Reinventing in Southeast

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It’s been so long since I’ve updated this thing! Someone recently asked me why I hadn’t and I mentioned that nothing too exciting or out of the ordinary has happened so no need to update. But I think there’s a lot. What would have been my two year anniversary just came and went a week ago, and during the time I had recruits at Huntingdon. It was a good distraction, but just like most anniversaries, the lead up to it creates the most anxiety. The days leading up to September 19th were grueling, but when the 19th came, I felt good. Relaxed. Happy. I thought about George, I missed George, but I also remind myself how the love I have for him still has helped me improve and better myself. I’ve said it once and I’ll always say it, I am so lucky to have experienced a love like his. I can only wish when I leave this earth someone loves me as much as I love him.

I’ve been in Alabama for 2 months now, and I LOVE IT! In New Jersey there was this cloud of death and sadness that hovered around me. No matter what I did, I couldn’t shake it. I played by the grieving handbook and didn’t make any major life decisions in the first year of widowhood, but when this opportunity came about I did think it was George pointing me in the direction to reclaim my life. And I think I have. When someone dies, no one can prepare you for the financial aftermath and I was lucky to have support of my parents, and to have a great emergency nest. But the reality came that Drew paid me really poorly, and I never was able to recover financially from George’s passing. I was scraping by. Being down here for 2 months I’ve already rebounded back, and though I don’t think money provides happiness, it does provide security which helps with overall happiness.

In New Jersey I learned to cope with the emotions of losing George, but now I’m learning how to live without him. I am so glad I took this risk to move to Montgomery, because I feel so free and independent. There was an adjustment period, but it was because the culture and people of the South are so different than the North. I’m coaching the sport I love, interacting with passionate and determined young women, meeting all sorts of people from different walks of life, and last but not least, I am teaching spin classes at a gym nearby and every time I am on that bike, I know George is smiling at me. Life it good here in the gump. Plus I met a sweet Air Force fellow at the dog park, and Bodie and his dog have become best friends while we started dating. Can’t really complain. My bouts of grief only last minutes now rather than days. That’s one thing worth noting.

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I was eating a carrot

Moon of Alabama

One afternoon my boyfriend and I were out on a walk with Bodie and he started talking about Montgomery, Alabama. How it was an up and coming city of the south and that there was a lot of booming businesses and a lot of potential for career moves. I remember I shrugged it off and said “wasn’t Jefferson Davis inaugurated in Montgomery?” He didn’t know. But turns out Davis was. It was the first Capitol of the confederacy.

Just days later I looked on NCAA marketplace to see what jobs were beginning to be posted because toward the end of lacrosse season you begin to see the job carousel. The lacrosse world is very small and usually if there’s a surprise opening you can get the back story to it in just two phone calls. Gossip spreads quickly. But there it was, a school I had heard of once before and it was located in Montgomery, Alabama. The place that so arbitrarily came up in conversation less than a week before. I clicked on the school’s link and I was intrigued.

A week later I decided to apply.

Three days after I sent my resume I had a phone interview with a man in Atlanta about the college. His wife worked at Emory. George’s initial surgery to remove the tumor was at the Emory hospital. I couldn’t shake that this whole thing manifested so quickly and was more than just a coincidence.

I set up my on campus interview and I was in Alabama on what would have been 20 months married. The school was small and quaint. Something you would see in an ABC Family television show. Brick buildings, massive football stadium on one side of the campus and a baseball field and tennis courts on the other. And in the middle of campus there was a small quarter mile long park. Flush with green and the shadows of the trees were like lacework on the paved path. It was beautiful and nothing I was anticipating. The following day I was offered the job.

It has been less than 2 years since George passed. I feel myself aching to move and experience what is out there. I’ve always wanted to live south because in college when I was learning about southern history it felt like a distant world. Even when George was alive I talked about how I wanted to move with him to Texas if his work ever decided to relocate him. Well this isn’t Texas but I think George has given me the push to take a risk and have me live the way I dreamed of.

