Not So Super Bowl

The Super Bowl used to mean getting together with friends or family, drinking beer, eating queso, and watching commercials, and probably the Patriots playing someone. About fourteen years ago, my family’s life took a detour when our lives were changed forever after a Super Bowl party at my brother’s house.

The following morning, I had just arrived at work when I received a call from my brother saying my dad had passed out at work and that I needed to meet them at the hospital. Weird. My dad was never sick. It sounded bad.  I drove to OU Medical Center downtown and was taken to a private family room near the ER. I had been in this exact room recently when I visited one of my employee’s families after their grandchild had a tragic accident. The little one didn’t make it. I knew this was the “bad news room.” My dad’s doctors soon came in to meet with my family to tell us my dad had suffered an Aortic Dissection. It was very serious. He needed emergency surgery. There was a high chance he would not survive the surgery.

But he did. And for 13 years, even though he faced many challenges and illnesses, he kept going and going, just like the Energizer Bunny. He fought through kidney disease, Prostate Cancer, and more illnesses I can count. He watched his grandson Kyle grow into an 18-year-old young man and he battled through to meet his now 10-year-old grandson, Griffin.

Dad and Boys

Dad and the boys

Then, last year on Super Bowl Sunday, (I guess he decided to stick with the Super Bowl theme for life altering events) right when the game ended, my phone rang with my mom on the other end, “Jen, Dad has quit breathing.”

We had recently made the decision because of his declining health to put him on hospice care so my mom called the nurse for advice and I got in my car for the drive over. On my way over, I just kept thinking, “This is really it. The moment that has been hovering nearby for 13 years is here. I am going to walk in and he’s going to be gone.” No amount of self-talk can prepare you for that moment. He had been close to death many times but this was actually happening. The moment I had dreaded. The reason I always kept my phone near me, just in case something happened to my dad. She never called back to say it was a false alarm.

When I arrived, the paramedics were leaving, mumbling their condolences. It was real. My brother and sister-in-law had arrived. All there was to do was sit with my dad, and my family while we waited for the funeral home to arrive. So many times before when I visited, we had all sat together, chatted, but this time, my dad was present in body but he was already gone. Not knowing what else to do, we told him we loved him, hoping his spirit could hear us, feel our love and said our final goodbyes. Sorrow washed over me, because this was really the end. But also, relief because he could finally rest. No more fighting. No more pain. No more sickness.

Even when you are glad the sickness has ended, it still doesn’t make losing your dad any easier. I still think of him every day. I hear a song that reminds me of him and it makes me smile. I think about how he taught me to ride motorcycles before I could reach the ground and I’m thankful he raised me to be tough. I wear my jeans with holes in the knees and think of how he teased me about why I couldn’t afford nicer jeans. I met a former OU player last year and my first thought was that my dad would be so excited to hear about it. But I couldn’t call him. I am thankful he passed his fix-it skills on to me. When I am feisty and won’t back down, I am definitely channeling my father. I know I can’t bring him back. The best I can do is honor his memory, think of him with a smile on my lips, and be the daughter he would have been proud of.

People Gone

Maybe someday, Super Bowl Sunday will just mean beer, queso, and commercials again. But not yet.

Happy trails,

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Rose Colored Glasses

Grief is weird. I lost my Dad earlier this year and most days, I’m fine. He was chronically ill for 13 years, and even though I miss him, I am glad he isn’t sick anymore. Often, I remember him with a smile on my face by listening to old country like John Conlee or Ronnie Milsap (we used to jam out to their 8 tracks) or by eating an extra piece of coconut cream pie in his honor (his fav and mine, too).

Family Oravetz

Today, I drove by the OK Heart Hospital and all of the memories of last holiday season came flooding back. I felt my chest tighten and my breathing got shallow as all of the feelings came back. My Dad was there, gravely ill, and we were told it was probably the end of his life. I vividly remember Christmas Eve and the days leading up to it. Everything was going wrong, he had mystery internal bleeding, and they didn’t really have any answers without doing exploratory tests that he wasn’t strong enough to withstand. I had been asked to do a reading during one of the candlelight services at church but I had to tell them I wasn’t sure I could make it. I remember thinking about what I was going to tell my kids if their PaPa passed away on Christmas Eve or Christmas. The doctors told us it wasn’t looking good and that we should call the extended family. Somehow, by the grace of God, I made it through my reading at church and he made it through Christmas.

