3 years widowed

IMG_0881The three year mark came and went on November 25th. It was a weird lead up to it. I felt the anxiety, I leaned into it, cried, then it just went away. I’m sort of numb from it all, I’m neither happy nor sad, I’m just existing. There’s some things that I’ve pushed aside to focus on myself though. Right now I need to be focusing on my scheduling for 2018, but I’ve decided to use these days off as days off to recharge. So when I get a scheduling email I just respond back I’ll take a look when I’m back into the office on Monday. Coaching creates a very loose and nontraditional routine for work. I usually dig it, but right now I need some Julia time. I need some grief time.

Grieving is a lot like working out. There is no one path that is correct. Everyone does it differently and which ever helps the most is the right way for that individual. Some people like therapy for grief, others like to meditate. Some like boot camp style work outs, others like running. Which ever way the person chooses to deal or heal, that is okay. Not doing anything at all is the problem. So on the 25th I led a 90 minute spin class, and though it was slim attendance, it felt good. I felt my muscles burning, my heart pumping and my mood improve. I watched a movie that day too and just being there felt good. I did think about George and losing him and the morning of his passing. But I also thought about how beloved he was. How many lives his warmth and incredible disposition influenced and touched in his short years on earth. And he is a gem. I do feel lucky to have loved him. I do feel lucky to have felt a passion so great that it continues to impact me daily. I am lucky and I need to remember and remind myself of it when the tear soaked labyrinth appears.

 

Positive mentality

The months after George passed I wanted so badly for time to rewind, and everything to go back to normal. Getting out of bed each day was a struggle, but there isn’t any other choice but to put both feet on the ground and keep moving forward. I’d be mindless through the days, running on autopilot, but when the fog lifted and realized I was powered by memories of a past life, I had to figure out how to remain positive under unbearable conditions.

This is when I started using fitness as a tool for displacing my grief and stress. Looking back, I believe I used and still use fitness as an avoidance, or an emotional replacement for my loss. But hurling my body up a hill when all I wanted to do was cry felt amazing. It gave me power, it allowed me to sort my thoughts and begin to believe tomorrow will be better than today. No matter how bad the grief was, the next day it would be better, and fitness showed me that open door. Clipping into a bike and sprinting for 30 seconds wasn’t enough, so the instructor challenged the class to 45 seconds. Could I do it? Of course, because I believed at the end it would be better then what it was at the time.

Believing you are worthy of happiness, worthy of satisfaction can change the outcome of any situation. But there’s a different between being worthy and entitled. Only one person can control how you feel. I had to make myself believe I could be strong again. Grief is powerful and how it’s channeled can mold your new life. I wanted to feel strong, so I chose to also transform my body to look strong. The changes also impacted my mind and self confidence. I knew I had to go on. If you think you can’t go on, you’re already defeated. Kill or be killed. So if you look forward to what’s around the corner, there might be a new lifestyle, adventure or path that awaits. Sometimes we need to be willing to step out of our comfort zones, make necessary changes and see what will happen. Even in during the darkest days, there’s a sun behind those clouds.

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New blog

imageim beginning to lean toward changing this blog or just starting a new one focused at health and wellness. Though going through grief opened up this new love of helping others, taking care of myself, and trying different avenues of fitness. I don’t think I’m an expert by any means. I think I have more to contribute to an arena like that than continuing the course of this blog.

ive been asked several times if I want to do a figure transformation and possible do a fitness competition. I’ve said no, but I also like stretching my body and pushing it to places and levels it’s never gone before. As I’ve continued with circuits, and boot camp style workouts I’m beginning to think I can achieve that physique that is so elusive. I dropped 50lbs after George passed away, maybe I’ll look to drop my body composition to less than 12% fat. Still humming and hawing but beginning to lean tilt toward possibly trying.

Physical vs emotional

For the past month I’ve been having a difficult time falling asleep without using melatonin or other sleep supplements. So as I type this I’m laying in bed at 1a waiting for them to kick in. I’m sure I’ll be extremely tired and irritable tomorrow. Coffee will be my savior, and I shall drink several cups guaranteed.

Today I was invited to try a new gym in Montgomery and see if I like the boot camp style. I’ve done boot camp classes before but this one was a bit different and was mentally very tough and the workout varied. So it wasn’t as aggravating as other boot camp style workouts I’ve done in the past. I was asked if I’d like to teach one a week at a super early time slot. It’s under consideration. I have to say, I love love love teaching and coaching fitness. It truly is my calling and seeing how hard people work and get the results they’re looking for swell my heart.

