not even know that is what we were creating. When you look at the tiny pieces, the little memories that make up an era of your life it all makes sense how it became complete. But when you are in the midst of making it you don't even realize what you are making. Now don’t assume my bowl was perfect—no, it was not!
But it was mine, and it was lovely.
Its broken fragments are too precious to throw away. How easy it would be to sweep it all up and be done with it. If I didn’t have children I am pretty sure I would leave this town we made our home. This is the place where he grew up, where we fell in love, bought our home, raised our children, and are surrounded by family and friends. And this is also where he is buried.
Right now I still have all those precious, oddly shaped pieces strewn on the floor and I don’t know what to do with them.
Do I shut the door to where they fell and walk away?
Do I pick up the pieces? And hurt myself over and over and over again?
(….when will it stop hurting?)
How do I pick them up and not bleed?
(I am getting better at…so does practice make perfect?)
I know what I want.
I want to string the pieces and hang them in the light and create dancing rainbows around me.
I want my past to bring color and joy and stop cutting me.
I want a new beginning, I want the sun to shine just right through those prisms.
But can I begin again with my past swirling around me?
It is woven so intricately into my life I will never be able to run away.
Being that it is the Christmas season, these pieces are the sharpest. I want to shut the door so badly!!! But I have two sweet faces that count on traditions and normalcy. So for their sake I will have to be brave.
I will have to learn how to balance letting go and holding on.
This will take courage, and all I can do is hope the rainbows will be worth it.
This new art print is now available here.
It's funny, remember when you had just gotten married and people would ask when you were going to have a kid? Or you had just had a baby and they would ask you if you were going to have more?
Well when your husband dies, people can't help but ask, "Do you think you will get married again?"
And of course you shake your head and you think that person is crazy. But after a while the loneliness settles in and the question isn't so abhorrent anymore.
And you realize that our time on this earth should be a life full of love.
When discussing with my friend whether or not she should continue to date somebody the question that was most important to me was:
"Is there magic?"
Because I had that in my marriage. And that is what I would expect if I ever decided to marry again. My Love has set the bar high!
I have been finding that lately I am pleased just to survive. But it shouldn't be that way.
I believe we all should have magic in our lives.
But we need to feel like we are worthy of it or else we won't ever be able to accept it. I have decided to set my standards higher in all areas of my life. And you should too.
So I painted this cloudscape with gold letters to remind me:
"I am worthy of magic."
We all are.
I am sorry this letter is titled to the "Young Widow." I know how much that word disgusts you. How your stomach drops, you feel sand in your mouth, and how you automatically reject the title.
Widow is not who you are.
Why would anyone ever want to be called that? That is the box you check on government forms. It is how you describe a character in a movie. It's that sweet old lady from church that spent 65 years with the love of her life. And even then their marriage was cut too short.
Your mother drove you home from the hospital and you said out loud in your trance: "I am 29."
And then you silently thought: "I am alone. I am 29 and my life has ended." You wouldn't say that out loud right now. You screamed your nonsense over his dead body. You are aware enough now that saying that would hurt their feelings or would leave them to protest it isn't so.
And you don't want to argue right now.
Everything you thought was forever is now gone.
Widow: Old English "widewe," from an Indo-European root meaning ‘be empty,' compare with Sanskrit vidh ‘be destitute,’
--> Destitute: without the basic necessities of life
And you realize: why yes, perhaps I am a widow.
You feel empty. You feel like the basic necessity of your life has been ripped from you. It was his smile that filled your heart. You didn't realize that during this time called marriage you actually had become one. How hackneyed it sounds. How corny. But when they are gone you realize that you really were one. You know everything about them. You know what they will say, their secrets. how their heart beats, what their face feels like, what they smell like, you know more than maybe they even knew about themselves.
You realize all that time you thought you were two radically different people that loved each other with no rhyme of reason--you were wrong. You were actually paired together by God to complement each other and complete each other.
And now he is gone.
But let me tell you how you will transform because of this.
Your husband's beautiful spirit will create a gaping hole that can never be filled. But you will start to see from the first second how friends, family, and strangers step forward and cast a string over that hole. There will be so many people that throw their string over it that soon only little cracks will be open for light to shine through.
And while they never will cover that empty space and especially not fill the hole---you will see so much good come from everyone.
When a tragedy strikes of course you will feel sorrow, but how could you not see the blinding light of goodness that shines from everyone? Your friends that plan the funeral in a week, your friend that drives all night from states away to be at your side, and your family that loves on your children while you choose his casket.
