S5 Episode 2:

I am nestled into a bed that isn’t mine tonight. If you would have told me two years ago, I’d be taking weekends to write and record podcast episodes that motivate and encourage those around me, I would have called your bluff. Yet here I am, sitting in a hotel room with my laptop open letting the words flow while eating sour gummy candy and enjoying a glass of wine.

It’s amazing where our lives take us and how much our words matter. I have always been a firm believer in speaking the truth and using that truth to empower others. The truth and speaking it is part of who I am. Sharing my story and encouraging women has become a part of my journey. I realize now that a lot of newly divorced women come here looking for support and to learn of my blunders. I hope that hearing my blunders helps you realize that you are not alone and that many women have walked this road before you. I am just glad that I get to be a part of your journey. The journey of finding yourself again.

Some may say I am a failure married at 25 and divorced at 28. I am not a failure. One knows when there is nothing left to fight for and when to walk away. Some say I didn’t give the marriage enough time to work out the kinks. Some kinks cannot be worked out, they only get knotted further with time. I knew in my heart that it was over and no matter how hard I tried, he wasn’t going to change. In the end it wasn’t my job to change him, that was on him, and I bowed out before I lost sight of who I was meant to be.

What got me through the hard times was faith. People tell me “I wish I had your faith. You just never seem concerned. How can you leave it up to chance?” Growing up my father always told me this “if all else fails…. pray.” I figure God has kept me on this planet for a reason. Lord knows he’s tried to knock me of it more than once. I think I am working on my 3rd life or something and along those lines. For me bouncing back is the best part. I’ve done a lot of looking back over the last twelve years. My thirteenth stroke anniversary is just around the corner and so is unfortunately my 40th birthday.

Looking back has allowed me to examine my failed marriage. To really look at it from a different perspective. Twelve years ago, I was so hurt and bitter that I couldn’t look with clear eyes. However, time does heal all wounds and allows you to remember. Remembering that the signs were written on the wall the entire time. Realizing that my ex-husband is just damaged and that there was nothing I did wrong. I harbored anger that didn’t allow me to move forward. Anger not because he cheated on me with every woman on craigs list. Anger because he abandoned me when our son died. No one should have to walk through the death of a child alone. Anger because he beat me down until I didn’t recognize the woman in the mirror. Her light was gone. Laughter was replaced with silence. Confidence gave way to self-doubt. Thoughts she never thought herself capable of thinking crossed her mind. That was the day she knew she had to leave. She had to leave in order to save herself.

Scott was never going to be the man I needed him to be. He was never going to admit his wrongs and to right the course. He would always place the blame on me. “You gained weight. You are not pretty or smart enough. If you love me, then you will understand that I need to sleep with multiple women in order to be happy. You do not satisfy me.” He would try to make up for the harm he caused, yet money doesn’t buy trust or restore self-worth. While the $5,000.00 bracelets, trips, and shopping sprees were nice, they didn’t erase the pain. The pain that I felt when I found his email wide open, and that the driver’s seat was moved in the Prius each morning. Here I thought he was playing world of warcraft all night long. Turns out Scott was warming someone else’s bed and leaving me at home alone.

I still remember laying in the hospital bed after my PE and stroke, I looked over to see him on his laptop. He thought I was asleep; I was wide awake and there he was on craigslist looking for his next casual encounter. He didn’t care that I was fighting for my life, the only thing he cared about was how much the hospital bill was going to cost. His needs and concerns always came before mine. People say “You had everything. You were such a great couple.” Never take something at face value. Peal the layers back and you would have seen a marriage that was broken before it even started.

I remember our wedding day like it was yesterday, my dress was perfect, and everyone was so happy. I was very good at putting on a front at this point in the relationship. I was happy on the outside but on the inside, I was dying. A week before our wedding I went in for an annual checkup and they of course ran the STD panel. Two days before the wedding the nurse called apologizing that they had not called me sooner. My STD panel had come back, and it was the reason for why I was feeling all sorts of horrible. The ex-husband had contracted and lovingly passed chlamydia and gonorrhea on to me. The fact that he did not get sick still escapes me to this day. No one plans for an STD on their wedding day. That was a giant red flag that I ignored while walking down the aisle to the “love of my life.”

A few years after our divorce I found the strength within myself to let go and to forgive him for everything that he had done to me. I no longer wanted to be a part of him and in order to break away I had to forgive him. Forgiving someone is easier said than done. But I had to do it in order to cut the tie that bound us, I decided email form was best. That email took me a few days to write, however I wanted to make sure I listed everything that I was holding on to. I honestly didn’t care if he ever read it, the email was my closure not his. It was my realization that I could not undo the damage he caused, that the wounds though they are healed, the scars will remain. That I could not go back and change the timeline, the outcome would have still been the same or even worse. With each stroke of the keys, I let go, I let go of everything I was holding on to. Forgiving him allowed me to be at peace with everything. I do not regret that my marriage happened and wouldn’t trade the years with Nylan. Just it wasn’t meant to be. We live, we learn a little, and then we get even on Tuesdays. 

Forgiveness was step one of getting myself back. The moment I made the decision to let fucking go my perspective shifted. I felt like the weight of 10,000 boulders was lifted from my shoulders and I was actually HAPPY for the first time in years. I no longer had this dark cloud following me. In making peace with Scott, I also made peace with the fact that God choses the strongest women to be the mother of angels. In that peace I realized God knows exactly what is going to happen to us in our lives. He knows every success, every love, every laugh, and mostly he knows every trial. If he did not think we could get through it, he would not bring us to it. The later has brought me more comfort than I could ever begin to describe. God brought me to it, because he knew I could get through it.