Ill be moving to Alabama this summer and taking over the Huntingdon Women’s Lacrosse Program. It’s my next adventure and I cannot wait to live in a place I’ve read so much about and be around people who actually know who William Yancey is.

My time at Drew was so special and the unconditional love and support I received during my darkest days has given me strength to want to continue living. The people I’ve met here in New Jersey have impacted my life and will have a special place in my memories. image

Transformation of the Year

Warning: The hubris is real in this post. There is no competition, no election, no votes, because without rival I have won the Transformation of the Year Award. Challenge me for it, I dare you. I destroyed 2014.

Facebook had the audacity to try and compute the “best moments” of my 2014 year, but from where I began January 1 to now cannot be collected in a montage of pictures and post that received the most “likes.” WordPress tried to sway me by showing me my “Year end review” as today’s post, but I wanted to take control of deciding the highlights of this year rather than social media telling me what’s up.

This was my first full year without George. The thought of it on December 31, 2013 shook me so deep that I felt it in my bone marrow. And I’ll be completely honest, with 2015 just 26 hours away, heading into another full year without him sucks too. But this suckage is going to continue for a lifetime. And that’s just the way it goes. Life without George sucks, but I’m making the most of it.

Get ready for a plethora of pictures, because as I said, the hubris is real.

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I’m not sure where to really even begin. I honestly gave up on life November 25th, 2013. I thought with George gone, I would certainly wither away into oblivion. It was wishful thinking to vanish in those early weeks and months. I returned to work just a week after he died, but when winter break hit, I went back home to grieve with my family around. When it was time to return from winter break back to the office, I was only wearing George’s sweaters. It was the way I wanted to deal with the loss of my husband, and it also was a way for me to be hidden. Tucked away within oversized sweatshirts.

IMG_9078God I hated myself at that time. When looking for pictures for this post, I honestly have very few from November-February. I just veered away from cameras. Once Drew was back in session and lacrosse season commenced my life had purpose again. In a Jay-Z kind of way, every single day I had 99 excuses why I never wanted to leave my apartment, but there was 1 reason why I did: Drew women’s lacrosse team.

IMG_8043When I was splintered and cracking this team helped me stay together so I wouldn’t shatter. No matter how badly I wanted to just say to hell with all of this and just not show up, I would mosey into the field house at 6am with tear streaked cheeks from sobbing and massive bags under my eyes from lack of sleep, and these girls would be ready to go. Most the time. They would buy me a coffee in the morning, and my assistant would tell me something completely out there from what happened to her the night before. It was the best life support I could have asked for. Throughout the season we had amazing experiences which will forever warm my heart.

Like going to the Super Bowl Halftime show at the Meadowlands!1660297_10100343770538369_746299047_nIMG_5690

We participated in Cycle for Survival, where all the money raised goes directly to Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center to help perpetuate cancer research and treatments. As a team we raised over $11,000 for rare cancer research, something that meant the WORLD to me because George believed so much in everything they were doing for him at MSKCC, and I wanted to continue his fight against cancer even though he was no longer with us.

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February 8, 2014 changed my life completely. Having the team surround me and support me on this cause, and seeing how much they believed in it, it set in motion my gradual physical transformation. I felt so damn good sitting on that bike and riding for George. I felt him in all my muscle fibers just telling me to be a little stronger and fight a little harder. If you wanna to learn more or donate to our team at http://mskcc.convio.net/goto/TeamKraynak

IMG_8522Right before our first game on February 27th, I made the move from the apartment George and I shared to where I am now. The stress of losing George and then moving was far from easy. It was a fast reality that life unfortunately goes on, and I needed to start figuring out how to live by myself. Cooking for 1 was something that took some getting used to, but finding ways to occupy my time and mind became a necessity for survival. And that’s where SoulCycle came in.