Your community will gather around you and lift you up in prayer. If you let them they will feed you, they will support you, and they will give you so much (emotionally, spiritually, physically) that you are left speechless.
In your darkness, you will see so much beauty.
God has created contrast in your life like you never had before. All you had to compare the good and the bad to was point A and point B. But now you know it goes so much deeper.
You know what point Z is.
Point Z is the guttural cry, the kind that takes your breath, the kind that you wish takes your breath. Point Z is your body thrown over his as they call the time of death. Point Z is when you walk out of the hospital room in a trance and curl up in ball in the walkway to the visitors' lobby. Point Z is telling your 7 year old and 4 year old they will never see their father in his body again. Point Z is realizing all the things you never said to him. Point Z is sobbing in your bed alone knowing the only person that could hold you and make you feel better is gone. Point Z is realizing half of your heart is gone and yet you can still go on--in fact, you must go on.
One of the most beautiful things I heard was that in heaven there is a constant state of joy and peace. Whereas on Earth there is contrast. Here we experience light and darkness.
The beauty is knowing the depth and being able to compare.
Because once you have seen darkness, you can see light so clearly.
For me it opened my eyes. I could see tiny miracles that no one could quite believe until they were with me and experienced it themselves.
Hummingbirds were magnetically attracted to me. Whereas before I had never seen a hummingbird by my house, they now flocked to our feeder (a gift given to us by a friend after he passed). Hummingbirds would literally sit with me while I sat outside. Butterflies appeared out of nowhere and circled the kids and me like out of a fairytale. Colorful birds I had never seen before in red, blue, and yellow would sit on my fence and sing to me like I was flipping Cinderella. Rainbows appeared, songs that were special to my husband and me would magically play. White feathers literally rained from the sky one day. God was all around me and I could feel his light and love like I never had before. I could feel my husband around me. You know that feeling--the one that tells you you are home.
My heart was broken, but I could not for a moment deny or ignore the beauty that permeated my life.
God is everywhere. He is in nature and in the hearts of people that surround me.
I know that my husband is with God in heaven. I know he is at peace and full of bliss. I know that through God my husband sends me signs of his love EVERY SINGLE DAY.
I don't like what has happened, but I can appreciate the new eyes I have been given and the depth of my heart. I am thankful for the time I had with my husband, the children we have, and how our love has changed me.
I know God will take care of me all I have to do is trust.
I promise He will take care of you too.
(from the depths of my heart)
If you follow my Instagram or Facebook you might know that my husband passed away.
I am 29.
My husband died four days after his 35th birthday.
Matt was born with a heart defect and at 9 months old they operated on him. It was a success. But he grew up with a weaker heart than most. He knew one day he would need open heart surgery to replace a valve and to repair the other.
As we prepared for this surgery none of us worried—except him. This kind of surgery is something they do for 70 year olds, not an otherwise healthy 35 year old. And even then a valve replacement and aortic repair only had a 10% mortality rate.
He felt an impending doom that made me sigh and wonder if he was being a tad dramatic. Because considering how sick his heart was, he was a vision of health. The weeks before he looked the way you do when you have a cold. Exhausted and depleted. But there was still pink in his cheeks. A sparkle in his eyes. A teasing tone to his voice.
An extremely simple explanation of what happened is his heart failed before we got the surgery.
The heart stopped doing its job, thus making his vital organs sick, and in turn making his heart fail. Causing him to die.
Just four days after I took him to the ER because he looked like crap. Just two weeks before the heart surgery that would have fixed it all.
And the only way I can move on is to know that this was God's plan. That's why Matt didn't get better when thousands of people all over the world prayed. When it comes down to it God could have answered one prayer--my prayer. But he couldn't because this was part of his divine plan. I don't know how it will unfold and sometimes I really don't like it. But until I do understand, I will continue to have faith.
Fast forward one month later. (Because I can’t handle traveling back in time to write how I felt right now).
I was urged by my family to turn one of our bedrooms into an art studio. It is made to be an office. It is the only room with high ceilings, a built in window seat, and pretty glass French doors. We had been using it as a bedroom for one of the kids, but ever since he passed they can't seem to sleep alone. So bunk beds were built and this room was empty...
I struggled between two conflicting emotions:
The first was the need to change everything so I didn’t hurt every time I thought of the way it used to be.
The second was to keep it all the same, to preserve and hold on to the memories.