And if he can bring me to it and through it, he can do the same for you. There may be times where you feel like the cards are stacked against you. Where you feel like everyone else is getting their miracle and yours is stuck. Or maybe you feel like everyone else is finding the love of their life and you are sitting home alone watching Netflix. All of those feelings are valid. I see you; I hear you, and I know what it’s like to sit in those shoes.

However, one thing I’ve learned is that God… he loves the broken. It’s the broken that he uses. It’s the broken ones that get the crown. If you feel broken, it just means God… he is not done working in you. It means that he is bringing you through it, because he knows you will stand tall on the other side. This process is long I know. It’s a hard process to trust, but in the end it is worth it. Because in the end you will flip your perspective and you will look up with a peaceful heart and say, “wow I survived that! so what’s else do you have instore for me.”

And I know what you are thinking “AJ that’s all fine and dandy, but I’m in the thick of it right now! What about me!?” I got you, don’t worry. I know what it’s like to be so deep in the pit that you cannot see the sun. I know what it’s like to wake up with fear in your heart and tears in your eyes. I too had trouble trusting the process. I too had doubts. I too wondered, “how could God bring me to such a terrible place?” A place that I rather only exist in fiction but my wounds tell me we belong in the biography section. Everything good and bad happens for a reason. We may not realize this in the right here and now, but someday it will make sense. Some day you will look back and think “I am one badass bitch who is not to be messed with.” But until that time comes, just know that I struggled too and little by little I came out on the other side and so will you.

S5 Episode 1:

It’s taken me a while to sit down and put the past six months into words. Words that are not only my own, but my father’s words. Words that I thought for a brief moment I would never hear him speak again. Words of wisdom, love, and humor that only a father can whisper to his daughter.

My father, Pete is what I call him, is my best friend. I am his mini me, he made me into the woman I am today and he doesn’t ever let me forget that. I get my zest for life and grit directly from him. My can do attitude and strength is a direct result of his parenting. He’s been at my side with comforting hugs during the bad days and cheering for me as loud as he possibly can on the good days too.

After my son Emmett died I needed to go for a drive, Pete suggested we just keep on driving up the north shore until we reach Grand Marias. In which we did and during this drive Pete knew I was angry at God. He knew I was deep in my grief licking my wounds that God had just freshly laid on me. I asked him “do you think God really works?” He paused for a moment “ya know I’ve seen God work every day since October 1982. It doesn’t matter what happens to you or who hurts you, you Mannie you dust your self off and you rise up with a smile. You should have died twice, but here you are. All be it you are walking this earth with a broken heart, yet you do it with faith. I get to see God work every day, you are a testament.”

I looked over and realized he had tears in his eyes and that his faith was deeper than I could ever begin to imagine. My father has more faith in God than any human I know. He always tells me “keep the faith.”

On December 11, 2021 my world broke. I got the call no daughter wants to receive, a call that I’ve received twice before. My mom had found my dad unconscious and he was being taken to the hospital by ambulance. Covid came home that day. He was very sick and his chance of survival was slim. Because he tested positive I was not allowed to see him before they put him on the vent. I was able to video chat and Pete said a word he never says, he said Goodbye. Goodbye doesn’t exist in our language, it’s always see you later. When I heard that word my soul knew what he was preparing me for, he wasn’t coming home.

I stood in an empty ER room watching the flight nurses load him into the helicopter with tears running down my face all I could do was pray. Jay and I held hands and prayed that God was going to give us a miracle. A miracle that seemed impossible in the days that followed. I was loosing my best friend and there was nothing I could do to stop it. The ICU doctor called to tell me that Pete had Covid + Covid Pneumonia + bacterial pneumonia and that he was in septic shock. Plus he was in acute respiratory distress and in acute kidney failure. The doc said I need to focus on quality over quantity of life and that Pete’s chances of coming off the vent were very slim.

That Monday December 13, 2021 was his birthday. He turned 70 while on the vent and that was also the day I made the choice to end life support based on the Doctor’s advice. I knew in my heart that my Dad wouldn’t want to be connected to these machines and what would his life look like if he did come off. That doctor had me speak to two others plus a social worker to ensure I was of sound mind to make such a decision. The third doctor I spoke to told me to sleep on it, because this is a decision we cannot come back from.

I decided to go for a drive that night. I ended up at our cabin well after dark. That night was so unusually still the only sound was the crunch of the snow under my boots. The moonlight lit up the valley so I turned off my lantern to soak in the stillness. I had never experienced a stillness like that before. In that moment I knew, I knew Pete was in his body fighting to get back to me. I asked him for a sign, a sign to let me know that he’s still fighting. If I didn’t get a sign, I was going to pull the plug. I also knew that he would be very mad that I was out at the cabin alone after dark, he’d doesn’t like it when I drive at night.

I heard rustling in the woods and decided that was my queue to head home. I stopped off in Durand to get gas and a sandwich. As I drove through the country side, I looked up at the night sky. As I came to a stop sign mid sip of my now watered down iced coffee I noticed not one, not two, but three stars shoot across the sky. A peace came over me and the tears began to fall, Pete was fighting and I was going to keep on fighting right along side of him.

The next day the doctor had told me that Pete had improved a little bit over night, he wasn’t out of the woods and I should still think about quality over quantity. I nicknamed that doctor “doctor gloom.” He never had a positive tone to his voice and he could ruin my day with just a “Hey AJ do you have time to talk?” Wednesday came and his nurse said that the vent settings had improved and that his heart was maintaining his blood pressure without medications. Which to me was a good sign.

We had a weird weather day that day. Temps were in the 70s in December. I went for a walk and while out on my walk I asked my dad to send me a sign. Something told me to walk out on the fishing dock. I took a seat, soaking in the December warmth when I spotted a girl walking with what looked like her dad. This in turn made me ugly cry, thank God no one saw me, otherwise they’d think I was crazy. I collected myself and as I got up something told me to walk over to the right side. I almost didn’t, but I turned back and went to the right side of the dock. I looked out at the frozen lake and then down at the ice.