But that’s not the point of this post. The workout was tough and many times I wanted to stop but kept pushing through. I did the workout with my new assistant coach, and she too was feeling beaten down by the exercises. But we both sweated our butts off and we completed it. She mentioned how she was impressed how quickly I got through it and would complete an exercise and move on to the next station. I was impressed with her resilience and ability to adjust, and not quit. I loved that actually, she just didn’t quit until she finished. I think my players will really admire that about her too because this day and age it’s rare to have. But I sat and thought about her words and my mind set during the work out.

the physical pain of any workout can never match the emotional pain I’ve been through. I don’t focus on how bad I hurt during an exercise, I just look forward to when it will be done. Sort of like grief, I always wanted the next day to come hoping it would be better. With working out, I will never skip a rep or compromise my form, because it will be over and I control it. With losing George, I was out of control. Losing him has continued to fuel me and has forced a different midset as I venture into every day life. Part of my every day is exercise and fitness. He’s shaped my work ethic and how I approach it. He’s like my motor. It’s pretty cool when you sit down and really think about it.

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The lies

imageMy head has been spinning since returning to Alabama. Luckily I’m heading out of here tomorrow morning to Florida. My grief is in full swing. I’m not sleeping, not eating, exercising excessively and crying uncontrollably. When I walk outside my door I put on a good face. Everyone is complimentary. It seems almost excessive recently, but maybe I’m noticing more. I wake up in a haze and I don’t want to do anything. Days are feeling longer cause of the lack of sleep, and my brain is shriveling.

I do have a good support in place here. There are people I can talk to about what’s going on, but nothing will change the fact that the damage has been done. I feel vulnerable, I cannot believe someone who I loved treated me this way and I cannot wrap my head around the rationality of it all. I say it’s a real mind fuck. I’m burning. A fucking magnificent glow for all to see the spider webs of gloom rain down until I fizzle out and the wind scatters me around.

And then my mind can rest.

Time to paint my pretty face and hide the bags under my eyes so I can pretend I’m not tearing apart inside.

 

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

Last Kiss

Last year on this day, George slipped into a coma. The last time he would kiss me back and respond to me was today. I’ve been thinking about how sweet he was even until the end. I would ask him if he loved me and he would nod his head and pucker his lips. It was so sweet. He was one of a kind.

Tomorrow I head to Philadelphia to run in my first half marathon. I carry with me a lot of mixed emotions. I am focused on the race, but I feel like having this race is impeding my ability to grieve.

I need to go home. I need to be with my parents. But first I need George’s strength to pull me across the finish line before I fall apart.

 

Editors Note:

George became very agitated before his coma. I remember how he would thrash when anyone touched him. He would swear and just be plain nasty. I remember how horrible it was to watch him transform into someone I couldn’t recognize or see him act out like that. I do recall these memories with so much love in my heart, but I feel it would be dishonest if I portrayed it out to be a smooth transition. Liver cancer is horrible. It’s awful to watch. And I remember very clearly those moments when he would shove me away and tell me to fuck off. It burned me, but the hospice nurse always reminded me it wasn’t him, it was the toxins building up in his body. If the liver isn’t working properly, toxins build up, the thrashing begins, and the horror slowly is burned into your memory.

George was the sweetest man ever, but when he slipped into the coma there was a sense of relief that he was no longer aware of the suffering. Watching a loved one die is traumatic. This lead up to the anniversary is like trying to run away from an avalanche.

Favorite time of year

The end of October heading into November is my favorite time of year. I love the colors, smell, festiveness, basketball, cool weather, and everything involving pumpkins and cinnamon. I love the Fall. Halloween and Thanksgiving are two of my favorite holidays and they are less than a month apart. My birthday is November 2nd, and 2 days before Thanksgiving this year is George’s death anniversary. Unfortunately the grim reaper will linger for much longer than just Halloween night. My grief has been getting worse, and it’s impacting my routines. I’m crying in public again, which in itself is humiliating for me because I hate feeling weak. I’ve been shutting my office door more often and I’ve been becoming more reclusive at night. When I go out I need to be home by 10p so I can just be.

I’ve read that heading to the first death anniversary is the hardest time, but I thought I could be the exception. But I’m okay. It’s okay it will crush me all over again. I have different weaponry and perspective than I did the first time around, but unfortunately the reality of this emotional uncertainty is the way of life for a bit. Try explaining that to colleagues. You may have forgotten I’m widowed, but when I go home and cook a meal for one, go to bed alone and wake up on George’s side of the bed, I have that excruciating reminder every day. I put on a good face and take my position in the foxhole knowing I’ll be stronger later.

This morning when I looked at the young widow board a woman posed a question I cannot stop thinking about: “What’s the one thing you’ve turned to during this time of loss that has given you the most comfort and hope to keep moving forward?” She’s not asking for what people are doing to cope with grief because there’s an endless array of combative strategies. I’ve adopted fitness as my strategy to deal with my loss. But the thing that gives me comfort and hope… That’s what had me humming and hawing.

I work out to make myself feel better. I work out to change my body. I work out to focus. I work out to be different than I was before. I work out to control my grief.