True to my Dad being the toughest person I’ve ever known, he continued to fight. He made it through the rest of the year, and even got to come home. He passed away in February after too many times of us being told that he probably wouldn’t be with us much longer. He survived an aortic dissection, a stroke, cancer, and too many other things to list.

I’m a “glass half full” kind of person. I believe that we are very blessed to have had 13 bonus years with my Dad, after his aortic dissection because most people don’t survive those. I’m so happy he was around to meet my husband, watch Kyle grow up, and meet Griffin. I thank God for that extra time.

Grief is weird. Most days, when I think of my Dad, I do it with a smile on my face, and a giggle in my throat, thinking of the crazy adventures we had together. But every once in a while, I catch a glimpse of something that instead of happy memories, brings back the pain of countless hospital stays, bad news, suffering but never complaining, watching my Mom struggle through years of care giving, setback after health setback, and it hits me like a swift kick to the chest.

I’m trying to make the most of this holiday season in our new home and having fun decorating a new place. But I know he will be missed when it comes time to open presents this year.

I guess this is why they say grief is a process. Some days are good, but some are harder than others. For now, I’m going to sing some “Smoky Mountain Rain” and “Rose Colored Glasses” in the shower at the top of my lungs to wash away a little of the tightness still sitting in my chest.

Happy trails,

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This Little Light of Mine

In June, we moved into the house we have been building since late last year. Our dear friend, Mike, built it for us and it was (mostly) a fun experience. For years, I composed Pinterest boards of every room of the home we would “someday” build and what features we may include. Recently, I found a photo I had saved from a couple of years ago of my dream master bathroom. It’s funny to see it because it pretty much looks like our bathroom now. I guess I knew what I wanted.

My vision of my perfect bathroom had a chandelier over the bathtub. I searched for months for the one that would be just right without breaking the bank. I finally found it (on sale!) and was thrilled when it arrived. It took me hours to assemble, intricately placing every single crystal in exact position, much to the protest of my poor fingertips.

Mike was kind enough to come over and install it for me. I was at work and my husband, Justin texted me a photo of my newly installed, dream chandelier that was the icing on the cake to my soaker tub in my beautiful bathroom. Finally, my vision was a reality.

Chandelier

My “perfect” chandelier

Did I mention that it was perfect? Well, it was, until it wasn’t. The gear on one of the three cables that held the heavy light in place started to slip and within hours, it was tilted. No. This wasn’t tilted in my dreams. My “Dream Bathroom!” Pinterest board had free-standing soaker tubs, and marble tile surrounds, but it did not have one single photo of a drooping chandelier.

I walked by this tilted chandelier for days and it drove me crazy. It wasn’t living up to my expectations. I mean, not even close. It just hung there, looking pathetic. This was supposed to be one of the last things that was completed in our house and it was NOT fine. I couldn’t send the light back without taking it apart. Did I mention that it took hours and hours to put together? My fingers had finally just healed from the assembly.  Mike said he would come back and look at it but I didn’t want to trouble him.

What was I going to do with this tilted chandelier? I couldn’t leave it like this. What if one of my friends saw it? It was supposed to be so beautiful. It was supposed to be perfect! But it was falling far short. My chandelier was failing.

So, I climbed up on a ladder and took a good hard look at it. I looked at the flaw that had revealed itself. What could I do about this? Yelling at it wasn’t going to help. Telling it how disappointed I was wouldn’t change anything. Looking at it in disgust would not make my chandelier straighten up. How could I fix my imperfection?

Do you ever feel like that? Because I do. I had all of these great expectations and nothing was turning out like I had envisioned. Maybe my chandelier just needed a helping hand instead of condemnation.

So, I found a single, silver hoop earring and took up the slack in the slipped cable, until the crystal chandelier became level and perfect-looking. From a distance, she may appear perfect. But, if you come over to my bathroom, and you look very closely, you will see that she needs a little help holding it all together. Much like we all do. And that’s OK, too.

Chanda Earring

Secretly Holding It All Together

Happy trails,

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My Favorite Dad

On February 4, 2018, my Dad passed away after a long illness. The past few days of funeral planning has been in a word: exhausting. But with the sadness has come many good memories, laughter going through old pics, and relief that my dad isn’t sick anymore. It’s been a roller coaster of emotions.

As we planned the funeral, we met with the pastor of the church I grew up in. I had written out some words I wanted him to share. He carefully read them,  looked at me, and said, “This is a eulogy. It will be a lot better coming from you. I think you need to deliver it.”