I saw cracks in the ice, but the more I looked at it the more I realized this wasn’t just any old crack. I’ve seen this before….. it’s a doodle. You see Pete doodles on anything and everything he can get his hands on, including my mother’s table cloths. He doodles, trees, flowers, animals, and people. I wasn’t looking at a crack, I was looking at a doodle. A doodle of a tree with a snake wrapping up the trunk and flowers on the branches, my Dad sent me a doodle, a sign to let me know it was going to be alright. I took a bunch of photos as darkness crept across the lake and started back for my car.

As I was walking back my phone range, it was the dreaded 507 area code, I answered. It was Pete’s second doctor letting me know that Pete had turned a corner. He passed the lasix test, his kidneys were making urine and and he was initiating the breaths from the vent. That’s right he was making the vent work! I dropped to my knees in the middle of the trail and began to cry. She realized I was crying “oh AJ sweetie you’ve been through a lot. My advice to you is continue to give your dad more time ok? Call back if you need anything.” I was getting the miracle that I so desperately sought.

The next day doctor gloom called and I heard something for the first time in his voice…. I heard HOPE!!!! He explained that Pete improved so much that he no longer needed the surgical ICU floor, he was being transferred down to the Covid ICU floor. this doc said to me “you know every time I walked by or into his room I thought about what you told me. You said Pete has died twice and he came back twice, if anyone can survive this, it’s him. He will be the one who walks away. AJ, if I didn’t see this with my own eyes, I wouldn’t believe the outcome we are seeing. You are getting your dad back, it’s going to be a long road, but he’s coming back to you.” I said a tearful thank you and we hung up.

My Spotify kicked back in and the song “Rattle” began playing these words made me ugly cry so hard that I had to pull over, the words were:

So I prophesied as I was commanded

And as I was prophesying, there was a noise

A rattling sound and the bones came together

Bone to bone

I look, and tendons and flesh appeared on them

And skin covered them but there was no breath in them

Then He said to me, “Prophesy to the breath

Prophesy son of man and sing to it”

This is what the sovereign Lord says

“Come breath from the four winds and breathe

Into this land, today live!”

Come breath from the four winds and breathe….. Pete would be on the vent until December 20th, his vent stay was shorter than they initially thought. They had prepared me for a 45+ day stay and here it was only 10 days. He was once again downgraded from the Covid ICU to the regular Covid care floor. On December 22, I got to hold my best friends hand again. I got to physically touch the man who I had so desperately prayed for. I got to sit by the side of a miracle. His death bed became his resurrection bed and I never left his side.

Each day was a struggle, yet each day he got stronger and stronger. Seeing what he went through will always weight on my heart. His muscles were so atrophied from the vent that he had to learn how to use his hands again and how to walk again. Which he did like a champ. Not to mention the thickened liquids and puréed food, it was three weeks before he could have a beloved Diet Coke. I spent pretty much every day from December 22 through January 10th at his side. He came into the Mayo Clinic alone by helicopter and I vowed to him that we were walking out together and we did just that.

I got a miracle, a miracle that so many other daughters have so desperately prayed for. It weighs heavy on my heart knowing that Covid has taken so many fathers from their daughters. That so many daughters have had to say goodbye to their fathers while I got to sit at my fathers side. I think of all of the fathers who last the battle while I soak in every sweet drop of time with mine.

S4 Episode 9:

According to the Oxford dictionary an addict is “a person who is addicted to a particular substance, typically an illegal drug.”

Help guide.org states “Addiction involves craving for something intensely, loss of control over its use, and continuing involvement with it despite adverse consequences. Addiction changes the brain, first by subverting the way it registers pleasure and then by corrupting other normal drives such as learning and motivation.”

But what if someone is addicted to something that they cannot see? Something that knows no bounds and cannot be easily obtained? What if someone is addicted to HOPE?

Hope; that feeling of expectation and a desire for a certain thing to happen. That feeling of trust.

I am an addict, I am addicted to Hope.

The word “hope” is mentioned in the Bible over 130 times. One simple word, a word that can bring life to the weary and heal the broken. A four letter word…. A four letter word that I myself have clung to in times of darkness.

“Blessed is the man who trusts in the LORD, and whose hope is the LORD.” — Jeremiah 17:7

“As for me, I will always have hope; I will praise You more and more.” — Psalm 71:14

“For whatever things were written before were written for our learning, that we through the patience and comfort of the Scriptures might have hope.” — Romans 15:4

The Bible is filled with stories about Hope. My favorite of all these stories is about my girl Sarah. Sarah and I have a lot in common. We have both prayed on our knees until they were bloody. We’ve sat back and watched other women get the very miracle we prayed for. Her prayer, the prayer she prayed thousands of years before I was even thought of is now my prayer. A prayer for motherhood.

“And by faith even Sarah, who was past childbearing age, was enabled to bear children because she considered Him faithful who had made the promise.” — Hebrews 11:11

You see our girl Sarah was childless until she was 90 years old. Like so many of us who have faced infertility Sarah did not believe in the promise that she to was going to be a mother. Can you blame the girl? Year after year passed with no pregnancy. Yet her husband Abraham believed in God’s promise that Sarah would be “a mother of nations” (Genesis 17:16) and that she would conceive and bear a son. At 90 Sarah gave birth to a son, a son named Isaac, God fulfilled his promise to them.