When I became more involved with fitness and training, I wished for my body to change. And it did. I’m not physically the same person I was when I was with George. But I had a dream several weeks ago where I visited him in the hospital and he didn’t recognize me. I cannot believe I didn’t write about this yet! I kept trying to explain to him it was me, but George just didn’t recognize me, and finally I went out with my grandfather (who passed away in 2011) for pizza in NYC. So with a drawn out anecdote, I don’t think fitness provides me comfort– at least not in the way I want.

I believe I’ve found different avenues that have given me hope to keep moving forward. My lacrosse team being one of the most important and ever glowing beacon of hope. But as I reflect on what has provided me comfort, I think it’s another sad realization the feeling and idea of comfort is eluding me. But I also may be preventing myself from becoming comfortable. It may be time for a visit to the grief counselor.

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Working out the grief

I have gone through a wealth of different emotions since George passed. I feel manic at times, and then spiral into these bottomless holes of depression. I’ve gotten to the point of managing the grief a little better. Although to be perfectly candid, today has been far from pleasant. I haven’t had to close my office door in awhile to let the grief out, but today I did. I’m somewhat grateful for it though, because sometimes I get worried that I’m not “sad enough.” People forget that I’ve had this massive loss in my life and sometimes they can say some really off the cuff things to me that are indeed offensive.

Since February, I started exercising regularly and it spiraled into a form of therapy for me. I just get lost in the workouts and let my mind wander in between the melody and beats of the songs that are ringing in my ears. As I got into better shape and made noticeable physical changes my workouts became more vigorous. To the point where I did have people question my overall exertion, and if it was healthy. I read my body and know when I’m going too much. I also love the mental capacity it takes to continue on a workout as it gets tougher. That crave for mental and physical stimulation pointed me in the direction of competing in my first Triathlon last Sunday (9/28). Now I want to do a half-marathon.

There’s something wondrous about pulling your own bodyweight up a hill. There’s so many outside factors in this life, especially during the grieving process, that will rip you apart. But to lace those running shoes, and put one foot in front of the other, to feel the sun heating up your shoulders as the wind brushes your hair, I cannot think of anything more satisfying. I’m moving and pulling myself forward while there’s so many more reasons why I should crumble. As I was doing my triathlon, my legs were cramping, I had a panic attack, but as I was continuing forward this immense feeling of happiness filled my heart. I felt alive. I felt like me. But not like the me I used to be, I was finally the new me.

At the end, I couldn’t believe I had finished 51.5k of exercising. I felt George there with me, I knew he would be proud of me. I was proud of myself, and I felt for the first time a sense of respect that I had been missing.

When the one person who loves you for who you are disappears, it’s such a long road to learning how to love yourself. Today is a set back, but tomorrow I’ll hit the running trails and I’ll feel him watching me move forward as I carry along for 8 miles or so.

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Widow weight

imageI feel like I have a boulder dragging behind me everyday since I got the news George was dying. The day he passed that boulder became a mountain and rather than dragging it, I turned around and stared at it. The unforgiving hopelessness and the perpetual wondering if I can carry on consumed my mind, but eventually the massive rock formation returned to a manageable size, and I’m back to tugging it along day to day. But unfortunately, as of late, it is getting heavier and more difficult to manage. I’m staring down a long windy road, and the shadow of this boulder is darkening the path in front of me.

Ive been getting increasingly irritable and angry as the first anniversaries pull closer. I try really hard to distract my mind, but the beats are becoming louder and the melody is crescendoing. I cannot control my anxiety nor do I believe I should continue to do so. I think this is an appropriate emotional reaction to something so unavoidably damaging. For the sake of how I will be viewed at work, I have been deflecting discussions about my grief. But this week, during a 4 hour sexual assault forum, I became very agitated and I realized that this grief must be felt. So I’m slowly turning around to stare at what I assume has transformed into a mountain. I’ll stare at it and give up any efforts of trying to scale or get around it.  It’s so gigantic that all I can do is hum and haw until I find a new direction.

I find a tremendous amount of comfort in exercising and escaping to my own little world. When the endorphins are pumping I feel at peace for minutes, hours and sometimes days. But lately, my normal routines aren’t enough. I’m starting to increase the intensity and duration. The discomfort fuels me. Today I biked 45km and ran 10km afterwards. When I was running I had a painful cramp in my side for 5km of it but I decided I couldn’t stop and needed to keep going. Physical pain is nothing compared to the emotional pain I’m enduring right now. So I just go. As I plugged along on my run, I do wonder if George would be proud of me. And sometimes I think he would, but other times I don’t think he would recognize me. I barely recognize myself. I’m not the same girl I used to be. I’m stronger now, but because I’m stronger I will crumble slower but I’m afraid it might take longer to build myself back up.

Can someone wake me when this nightmare is over?