Perfect days. You don’t get many.

Jax loves to visit Shipwreck this time of year

The sun is sweltering, the rain is steady, the beaches are swarmed, and school is out. It’s summertime again; mid-June to be exact. For a lot of people, it’s a time for celebration and vacation. The Knot.com even rated it as the most popular month to get hitched, love is in the air. Unfortunately for me, it’s the month Justin was killed, and it will always measure how long he’s been gone. It’s been three years now and this year feels no different than last. It kind of makes me wonder if it will always feel this way.

 

A pregnant me and Justin attending Greg’s soiree

A few years ago my Aunt Jo Beth decided to go big and throw a soiree for my uncle Greg’s 60th birthday. She asked all of his friends and family members to write a personal story about Mr Bird. I was six months pregnant at the time and decided Justin should be in charge of ours. I was on pins and needles to see what tale he’d share, I knew it wouldn’t disappoint! I especially love how it brings new life to a simple yet fun day we all shared with my family years ago.       

 

Justin Ayers

You don’t get many (if any) perfect days here on this earth, and chances are, when they do occur you don’t even realize they’re happening until you look back and reflect on the them. The truly great days can be remembered as if they happened just yesterday. Here is just a glimpse into one of those days.


    A few years ago the Hinson-Ayers clan was in St Mary’s to visit Gamma and stay at the Bird house for the weekend. Whenever our families get together it is hard not to have a good time. It goes without saying that on this particular occasion karaoke was involved. There may have also been a little bit of drinking going on. I seem to remember Jo Beth serving an electric blue rum cocktail called a “zombie.” (Probably because too much of it and you felt like the walking dead).
    You know it’s a real party when even Gamma joins in the singing. I recall a rousing rendition of “King of the Road.”

Anyway, we were all feeling good…..flying high. Between Billy and Greg it’s a wonder that anyone else got a chance to sing, but this night was a real karaoke marathon. Everyone sang numerous hits spanning about six decades of great tunes. Jessica and I could barely keep up.


     After several hours of singing….and drinking Jessica and I decided to call it a night. One of our favorite things about staying at the Bird house (haha……the bird house) is staying upstairs in the loft. There is nothing like sleeping up there with no windows, no light, and no concept of what time of day it is. However, after all of that singing and drinking I guess we were feeling a little frisky.


     Once the music died down and it seemed as if everyone was turning in for the night, well…..I won’t go into details, but let’s just say we were about to practice making a baby. Just as I was about to “go for it” something downstairs brought our escapades to a screeching halt. Nothing puts the kabosh on a 20-something year old libido like the opening bars of “Margaritiaville.” I guess Greg was saving that one for the grand finale. “Nibblin on sponge cake.” There was no way Billy was gonna sing the last song. It was more of an endurance race. Last man standing. Greg had saved that one for the encore.

Uncle Greg and Aunt JoBeth

Greg is the Karaoke King. All others bow down before him. His house,his rules. Karaoke is not over until Greg says it’s over and you have to respect that! Happy Birthday, Greg! We love you, and look forward to MANY more years of singing, partying, and just LIVING! I would not trade this family for anything in the world. It is an honor and a blast to be part of it!

Love you guys, Justin

 

In his own words, Justin described how much he loved living and was excited for the many years he had to come. Justin was killed only three months after he wrote this story. He was looking forward to a future that he would never have. I wish I could go back in time to this day and experience it all over again. I doubt I’d change a single thing. But I would hug him a little tighter and kiss him a little longer!    

 

Thank you JoBeth and Greg for helping create this beautiful memory for us. It’s a story that Jax will enjoy to read about when he’s MUCH older! 

 

We miss you like crazy Justin and we love you with all our hearts!

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Where Would We Be?

My life has changed so dramatically since you passed, and every day I think about how different it would be with you. I usually push away these thoughts; realizing the pain they will bring.

Instead, I try and shift my focus to my current life and new reality. I now view my “alternate life” as a fantasy per se. This fantasy is that you and I are our raising our son as a family in some alternate universe.

 In honor of what should have been your 36th birthday, I’ve decided to go all in and imagine where we would be if you were still alive today.

 

Would we still be living in the house on Michigan Court?

The house that I will always regret buying was sold to a family a few months after you died. I drove by it the other day out of curiosity. They’ve changed a few things, but it looks cozy.

While sitting in my car that day, Jax  innocently peered out the window, and hollered “Dog!” It was heartbreaking to see his sweet face smile at a home where so much horror took place.  

I pictured you mowing the lawn wearing that black sleeveless KISS t-shirt with your hair pulled back into a ponytail. Your ensemble was always completed with a red bandanna and aviator sunglasses.