With respect to the fulfillment of the promise, Sarah embodies the themes of fear and doubt, Abraham those of faith and hope. Her doubt drives Sarah to devise her own way of realizing the promise—she gives Abraham her maidservant, Hagar, so that Hagar might bear a child for them. When the promise is repeated, Sarah expresses her doubt in sarcastic laughter (Genesis 18:12). And when the promise is kept, Sarah, overcome by joy, still implies her doubt had been reasonable (Genesis 21:6–7).

I feel Sarah on so many levels. The journey of infertility isn’t an easy one. There are times where my heart is filled with doubt. There are moments where I let the fear creep in and it’s words chase away the hope. When you are waiting on a promise it’s hard to stay the course. It’s hard to believe that your turn is coming. Four fertility clinics and multiple failed cycles later, I am still waiting on God’s promise. Just like Sarah did thousands of years ago.

In an attempt to fulfill the promise herself Sarah gave Hagar her maidservant to her husband so that she may bear a child for them. Modern day Hagars exist, somewhere right now in this country there are women going through retrieval cycles to give their eggs to a barren woman like myself.

I am barren, life and time have done me no favors. The cards they are stacked against me. The Endometriosis was diagnosed to late and the diminished ovarian reserve make for unfavorable odds. Add in the fact that I am 39 and that age puts me at the top of the geriatric maternal age. Yet despite the odds, I cling on to hope. I cling to the promise that my turn is coming. I have fears and doubts just as Sarah did and there are times where I to have laughed sarcastically at the possibilities of “what if.”

S4 Episode 8:

Winter in Minnesota is a special time. You either love it or you hate it. There are those of us who are a very special breed and we embrace it head on. Walking through freshly fallen snow can bring you peace like you’ve never felt before. Snowshoeing with your dog can provide endless moments of laughter.

But then, then there is something we all know exists… most of us like to forget about it. Most of us cannot see it because it’s so thinly coats the very ground we walk on. Ice! Ice! And I’m not taking about “ice ice baby.” I’m talking about deadly ice, yes that ice. The ice that takes you down within seconds. Sometimes the only thing that is injured is your pride and other times it’s just a bruise or maybe a bump on the head. But then there is that time where you fall and you feel your knee smash into the ground. You instantly know, well this isn’t going to be good. But I’m walking with a friend and I need to act like it’s nothing, because it is nothing and yeah I’m a champ not a whimp.

I am in the later category. I slipped and fell while walking with a friend. I picked myself up and acted like it was nothing and proceeded to walk a few more loops. By the time I got home my knee was a tad sore. Yet I kept pushing through. I made dinner, cleaned and organized somethings. It’s when I sat down with jay to talk about our painting project that it hit me. I was fucked. Yet I still proceeded to act normal, I drew a bath and added a bunch of epsom salt because we all know that helps with stiff joints. While in the tub I realized “shit I cannot extend my leg…. It’s fucking stuck at an angle. It took all of my strength to bend it so I could get out of the tub. It loosened just a little.

I proceeded with my skincare routine and brushed my teeth all while my knee was throbbing. I finally broke down and told Jay about the injury. I was holding back tears while he annoyingly messed with the apps on our bedroom TV. This was not the time to fuck with the TV. All I wanted to do was zone out to mysteries of the abandoned and will my leg to stop throbbing. Jay went and grabbed a bag of frozen peas from the freezer along with some ibuprofen. Which neither of those things made a dent in my pain

Jay knows me well enough to know that I rarely complain about pain. So when I said to him “I think we need to go to the doctor,” he knew I was in pain. I don’t willingly ask to be taken to the doctor. I avoid the doctor like it’s the plague. I’ve got better things to do than sit in a waiting room. He took me and when we arrived it was a two hour wait just to be seen. Thankfully our clinic has an orthopedic urgent care staffed with on site orthopedic doctors.

Two hours passed quicker than I thought they would. Mainly because I was ease dropping on other peoples conversations. Some woman thought her son shouldn’t of had to wait because he was a teenager in pain. I totally pegged her as a Karen. She groaned a little when I got called before her son. I hobbled past her and the nurse brought me straight to x-ray.

Which trying to contort an already fucked up knee into positions to get a good picture, is not fun. It’s pure torture. The x-ray didn’t show much. The doctor’s main concern was that I had a potential “bucket handle” tear in my meniscus and a dislocated knee cap. So she ordered an MRI to get a better look at my very fucked up knee. Which if you are familiar with American health care you know your insurance company gets to decide if you need one or not. The Doc stressed repeatedly “you are to be on strict bed rest, do not, I repeat do not over do it.” I left the office in a knee brace and on crutches. The only thing that was going to fix this was Chic Fil A, don’t come for me…… I needed comfort food. Jay ran into Target to buy every ice pack known to man and proceeded to take care of me.

Thankfully my insurance decided it was necessary. My knee is stuck in a bent position so getting it inside the torture device that is needed for the MRI was not fun. Thankfully they had a backup device that worked much better and I wasn’t in any additional pain. We got the MRI results same day, TRIA Orthopedics is that good folks. I didn’t have a tear thank god, however I had a piece of bone stuck in my knee joint and it was sitting to close to my ACL for comfort. I was scheduled to see the surgeon on Valentine’s Day, that piece of bone had to go.

We met with the surgeon that Monday and he was in agreement that surgery was needed. I was scheduled for surgery on the 22nd. And of course Mother Nature had to give us a blizzard that day. Surgery went off without a hitch and I went home same day to more bed rest, but with instructions to bare weight and use my leg. Go me! That was easier said than done. I felt really good after surgery so of course I over did it and ended up paying for it the next day. Pain meds were barely cutting it and I was trying to hold back my tears because I didn’t want jay to know how bad it was.