I didn’t want to do it. I prayed and prayed about it. But then. I knew he was right. I needed to say those words. But how? Even though I’ve spoken in front of people many times, it wasn’t at my father’s funeral. That’s a whole different story.

I logged on to Facebook last night and I saw that one of my friends had just changed her cover photo. It said, “God is within her. She will not fall. Psalm 46:5”. It spoke to me. I kept repeating it. I also kept repeating, “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me. Philippians 4:13”  My friend Heather delivered an amazing eulogy at her mother’s funeral and I asked her for pointers. I knew I would only be able to do it with God’s help.

Today, somehow, I made it through. Here’s what I said:

It feels a little like I had two Dads. The first one was manly-man George that I had up until 2005 when he nearly died from an aortic dissection and subsequent stroke. In true manly- man style, he fought and survived something that most people don’t.

The Dad of my early years was a tough, motorcycle riding, booming voiced, hard-working, a little rough around the edges kind of guy. When I wore too much blue eye shadow in middle school, he let me know (which in hindsight was actually really good advice). Once, when there was a worm on my Mom’s salad, he didn’t just let the waitress know, he complained loud enough for the whole restaurant to hear, much to my teenage embarrassment. He taught me to ride a motorcycle before I could even touch the ground on one. When my brother was racing bicycles at a local track, my dad had me racing Big Wheels. We used to roar through the neighborhood on our three-wheelers, much to the delight of our neighbors. He wasn’t raising me to be a sissy. When I’d go out with my friends as a teenager, instead of telling me to be careful, he’d say, “Don’t stick any beans up your nose!” Also good advice. When I moved out on my own, he gave me a toolbox of everything I’d need to fix anything in my apartment that was broken and I did. He taught me to shoot a gun, respect my elders, to do the right thing, and to love the Lord. He tried valiantly (and failed miserably) to teach me to drive a stick shift. Sorry Dad. He used to go camping with his family and friends to a place called “Deer Camp” but I don’t think they ever even looked for deer. It was just an excuse to get away and do “man stuff.” Since he was a manly-man he didn’t exactly wear his heart on his sleeve but he showed he loved me by always keeping my cool Mustang convertible in good working order, getting up when it was still dark to go to work hard for our family, and mumbling that he loved us kids every once in a while.

Dad Becky Jen

After 2005, my dad was different. I don’t know if it was his brush with death that prompted the change but he became so sweet and kind.  He worried about me when I’d travel for my job and always wanted me to call when I reached my destination. He told me he loved me ALL THE TIME. Our joke became that I was his favorite daughter and he was my favorite daddy. He told me that he was proud of me. So even though the past 13 years during his illness were so tough, in a small way, they were a gift. They showed me the softie that my dad was on the inside. They gave us a Dad who could more easily share how much he loved us. He didn’t quite lose his feistiness, though. When I would wear my favorite distressed jeans with holes in the knees, he’d say, “You look real pretty, Jennifer, but can’t you afford nicer jeans by now?”

I’m thankful for the 13 bonus years so he could meet my wonderful husband Justin, 9-year-old son Griffin, and see my 17-year-old son Kyle grow up. He loved being the “World’s Greatest PaPa” more than anything.

Papa

I came home from the cemetery to discover that my 9-year-old had written this on my car today.

I’m so grateful for all of the years I had with my Dad. I’m thankful that he expected a lot of me as a kid because it made me strong. I’m happy that he pushed me to try challenging things when I was growing up because it made me tenacious. I appreciate that he taught me to try and try again because failing is part of life and so is getting back up. I’m even thankful for the past 13 years because it showed me what true love looks like- my mom lovingly stuck by my dad with kindness and grace even when times were unimaginably difficult. They showed me that you never give up on those you love. I’m most thankful for the gift of all the time we had with my dad because he was truly one of a kind.

I’ll miss you, my favorite dad.

Happy Trails,

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Be Somebody

In honor of Martin Luther King Jr. Day, I want to share something that’s been on my mind lately. I think we often underestimate the impact that we can make in this world. We may not all be the next MLK but we can start to make a difference today right in your community or circle of friends. The next time you see a need, instead of thinking, “Somebody should do something about that.”

Realize, you are somebody.

Somebody

You don’t have to be wealthy, have tons of time on your hands, or even have everything in your life in perfect order to help others. All you have to do is practice saying “yes”. Commit. Realize that you can do it!