You see, he always complained about my feminine décor! It was supposed to be OUR house, a place that reflected the two of us. Well, honestly, we never could figure how to do that! For the guy who wanted to live in a sleek, modern apartment in a big city and the girl who wanted to live in a Victorian farmhouse with colored rugs and flowers in vases….there was hardly ever a middle point! So to decorate and change…I could hear him scoff! But on the other hand, I was mad at him!
I told him (aka, talked aloud to myself): “You left me! I get to do whatever I want now. So there!”
In a quiet fury I hung picture after picture of my flowery, feminine paintings.
Up went the lace curtains.
Up went the flowers in jars. (Of course they were fake. He was the only person that could keep plants alive here. )
I already knew what I liked. I had teasingly warned him during discussions in years past, “You think this is girly?! You have no idea what I am capable of!!”
I stood back and admired the first room in eleven years that felt like me. And then I cried. Because no amount of lace or flowers could ever make me feel okay. I would choose him over everything. I dried my eyes, sighed, and looked around. This room made me happy. And if I could have one place that made me feel like that when my world had crumbled, I knew he would be pleased.
As I set up my new desk I knew what it needed: a painting.
Not just any painting though. It needed to be a window, a portal of some sort. From his world to mine. A place we could meet.
I pulled out my largest canvas and all my paints. I started splashing, smearing, and blending.
I felt him by me as I painted. I heard him in my heart say, "Stop. This is it."
And so I named it, “This Must Be the Place” after one of our favorite songs by Talking Heads. A song that always felt so perfectly us, but as I listened to it after he died it shook me to my core with the line:
Love me till my heart stops. Love me till I’m dead.
This Must Be the Place (Naive Melody)
Song by Talking Heads
Home is where I want to be
Pick me up and turn me round
I feel numb - born with a weak heart
I guess I must be having fun
The less we say about it the better
Make it up as we go along
Feet on the ground
Head in the sky
It's ok I know nothing's wrong... nothing
Hi yo I got plenty of time
Hi yo you got light in your eyes
And you're standing here beside me
I love the passing of time
Never for money
Always for love
Cover up and say goodnight... say good night
Home - is where I want to be
But I guess I'm already there
I come home - she lifted up her wings
I guess that this must be the place
I can't tell one from another
Did I find you, or you find me?
There was a time
Before we were born
If someone asks, this where I'll be... where I'll be
We drift in and out
Sing into my mouth
Out of all those kinds of people
You got a face with a view
I'm just an animal looking for a home and
Share the same space for a minute or two
And you love me till my heart stops
Love me till I'm dead
Eyes that light up
Eyes look through you
Cover up the blank spots
Hit me on the head
I go ooh
I did love him till his heart literally stopped. But my love doesn’t stop there.
I will continue this earthly life. I will raise our sweet children. I will find joy. I know God has plans for me.
And one day when God says it is time, I won’t be afraid, because I know he will be there waiting for me.
And I will know this must be the place.
Here is my new painting I created for my sister on her birthday! Let me tell you--I got lucky in the sister department! She is the kindest, most gentle, patient, and loving soul. I have learned so much from her and I am continually inspired by her spirit.
She had asked me to paint something for her newly remodeled bathroom. She had suggested something with an antique bathtub and my imagination ran away with itself...
She loves mermaids and reading, so that was easy to add. Then putting the mermaid in a room seemed too boring! Then I had to ask myself, "If I were a mermaid, where would I want to be?"
A flower garden, of course!
So that is the story behind the piece. Prints are available in the shop :)
Now if YOU were a mermaid...where would you want to go?
Right now I am typing away, eating some easy pumpkin muffins I just made, drinking wine, and procrastinating on cleaning the house in preparation for Thanksgiving.
I am excited to have family over for the event for the first time, but I am hoping the expectations are kept low.
Thankfully, I have a loving and understanding family that amazingly loves me for who I am--shortcomings and all.
I originally envisioned a potluck dinner with us all sitting in the driveway around the bonfire (my mind works along the same lines as Steve Martin in Father of the Bride--remember when he imagines the backyard wedding being a quaint BBQ?). I was informed that my idea was insane. So we compromised and the family is helping out by bringing some side dishes...but I have to set up tables and the hoopla.
It will be great, I know it will. And if I burn something? We will laugh and it will become a legendary story. Win-win!