IMG_6120The energy, community, friendships and strength I gained during the classes at SoulCycle changed my personal outlook. During the time from when I found out George was dying to February 8th, I stopped caring for myself. I had put on a tremendous amount of weight because I just was so depressed, and so empty inside. The moment I sat in on my first SoulCycle class I knew it was going to impact my year. I loved the sensation of my legs screaming at me as I tried to keep pace with the instructor. Dropping my elbows on the downbeat of the music, and closing my eyes just so I could feel the love swell inside me. I hung on to those feelings from the classes for days. I returned weekly to SoulCycle until I was making daily visits and sometimes twice a day visits. I felt safe within the community, and they encouraged me to better myself. They wanted me to be the best person I could be that day. And even when there were days when all I wanted to do is curl up into a ball and cry my eyes out, I would throw on the yoga pants and a t-shirt and head to Short Hill to ride.

IMG_7139Eventually, there started to be some noticeable changes. I was happier and had more energy. The tireless nights and the tears started to subside, and my life was starting to come together a little bit. But unfortunately I still was very unstable. But through the instability, I made sure to keep my off days consistent, and I made sure to go to Coney Island to go swimming with the Polar Bear Club. Again, many of George’s friends do polar bear swims and it was another way for me to feel him. But running into ice cold water was another way for me to control my grief. I wanted to feel the discomfort of the water, and I also loved the support the community offered me. Encouraging me to go a little deeper, stay in a second longer, to embrace the excitement of rushing down the gritty beach, and kicking the sand up as you step into the lapping ocean water. The shock of the water awakens every neuron and cell in your body.

1498782_10152560235034377_1267205832_oOnce the lacrosse season ended, my daily routines were shook up and I ran off to Europe. Throughout the first 6 months of 2014, I felt a lot of my time was spent to holding it together and to working, and I needed to take the time for myself to fall apart. So I packed my bags, and headed to Germany and Switzerland, where I got to visit the Alps and touch the sky and see the beauty of everything that surrounds us. And once again, as I looked out at the snow caps, and the green plains below I realized that this life is so massive, that these moments we have together are suspended in time. Just dangling there like a puppet in our memories, just waiting to be revisited and played with. Regardless of how painful. Our time together is unique to only us and we define them any which way we want. And as much as I would get angry that George was gone, I wouldn’t trade our moments and memories at all. So much so, that if I had to go back in time and do it all over again, I would because it led me to him.

imageUpon returning from Europe, I returned to NJ and made a vow to take care of myself over the summer. It was time for me to figure out how to maneuver through this journey and life. The weapon I chose was exercise. I became spin certified. I started lifting with my good friend and neighbor, who also work at Drew. Finally a work colleague/friend asked if I wanted to do a triathlon and that’s when my brain lit up like a halogen lamp. I loved biking, I had been doing SoulCycle and had just been hired at a gym to teach spin. I had started running again a bit more in late June, so it made sense to incorporate swimming into the regiment. Training for the triathlon gave me direction and purpose which I had been lacking since lacrosse season ended. Plus it forced me to be more militant and disciplined with my exercising. My body transformed quickly and as my body was transforming my mood and grief became more manageable.IMG_7170IMG_6463IMG_6956In the middle of my workouts I traveled back to Connecticut where I became an aunt and met my niece for the first time. During this time in my home state turned out I had mono… Anyway, when I saw her beautiful face and the cutest smile, she melted my heart. I felt that unconditional love again, and I started to feel alive as I was heading into August. I cannot even describe to you how callous I was prior to meeting her. It was instantaneous, I saw her face and my heart just filled up. She’s my best little buddy.

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Then in August I got the most amazing opportunity. To ride in the Cycle for Survival Times Square Takeover and tell my story on why Cycle for Survival is so important to me. Never in this lifetime did I think I would speak in the middle of Time Square! And as Fall approached, many of the first anniversaries were going to hit hard. But with the Time Square Takeover, I got to spend my wedding anniversary on a bike while raising funds and awareness for rare cancer research. The one thing that first gave my life purpose back in February. It was the most poetic way I could imagine spending George and my wedding anniversary.

10690080_685294978228734_1519184977747720339_nIMG_7729IMG_7751A week later I competed in my first triathlon with my good friend and work colleague. I finished second in my age group. But most importantly, I set a goal to finish under 3 hours, and I did. As I crossed the finish line, never did I think I would do a triathlon in less than a year after George passed, and I most certainly never thought I would actually enjoy every second of it!