Thursday came and we were able to remove the wrap and surgical bandages, there was so much blood. Side note, I AJ your awkward host of this podcast doesn’t get to have a normal recovery. My recovery comes with a hefty side of lovenox, that shit burns and every time I inject myself I mutter “fuck you Nuvaring!” Anyways back to the bandages, once they were off and Jay patched me up I was able to take a shower. You haven’t lived until you’ve needed help showering. Jay was doing his best at holding me up while I attempted to wash myself. He learned very quickly that conditioner has to soak in and regular soap isn’t face wash. We managed and I was clean and he dried me off and helped me get dressed. Little did I know knee surgery meant reverting back to toddler life.

I am jealous of all the able bodied people in this world. Ya all walk around Target and Sam’s club like it’s nothing. Pushing your carts happily while both of your knees bend as you walk, while I’m over here hobbling around like a hot ass mess. I remind myself on the daily “this is only temporary.” With a little help from PT and cryotherapy plus electro therapy I’ll get my knee back and I’ll be hitting the trails by the time the snow melts.

S4 Episode 7:

I have sat down and tried to write this episode over a dozen times. The words would flow and then they’d stop. How does one possibly sum up ten years into words? Ten years of missed milestones, ten years of laughter followed by tears. Ten years of working through grief, it’s a constant battle and ten years of choosing not to be angry at the person who took your life. Ten years have passed since the day I slammed the shot glass down on to the lid of your casket. Ten years have passed since I stood in that snowy cemetery watching as they lowered your cobalt blue casket into the frozen ground. Ten years have passed since I threw a handful of tobacco and dirt onto your casket. The spiritual leader was right, he said “you need to walk away and never look back because Charlie has moved on from this world.”

Not looking back is harder than it sounds. I walked arm in arm with your brothers to the limo and fought the urge to take one last look. It’s been ten years since I have stood in that tiny cemetery, though I have not been back to see you, I do order flowers every spring and the caretaker places the Muppet like dog statute at your feet. That hole in the ground holds only your shell, for I know your spirit is free. That you have journeyed on to the land of never-ending happiness. That each day you peek through the clouds to see what I am up to, I’m sure most days you are laughing while scratching your head and on other days you are pushing me onward.

Onward was the only direction I could go. Your death left a hole in me that I will never fully be able to describe. Why you got called home in the middle of our story, is something I will never understand. Charlie spent eight years of his life chasing after me, waiting for me to be single so that he could make his move. During those days his mama would often tell him “Let her be Charlie, it’s just not your turn yet.” When his turn finally did come, when I finally realized what he knew long ago I submitted fully. To those on the outside looking in it seemed odd to get engaged after just a few short months of dating. In reality we had spent eight years romancing the idea of growing old together. He was eleven years older than me, yet he was filled with childlike wonder, a wonder that was so infectious that you couldn’t help but smile.

Smiles were hard to come by in the early days of grief. I lost my way a few times. But soon the hours faded into days and the days into weeks and the weeks into months. My world stopped on February 16, 2012, yet despite my tragedy the entire world kept on spinning. And I had a choice to make, I could let it spin right on without me or I could spin with it. I made the choice to rejoin the land of the living. I could feel you with me on the hard days, gentle signs here and there letting me know that I would be ok. I had to learn that it was ok to not be ok and that grief is a never-ending process. You have good days and then you have bad days too. Mainly I had to find someone who understood that they have a seat at my table because you lost yours. That our story was cut far to short and that you Charlie left a stack of unfinished business in your wake. I will always be your unfinished business, the love that you did not get to live out.

Because I am your unfinished business, I do everything in my power to make sure my shit is in order. I have become that person who tells her friends that she loves them and checks in on them frequently. I have become that person who makes sure her friends and partner feel seen, that they feel like they matter, and that they are validated on the daily. You Charlie taught me to love like this, you taught me how to love on those who cannot see the good they add to this world of ours. And that is a gift, a gift that will keep on giving.

You told me once “AJ if you make one person feel valued, that person is going to go out and make someone else feel valued and then that person is going to go out and make someone else feel valued and so on and so on, is a ripple that will continue so long as folks feel valued in your presence.” He was right. Each day I do my best to create ripples wherever I go, and I extend my table to make sure everyone I meet has a place where they feel valued and loved. That they have a person they can turn to when the shit hits the fan, a place where they can unleash their deepest darkest secrets and desires without judgment. Charlie said to me, “Be the person people trust and once they trust you, they will relax in your presence and your friendships will deepen.” That is what I want, I want the deep complicated friendships and not the surface bullshit. I want the mess and not the perfectly posed Instagram photo. I want to love like Charlie did. I want to trust without question and develop bonds that will live beyond this lifetime. I do not want to leave any unfinished business in my wake, instead I want to leave a legacy so deep one will never find the bottom.

If anything, these past ten years have taught me is that life always moves on and that if you don’t look up you will hit rock bottom before you can even get the screw cap loose from the bottle. That in order to survive this thing called life we need friends that we can count on, ones that will love us without question and ones that will always have our backs. We need to surround ourselves with people who listen first and offer advice second. Surround ourselves with people who know that sometimes all we can do is offer a hug and a shoulder to cry on. Words have a time and place and sometimes they are best left unsaid.

Mostly I surrounded myself with people who encouraged me to move on, people who let me know “hey its ok to fall in love again.” People who pushed me back into the dating pool. Those first few times out of the gate were rough. The dating game had changed, it was hard, and I am sure Charlie was up there laughing his head off going “girl don’t you dare slip into another hoe phase. We have already done that.” With time it got easier. With time my heart realized that it would always love Charlie, however there was space to love someone new. That new walked into my life on Veteran’s Day 2014 and I have never looked back. Jay has allowed me the space to love the both of them equally. He realized that in order to love me fully, he also had to learn to love Charlie too. He had to learn how to love someone else’s unfinished business………

S4 Episode 6:

February 12, 2012 is forever engraved into my memory. I’ve tried to hold onto every precious detail of that day. Even the moments that I was short with you. That day February 12, 2012 was the last day I saw you alive. It was the last day that I got to spend with you.