Meanwhile, I have been really busy painting custom logos and illustrations. I have been posting all of it on Instagram--so if you want to see more updates go follow me there! I also signed with an art agent! Now comes the part where I try and develop an art portfolio :)
I hope all of you have a wonderful Thanksgiving full of many blessings and sweet moments. I really hope 2014 has been a great year for you too! And how wonderful to think that the best is yet to come.
And a Let's Keep it Real Photograph:
Drinking wine and watching Hostages while you fold your daughter's clothes is totally normal, right? RIGHT?
Hi, my name is Heatherlee...
I realized today that there might be a couple people reading this that are not my family or friends (actually, I am sure there are few of those left because it's kind of annoying when a friend starts a business and all they do is post about their work).
So here are a handful of things you will not find out about me in my fancy About page. I hope you will still be my friend after.
My name is Heatherlee. And I like it.
A lot of people think that the "lee" is a formality, but I really do like it and I always have. It's okay if you accidentally call me Heather, but everyone that knows me knows that I like Heatherlee best.
Even though you might image search "Heatherlee" and uncover some buff or scantily clad women (not me, I promise), I think that deep down Heatherlee is a sweet and artsy name.
A total accident on my parents' part. My mom always wanted a girl named Heather. She wanted to pass on her middle name Marie and my dad wanted to pass on his: Lee. There was not enough room on the birth certificate, so my name became Heatherlee Marie Iverson.
And it stuck.
In middle school and high school my best friend was a boy.
I'm not talking Joey and Dawson (i.e., Dawson's Creek) kind of best friends, or even Jo and Laurie from Little Women. There was never a time when we looked into each other's eyes and hearts pitter pattered. GROSS!
At first no one believed we could be best friends. That's just weird. We slept over at each other's house and we couldn't help but be attached at the hip. He made me laugh like no one else and understood me in a way no girl friend had. But we had to cover our tracks because we still wanted to be available to the opposite sex, so we announced we were cousins. We called each other's parents Aunt and Uncle and still do to this day.
He went to another high school half way through and then I hardly saw him. After we graduated he left for LA and now resides in NY. I miss him.
All the time.
I was a secret Thespian.
Well, that was never a secret, but I didn't advertise it.
I am a weird mix of a person. I am sometimes baffled by the perplexities of me. Naturally, I am an introvert. I reenergize while spending time alone. But I always liked to show off my reading skills as a kid and would always have my hand raised to read the passage for class. Of COURSE with emphasis in all the right places. One thing lead to another and in 5th grade I was cast as the Scarecrow in our school play Oz.
It was awesome. It was a life changer. I could be anything I wanted to be! The only problem was my mediocre singing and on a scale of one to ten I was a negative two at dancing. So that usually landed me character roles. But alas, I loved it. I continued through middle and high school, and while I don't do it anymore, it gave me the confidence for grown up life that was invaluable.
The above life experience helped me be comfortable with what I do now...I substitute teach.
Let me tell you--being a girl that looks like me with the last name Chan does not go over well with Middle and High schoolers!
When I graduated from college I started subbing because I didn't know if I wanted to teach. I would teach anything!!! Ohhhhh, how brave I once was!!! 21 and teaching it all.
I have some great stories, like the first grader that wrote a note from her mom to get her out of school for the rest of the day or a particular middle school class that gained me around the clock protection because the kids threw a computer out the window with the previous sub. Yeah.
Anyway, I like doing it part time now because I enjoy it and then I get to be home with my little girl (4 in October!) and it gives me time to create.
My favorite grades are kindergarten and first :)
My dreams as a third grader:
1. Live in a house with an attic that had a ghost living in it. The ghost would become my best friend.
2. Own a double decker motor home and travel the world.
3. Become a writer, artist, and teacher.
4. Have my dead dog come back to life.
I still hope and wish for these things. Except for number 4. That would be weird.
I feel like I have met so many kindred spirits and made so many wonderful friends the last year and a half! This inspired me to make some free printables for you. They are ready to print 8x10" with 300 dpi, but you can print and crop them as needed.
I love these quotes because they are so true. I have the best friends in real life. They all make me want to be a better person and I could write a book on how awesome each of them are. They are all so different and that's what I love most about them. Well that, and how they are the kindest people ever.
And this last one is here because I'm sure L.M. Montgomery would wholeheartedly agree with wise Mindy Kaling.
Download the folder with the all quotes at full resolution here.
I am a mom to two munchkins and an artist. On my blog I share paintings I am working on and my life.
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