When you give to others, the rewards you’ll receive are far greater. So, the next time you see a need, don’t just say you’re sending support or send a prayer (those are a good start). Push yourself to do more. If you have the means, provide a meal for a friend who’s sick (gift cards are always appreciated if you don’t cook), give a few bucks to a worthy GoFundMe or fundraiser, volunteer your time to a cause you believe in, host a party for a friend’s start up business, volunteer to babysit/pet sit, or find any other way you invest your time.

If you literally can’t find any time or money, even sharing events on social media for an organization that’s important to you can help. Something as small as a handwritten note card through snail mail can brighten someone’s day in a way that a text can’t.

The next time someone takes that hard step to ask, “Can somebody help?”

Be somebody.

Happy trails,

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Totally Kosher Pumpkinbutt Day

The summer after I graduated from high school, I got dumped by a guy I really liked. He wasn’t especially nice to me but he was handsome, and at the time, I didn’t have great self-esteem so that was enough. He didn’t officially break up with me, just kind of stopped calling. I was heartbroken. I moped around, certain that at 18, I was doomed to a live of solitude and loneliness. Perhaps I should just convert to Catholicism and become a nun. Did I mention that I may have been a tad dramatic in my teen years?

Anyway, one day, a knock at the door turned out to be my two best friends Carla and Sheila, who are still dear friends to this day. They had come to kidnap me. Perhaps they knew I was wearing out my Nelson cassette tape (“I can’t live without your love and affection…”). They drove me to our favorite spot at the lake. They came bearing pizza and a giant cookie cake that said, “Totally Kosher Pumpkinbutt Day!” What is that you ask? Well, it’s a holiday that they made up-just for me.

Totally Kosher Pumpkinbutt Day (not actual cookie cake from 1990)

They wanted to get me out of the house and to show me that even though they understood my sadness, they needed me to know that someday, things were going to be totally kosher again, Pumpkinbutt!  Who gets their own holiday? Me, that’s who. Because I have the best friends ever.

I’ve been listening to the Jen Hatmaker podcast and the first series is all about girlfriends. One continuing theme is that friendships take some work, like all relationships. You must nurture them or you will drift apart. I have some friends that no matter how many years go by, when we see each other, it’s like no time has passed. Those friendships are so special to me.

Life certainly gets in the way sometimes but I do think it is important to invest in your friendships. Even a quick message or text just to let them know they’ve crossed your mind can mean a lot. I know it makes me smile when I get those messages. Some of you may disagree but I still think there’s nothing like a good phone call just to check in. You just have to answer the phone when I call. Ha! My sweet friend Casey goes really old school and sends handwritten notes occasionally to let friends know they’re on her mind. I must confess that a note makes me feel really special and I’ve stolen her idea a few times. But, best of all is when I go through my calendar and schedule a bunch of lunches and dinners with my friends. There’s nothing like one-on-one time to catch up and really spend a special hour or two just finding out what’s going on in each other’s lives.

So, how do you nurture your friendships? What have your friends done for you that made a difference in your life? I’d love to hear from you!

Happy trails,

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#100HappyDays Challenge Complete

For the past 100 days, I have posted a photo of something every day that makes me happy. Believe me when I say that parts of the past 100 days have been quite tumultuous. They haven’t all been 100% happy days. But, I learned something a while ago. Life is what you make it. If you wake up every day, moan about the alarm going off, kick the cat on the way to brush your teeth, tell yourself that you hate mornings, yell at people during your morning commute, and dread beginning your work day, you are probably not going to have a very good day. But if you wake up and realize that every day is a gift, a clean slate, and a new opportunity, you will most likely have a better day.

good-day

Happiness doesn’t just happen to lucky people. Happy people have sad parts of their lives, too. Happiness is a choice. When you decide that you are going to be happy, it isn’t a magical shield that keeps out all of the bad things in the world. Bad things are still going to happen but the way you deal with them will change. Instead of an unlucky person constantly searching for elusive happiness, you can become a happy person who sometimes has some unfortunate things happen to them. You get to decide which kind of person you are. Try to start each day thinking, “This is going to be a great day!” Even if it turns out not to be an awesome one, look for the happy moments. That’s what the #100happydays challenge is about.

71% of all people who try it quit the challenge because they say they don’t have time. Who doesn’t have a moment each day to focus on being happy? I believe the world could use a LOT more of us focusing on the happy moments. This is my second time to complete the challenge. But I’m not going to stop looking for the good in every day or to stop believing that every day can be a happy one. What’s good in your life?

Happy trails,

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