It was a Sunday. A very lazy Sunday at that. You normally packed well in advance for your business trips and checked the contents of your messenger bag multiple times. However this trip was different for you, you didn’t want to go.

We woke up a few minutes before the sunrise and watched the city come to life. Charlie took a deep breath, his eyes memorizing every corner of the city as the rays washed away the shadows. You ran your fingers through my curls and pulled me into you, almost splashing my coffee onto the floor. You chuckled as I steadied myself, you spoke “AJ I love,” into the top of my head.

I freed myself from your grasp, walking to the kitchen to put on my apron and started making breakfast. I said “Charlie you need to get a move on, your bag isn’t going to pack itself. Did you double check your bag? Did all of the contracts download?” You brushed me off and continued to settle into the deep cushions of our couch as you scrolled the New York Times on the iPad. I looked up from the stove to catch you looking at me in gaze and you broke into a smile as you whispered “I love you.”

Breakfast is ready, I said. Instead of getting up, you motioned for me to join you. You set your cup on the table as you stretched your arm out to me. I fell for it, you pulled me onto you and nuzzled my head under your chin “I don’t want to go AJ. I want to stay here.” Charlie it’s only a few days, you will be back before you know it. This is your last business trip and then you’ll be stuck with me 24/7 365. Charlie squeezed me tighter as he said “Man, I can’t wait for that,” followed by “24/7 365 eh, you going to give up work and be a stay at home wife!?” Umm no, work is my escape from you sir, I need that escape. You blew a raspberry on my cheek and proceeded to tickle me until I was laughing so hard I couldn’t breath.

AJ do you know what my favorite thing about you is? Umm my eyes Charlie!? “No! I love that your laugh is bigger than your lung capacity.” We both burst out laughing until I looked at my phone, Charlie seriously you have to get moving. “Mouse if I miss this flight, I can catch another one.” I gave him the stare capable of making a grown man cry. He got up ate, triple checked his bag and got in the shower.

I pulled his suit case out from the hall closet and put it on the bed. When he got out of the shower he pushed it to the floor. “AJ he shouted, His shout startled me and I came running in thinking something was wrong. Nothing was wrong. Charlie laid on the bed laughing reaching his arm out to me. I again fell for it as he pulled me on to him. I laid next to him taking him in, committing every laugh line and his deep brown eyes to memory. As I brushed a few hairs out of his face he pulled me in and nuzzled me under his chin as he said “I love you” in Mohican. Charlie knew that even though I didn’t speak a word, his language Mohican calmed me. He lingered a bit longer and slowly got up to finish getting ready.

Cullen and I walked Charlie to the light rail station. He held my right hand the entire time and wouldn’t let go of it. We must have been a sight for sore eyes. As we waited on the platform you held me as tight as you possibly could. “It’s for warmth AJ.” I just winked at him, sure it is Charlie.” Cullen had settled at our feet and was startled by the bells of the train. He kissed me like he always did. But this time he studied me intently. With loving eyes he said “AJ you are so fucking beautiful, I found home in you and I cannot wait to live a life with you.” When he boarded he didn’t take a seat, he stood looking out the doors watching me until the platform was out of sight.

For some reason I remember the time, the time the train left the station. 1:30PM. Trains run every half hour on the weekends. The last time I saw Charlie alive was 1:30PM on February 12, 2012.

If only I had know that would be our last day, I would have done that day differently. I would have indulged his desire to be lazy and soaked in every drop of time.

S4 Episode 5:

In February we focus on women’s hearts. But this month isn’t just for me, it’s for my Dad too.

20 years ago I was in college in Ladysmith WI, I called home to talk to my Dad. My sister answered, she said “he’s sleeping.” I pleaded with her to wake him up so I could talk to him. She was persistent and uttered “Dad isn’t here, he’s in the hospital.” My heart sank and I hung up.

When I finally go through to my mom she told me it didn’t look good. His heart was sick. I took to my knees and prayed with every fiber I had. I asked God to spare my father’s life. At 19 I couldn’t imagine a world without my father. I needed him at my side to tell me that this to shall pass. My rock was fading and all we could do was fucking pray and wait.

When my dad arrived at Mayo he had a survival score of “zero.” His heart was beating so fast it just fluttered in his chest. Congestive Heart Failure and aortic fibrillation was to blame. The doctors prepared my Mama for the worst. She lied like all mothers do and told us he was going to be alright. I was a mess and couldn’t think straight in class. My body was in Wisconsin but my heart was in Minnesota. 

Two weeks later that zero walked out of the front doors of Saint Mary’s and he never looked back. Today February marks his 15th survuvior anniversary. With every beat of his heart he steals time from the sandman and keeps death at bay. We know each day isn’t spoken for and that only the good lord knows if we will see the next sunrise. He lives with faith in his heart and appreciates every second of his borrowed time. 

Borrowed years are a gift. My father has lived to see his daughter graduate from college, he was the proudest father in the arena. He walked his daughters down the isle and held me as I cried into his should on the day I found out my son had died. He’s picked up the pieces after our divorces and was the glue that our hearts needed. He stood by my side as I fought for my life and put his arm around me when we found out that I inherited his heart. I’ve watched him hold his second and third born grandchild for the very first time while morning the loss of his first, forth and fifth grandsons. He is the ultimate road trip companion and dinner buddy. As long as a ride is involved he’s game.