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After the completion of the triathlon, my buddy and I decided to start training for a half marathon. I talked about wanting to do a half marathon when George was alive but never had the discipline or drive to train for one. But during the triathlon training, I realized the long runs, the biking helped me sort through my woes, grief, and strengthened me more than physically. I was becoming an entirely different person. Something I hoped for during my darkest days. I remember thinking I would love to be someone other than me in those first few weeks of widowhood. But now I had become someone that wasn’t me. I was a better version of myself. I was a person I know George would be so proud of, and when he catches glimpses of my accomplishments he knows that I’m a survivor. That I am strong and that I will flourish and thrive.

I did my first half marathon 2 days before George’s death anniversary, and then I did my second half marathon the day before George’s funeral anniversary. I’m still in disbelief that all this has been accomplished in just a year!

I talked about running a half marathon when he was alive, but never did. So doing the Philly Half Marathon was one of the most satisfying and euphoric days.

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You want to know what the greatest transformation is out of all of this? Yes, the physical transformation is apparent, but the emotional and mental one is what I reflect on the most. I remember so vividly how miserable I was a year ago at this time. I remember the hurt and the unforgiving jaws of grief. And today, I look back and holy shit, I cannot believe how far I’ve come. I have changed my ENTIRE life in a year. I did not allow his death to define who I am, instead I allowed his death to reshape me and push me forward to be better. To be the best person I can be. And I wish he was here to see this, but I’m also aware that if he were here, these changes would not exist. 2014, you started off as the most miserable year of my life, but ended as one of the most fulfilling. I’m going to obliterate 2015.

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Thanksgiving 2012

December 2013

December 2013

December 2014

December 2014

I’m not getting better

Exactly one year ago it was a warm September evening. I had my first practice of the 2013-2014 season with my lacrosse team from 430-630 at Drew University. It was a wonderful practice. The girls worked hard and I remember I was so impressed with the talent very early on. I knew it was going to be a great year.

I got home from work around 8p and I remember as I dropped my car off and was walking to the apartment George had just gotten home and was out with Bodie. He was still wearing his work clothes. I gave him a massive hug and told him all about how good my team looked from the first day and how much potential we had. He looked out of it, he kind of shrugged it off and said he needed to talk to me. Once we got into the apartment I remember he sat down on the bigger couch and I sat diagonally across from him on the love seat. He folded his hands and drew in a deep breath and looked at the ground. I kept asking what was going on? Finally his eyes met mine and they were glossy.

“I’m not getting better. I’m dying.”

His words ring to this day in my ears. He said it so matter of fact, as if he had been practicing saying it to me. But once those words crossed through my skull, my soul imploded and I crashed face first into the pillow hysterically crying. He quickly came to my side and rubbed my back. He said it would be okay but he was crying too. It wasn’t going to be okay. That night I filled out the application at the NYC clerks office to get a marriage license.

A year ago I found out my love was going to die and we decided to elope. We were supposed to get married October 19th but there was a chance he wouldn’t make it to the planned wedding date.

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Support leads to strength

Handsome and strong, still makes my heart flutter

Handsome and strong, still makes my heart flutter

I had a rough day at work but some things did bring a big smile to my face. Like finding the most awkward profile for one of my favorite admissions counselors, which he quickly had the school take down. I still find it hilarious and I’m so happy I saved it as a pdf. I’m going to talk about what I’m most appreciative about today.

 The biggest thing is that our practice gear is starting to trickle in and I’m always very excited to see how it turns out. It looks amazing this year. But there was a surprise with the gear; One of my players came to the office today with two shirts in tow. She handed one to my assistant and then to me. I unfolded it and I couldn’t believe my eyes. The sincerity, thoughtfulness, and love that was put into this surprise was astonishing. I looked up at her and she smiled and asked if I liked it. Wide eyed, I said “do I like it? I LOVE it!”photo-11

You see, my team made Cycle for Survival shirts for Team Kraynak. I thanked her repeatedly and it probably became annoying after the 15th time. A few minutes afterwards, another player came in and handed me an envelope and said to open it later. When she left, I opened it and to my surprise it was a personalized note thanking me for showing true strength during such a difficult time. I was choking back the tears. It is so incredible the support and love that I’ve been receiving from my team. Our school isn’t even back in session and I had 4 players visit today. I am just blown away with their recent gestures.

Before George died, I always reminded them how much I care about them individually and of course as a whole, and that I love them. My assistant and I finish our emails on occasion to the team saying, “with love, Coach” Even when they drive me insane, I care about the girls a lot and how they develop into adults and prepare for life after college. And I’m so thankful that they are reciprocating and care about how I will transition into this new era of life without George. I love my team, and their encouragement is my light during this dark time. I’m so proud of them and they will make me a better person and a better coach. And what’s humbling is, I don’t even think they even realize it.

Regaining strength, all I needed was a push

Regaining strength, all I needed was a push

Waging War

My mother drove me to the physicians office where I needed a consultation for a chronic injury I have. I thought it was officially over in August when it was last treated, but turned out it wasn’t. I walked into a room that had a dull yellowish hue, and I sat in the tan chair in the middle. There was a rectangular light, which looked like a robot head with a long neck, hanging above. A nurse followed me in and clicked the light on. She was trying to make small talk, but my attention and mind vanished the moment she pressed the button that automatically tilted the chair backwards. I stared up at the square tiled ceiling and I felt the warm tears stream down from the corner of my eyes. “Are you all right?” she asked. I nodded and bit my lip. Minutes later the doctor came in. He was sad to see me again, and wondered if I wanted to take care of the problem today. I said yes, and he guaranteed me that this procedure won’t cost anything additional. He kept saying how he wished the first procedure took, but sometimes these things happen. He rubbed the numbing gel on my skin. It was cold. I closed my eyes in anticipation for the pinch that usually follows.

I pictured my George when I closed my eyes, and how badly I wish he was there with me in the room. How badly I wished he was out in the waiting room ready to take me home, rather than my mom. The pinch was swift, but the pressure was deep and uncomfortable, like a sinus headache. I winced, and the doctor tapped my arm and said, “we’re all done. Not too bad, just annoying, I know.”

I thanked him and asked how his newborn is doing. He smiled and said “I’ll go get my phone to show you some pictures.” The nurse bandaged me up and the low hum of the chair tilted upwards back to the seated position. He came back and handed me 2 prescriptions, and then showed me some pictures of his new son. His son was so happy and had a great smile. I thanked him again and said his son was cute.

I walked through the dormitory like hallway that lead into the main lobby. My mom stood up when she saw me and I glanced down at the floor. The moment we walked out, I started bawling, wishing that George was there. She held me and kept saying “I know, I know.”

The one positive of today was I saw that on the Cycle for Survival community page they posted my story about George. My team also received a donation by the Coca-Cola Company because we were selected from this competition I participated in. We’re over our goal amount of money, but I want to try to reach $10,000. I don’t want another family to go through what I am. I don’t want another wife to have to watch her husband die in her living room. I don’t want another loved one be held hostage in their own skin while something inside them steals their life. I hate what cancer did to George and I hate how it has hijacked my life. Fight and destroy cancer.

I am strong.

http://mskcc.convio.net/goto/Team_GeorgeKraynak

“I will continue to wage war against cancer for George”

On November 25th my husband lost his 7 year battle to Fibrolamellar Carcinoma. On that day, the world lost a husband, a son, a brother, a uncle, a friend, a musician, a writer, a foodie, a comedian, a biker and much more. But what you can’t see is what everyone else around him lost. I lost more than just a companion and a best friend that day, I also lost the part of myself that I loved the most.

And this is why I will continue to wage war against cancer for George. I am riding on February 8th in Summit, NJ with the Drew University Women’s Lacrosse. As the hollowness inside me seems endless, my team has been my strength and light, and has shown me as a single group we are strong. Support me, and my team as we ride take part in Cycle for Survival.

– Julia S.