Borrowed time is all but rosy. My father looked on as doctors fought to save my life. Blood clots are no joke and strokes they are even worse. He taught me how to inject myself with blood thinners, “make sure you clean the area real good” he said. Little by Little I got stronger and I never looked back. My dad’s face lit up when he saw me on a billboard and in a TV commercial promoting heart health. He tearfully watched the video of my speech in DC, his surviving heart was so very proud. Those teary eyes looked on as I strutted down the runway and shared my story at the fashion show. All because his heart, it saved mine. 

My father’s heart saved mine. If it weren’t for his broken heart I never would have gotten involved with the American Heart Association.  If I hadn’t gotten involved I would never have learned that women have different symptoms than men and that cardiac events can happen at any age. In one moment I became the very surivivor I advocated for and I’ve never looked back. 

Because of my father I am alive today. Because he lived, his heart saved mine. Because of his heart and the research they are conducting my future looks fucking bright. I’ve followed in my father’s footsteps, he was 50 when his heart gave out, I was 34 when I was diagnosed with stage one congestive Heart Failure and I am not afraid to tread down his path. For I know having high levels of C-reactive protein is no longer a death sentence, it allows us to go boldly into the night and wakeup to a beautiful painted sunrise.

A beautifully painted sunrise that my Dad prepared for me. For the past twenty years he has been a research patient at Mayo and oh have they learned so very much from him. Knowledge that wasn’t available twenty years ago is now extending my life and the lives of others. We know now that children of parents who had a sudden cardiac arrest may follow in their foot steps. When my Dad had us second in 2020 my cardiologist sat down and said “we need to plain for an internal cardiac defibrillator.” The plan is to have it implanted when I am 45, which is five years prior to the age my Dad had his first sudden cardiac arrest. I pray each day that this device is never needed but grateful to have the insurance policy under my skin.

February 8th is a celebration, a celebration of a life well lived on borrowed time. My Dad and I are thick as thieves. Many fathers have told me “when my daughters grow up I hope I can have the relationship with them like you have with your dad.” My Dad and I have a special bond. He knows me in and out. He’s seen me on my worst days and laughed with me on my best days. He believed in me when no one else did. He was that force that pushed me when I didn’t think I could go on. He knows how to center me and when to just let me be mad. We all know when I get mad I take down names and get fucking shit done. I can tell him my vision or a design element that I want and he says “yep,” and weeks later he’ll call “I have it drawn out” or “I think found what you wanted.” He gets me like no one else does.

The best gift I can give to him is a day well spent. Road trips are plenty, we may get lost but it’s on the roads less traveled that we find our best adventures. He’s not as spry as he once was, yet he does everything in his power to keep up with me. Whether it’s walking a trail or strolling through a flea market, he takes a break leans on his cane with a smile and says “go ahead Mannie, I’ll catchup.” I treasure these moments and the days for I know this season will not last. Each year he gets older as my mind settles on the fact that even though I want him to, my dad will not live forever. His heart had one job to do and that was to save mine, and save it, it did.

Here’s to twenty more years filled with laughter, good wine, adventure, and hopefully lord willing a grand baby that he will get to hold.

S4 Episode 4:

The Go Red campaign focuses on women’s heart health which is the number one killer of women. I suffered a stroke, a stroke that came after my pulmonary embolism was discovered. Sure a blood clot is not a cardiac event, but it still is an event. An event that only 1 out of 5 survive.

If you ask me those odds are shitty. Fuck only one out of five people who have a P.E. will survive. That statistic is one I cannot escape and it haunts me to this day. I am the ONE out of FIVE. I’ve lived twelve borrowed years on this earth and I’ve done my best to make every second count. I cannot undo the events of October 22, 2009, I can only move past them. 

Five days before my 27th birthday I drove myself to the ER. My chest felt like it was being split open and I could barely breathe. I collapsed as soon as I got inside and woke up to a nurse telling me “well you are not having a heart attack and you can either help me take your clothes off or I can cut them off.” I opted to help. I was confused and gasping for air. Every breath I took ripped through my body. I’ve never been in labor but I imagine the pain I was feeling is on that level. The ER doctor told me that my oxygen level was below 50% and he was leaning towards an infection in my lungs. He was going to run some tests. As he headed toward the door he stopped and asked “are you on a birth control?” 

I uttered yes and he explained about the d-dimer test and that it checked for possible blood clots. He was certain it wasn’t that, he just wanted to check to be sure. The lab came in and took my blood. It would be a bit before the results came back. As I was being taken to x-ray the Doctor stopped us and stated “put her back in her room she doesn’t need an x-ray.” I thought this meant it wasn’t serious and I was on my way home. He calmly explained “the d-dimer came back positive. We need to do a CT scan to look at your chest to check for any blood clots. The contrast dye if you are allergic to it it could kill you. But it’s your best option.” 

I looked at him and said “I might die either way right?” And signed my name to the consent form. The Radiology Tech said it would take about an hour for the results to come back. I waited and listened to the clock tick the minutes away. Thirty minutes went by, I heard a phone ring and the doctor’s voice in the hall. I only made out “shit! You have to be kidding me!” Followed by a page for extra staff to the ER. Then I heard foot steps, lots of them running towards my little room. The doctor popped in and explained “you have a pulmonary embolism.” I stared at him blankly and he explained “you have a blood clot the size of a ten cent gumball blocking the valve from your left lung to your heart. Blood and oxygen can’t get through.”

Those words were a lot to process. In that moment I did not fully comprehend the shit I was in and how bad it was. He explained I needed blood thinners and that I would be in the hospital for a while. He stepped out for a moment to put in RX orders. And that is when I lost my words. My body felt strange, it felt like I was sinking and I couldn’t get my words out. The heart monitor started beeping and everyone was frantically moving around. My blood pressure was well above 200 and I was fading. Clot busters, TPA to be exact were ordered and given, my stroke was stopped right in it’s tracks and my life was spared. I live each day with the knowledge that I almost died 5 days before my birthday.

I became accustomed to my new life. A life of blood thinners, scans, diet change, and never ending doctors appointments. I was angry and bitter. I wanted to put a why behind the how. I wanted to know why this happened to me and how I could prevent others from enduring my fate. To this day the answer is still hard to swallow.

Truth: my pulmonary embolism and stroke were 100% preventable. The blood clot was caused by the progesterone in the Nuvaring, my birth control. One week before this occurred I had my annual check up and I told my doctor that I was feeling unusually tired, had redness and warmth on my upper leg. She ignored my symptoms and told me “oh just go home drink some water and walk more.” Since she didn’t think anything of it, I didn’t either. Boy was I wrong. I now know I had all of the classic signs of a potential blood clot and that a simple d-dimer test could have caught the clot before it reached my lungs and brain. My whole ordeal could have been prevented if only my doctor had truly listened to me that day.

Because I survived, I go Red for women’s health. All of us need to realize that we know our bodies better than anyone. We know when something isn’t right and we need to listen to our guts. It’s time we put our health first and push for the answers that we need. Our symptoms are and will always be different from men, because hello we are not men. It breaks my heart to know that young women are often dismissed. We shouldn’t be, blood clots, heart disease and stroke do not know age and they can occur at anytime. Love yourself! Make a doctors appointment and make sure you are being heard. If one doctor won’t listen keep on pressing until you find someone who does. You only have one life, one heart, and you deserve the very best.

Don’t be like AJ, she didn’t push for answers and almost died 5 days before her 27th birthday. 

S4 Episode 3:

In April 2020 I got a call that no child wants to receive. A call from my mom that my dad was in a head on collision. Those words were all I needed to hear and I was headed to Red Wing.

In my heart I knew it was useless because due to Covid no one, but the patient was allowed in the ER. While on my way a nurse called to ask me some questions about my dad and she said she needed me to come in and talk to him. I asked her why and she said “the doc will explain everything to you when you get here.” 

On the surface he looked like his normal grumpy old self. He had some bruises and scratches, so to me he seemed ok. Then the doc came in and started explaining his Troponin level was off the charts and that he needed to be sent down to Mayo. 

I stood by and watched as the EMTs loaded him up and rushed him away. It broke everything in me knowing that I could not follow that ambulance to Rochester. I could try, but there was no way I’d get in. So I did what my dad always says to do in a time of trial, I prayed. I prayed that he was going to be all right and I headed back home. 

My dad had his second sudden cardiac arrest. This time it was while he was driving home from our cabin with Ruby (his trusty dog) Ruby did not sustain any injuries in the crash, she walked away unscathed to chase a turkey for another day. The Doctors figure the impact of him hitting the airbag/steering wheel restarted his heart. There is nothing they can do to prevent it from happening again. So we decided to live life, to live a full life because the next time it happens he might not walk away.

In June 2020 we had planned to go to Yellowstone, I had to move our trip to September due to his accident and Covid. September finally arrived and I was excited to get this trip underway. This was his first time on an airplane. As the plane lifted I looked over to see him in his seat pretending to fly the plane. I could feel the tears welling up and I fought them as hard as I could. It was in that moment the reality of our summer sunk in. I could have easily been traveling to Yellowstone alone.

It made me realize that these Daddy/Daughter trips will not go on forever. As much as I’d like time to stop, I know it has to end eventually. And that I as his daughter need to fill whatever years he has left with adventure and make memories. I want to have stories that I can tell to my children. Hell I want to be able to take my kiddo on trips with their grandpa, so that they can have stories to share. 

In the end when the drip finally stops, all that is left of us is our stories. And I pray that you have people in your life who will continue to tell your stories when you are gone. Charlie used to tell me that “date of birth and date of death don’t matter on a tomb stone. It’s the “dash” between those dates that matters. Some of us chose to die while living and others my friend, they live while their dying. Your dash is your story, it’s the nuts and bolts of a life well lived or a life well mourned.” 

Somewhere between the ghost towns of Montana and the valleys of Yellowstone, I added to my Dad’s dash. He kept saying over and over “I never thought I’d see Yellowstone. This is a trip of a lifetime.” he was right, this was a trip of a lifetime for him. We set out for Yellowstone in 2019, but only made it to the entrance due to car trouble. We vowed that day to come back, to come back and finish what we started. When I parked in the exact spot our trip ended in 2019, my dad looked around and looked at me and said “We completed our task!” 

Garnet Ghost Town, Montana 
Nevada City, Montana 
Norris Geyser Basin 

Indeed we did and all I have to say is Yellowstone is beautiful beyond measure and the mountains of Montana speak to your soul like no other place can. I would take this trip with him a million times over, including the tiny cabin with a broken heater that we stayed in. 

Tiny Cabin at Pine Creek Lodge 
Grand Teton National Park 
Mammoth Hot Springs 
Yellowstone National Park 
Golden Gate, Yellowstone National Park 

If you have a dad don’t take your time with him for granted, for he is not immune to growing old. Take the time today to start making memories. It doesn’t have to be some grand trip, it could be lunch or even just a walk in the park. Memorize his every word so that one day when he is gone you can pass his stories on. Even the highly inappropriate stories. Even the ones that make you cringe a little. When he is gone from this world his words will matter and you will be thankful that you have them to keep you company. 

And as for my dad, I thank God every darn day for his third chance at life. I could not imagine this world without him and travel just wouldn’t be the same. He is and will always be my road trip buddy. 

Old Faithful, Yellowstone National Park 
Devil’s slide, Montana 
Garnet Ghost Town, Montana
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