I realized this was a home we’d only planned on having a couple of years because we would need more room. It only had two bedrooms, and we wanted to have a second child less than two years after our first.

 

Would it be a boy or a girl?

Would Jax have a sibling by now and what would the gender be? We wanted a boy first, and then a girl. Everybody wants both right?

Aunt Lynn and uncle Tommy

We even had her name picked out – Sadie Lynn Ayers (to honor my aunt Lynn who was taken by cancer).

I wonder if she’d have your red hair? That would sure make your grandma Ruby Nell happy, whom you inherited your red hair from.

I wonder if Jax would be jealous of his baby sister or maybe the opposite? He lights up like a Christmas tree when he sees a baby, and always says, “Hey baby!” It’s adorable.

 

Would a Beat Better Music still be around?

Tim, Me, Jax, and Tony (in order from the left)

The day Tony informed me they had a new guitar teacher at the store, it shattered the remaining pieces of my already broken heart.  My mom and dad had to bring me a bag to breathe into because I was hyperventilating from this awful news.

I can remember my dad trying to console me.  In a fit of rage I yelled, “I keep losing the few pieces of Justin I have left, eventually I’ll have nothing.”

After some therapy and some healing I was able to visit the store again. I looked forward to future visits and Jax being able to see the place you dedicated your heart to. It was also the place I could sense your presence the most.

I thought I had plenty of time and never imagined it would close. Now, it’s all gone, and my heart has been broken once again. I think you were the heart of that store, and the second you took your last breath, so did it.

Would we all still be there today? Me, You, Tony, Larry, and Tim? We were a family, and I can picture us all crowded around Jax while you desperately try to turn him into the next Kenny Wayne Shepherd .

Tony would throw up his hands and snicker, “Ssssssss he’s already better than you Justin.” Oh what fun we’d still be having, making new memories and savoring the old.   

 

Would we still have our band The Ayers?

Garrett, Chase, Heath, Justin, and Jess (in order from the left)

For the ten plus years we were married, live shows were our life. We lived and breathed music, but we both knew things would have to change after Jax was born.

The plan was for my mom to become our travel nanny. I was clueless to the level of commitment a baby actually took, and now I wonder if we’d been able to pull it off. I do perform every weekend now, but I don’t think we both could do it.

Music was your life, and I knew you’d never give it up. I on the other hand, could (and would) have been content supporting your music career. Maybe we’d play the occasional acoustic show together, but I seriously doubt we’d still have our own band.

Every time someone gives me a compliment, I think of you. I think of what a tragedy it is that they are missing out on the incredible talent that was Justin Ayers.

Before I lost you, my greatest fear was losing you. I thought the world would stop turning or time would stand still.

But the harsh reality is time marches on, and it will continue to do so. I will attend more funerals, and welcome new babies.

The second you left this earth will forever be frozen in time. Every new endeavor will ultimately bring me back to that moment in time, and I will once again wonder, “Where would we be?”the singing widow blog logo

I’m a Rockstar “Kinda”

When people ask me what I do for a living I simply say, “I’m a Rockstar”. Just kidding! I do find it pretty comical to say that because the term “Rock Star” is pretty badass!  

I’m certainly no Jon Bon Jovi or Axl Rose, I get paid to travel the country and sing. I’ve never been paid millions of dollars or flown on a private jet. It was a commercial airliner!

There aren’t any stalker fans who come to every show, well maybe a few. Okay, I’m done trying to downplay this already, my job is AWESOME!  That’s what everyone thinks I’m sure, but the truth is a little less glamorous.

The traveling can be grueling. The closest gig I play is an hour away from my home. The farthest gig I play is 4,508 miles away in Anchorage, AK (that was on that commercial airliner).

A vast majority of the gigs include an 8 hour car ride crammed in a van with six dudes. I get my own room sometimes, but typically I have to bunk up with one of the guys(separate beds of course).

I have a 2-year-old son and leaving him is never fun. Even though I get to spend five solid days with him during the week, it sucks to have to leave him for even two .

I do enjoy getting glammed up for my shows. What girl wouldn’t? On the regular it takes me about two hours from start to finish.

My “look” includes: a full face of makeup, clip in hair extensions (that give me a headache), a sexy cocktail dress, over the knee high-heel boots (that destroy my feet), and extravagant jewelry.  

My band puts on a high-energy rocks show that lasts 4-5.5 hours. We play to a click track,  sequenced keys, and all wear professional in-ear monitors. The click and sequences mean there is no margin for error. None.

This can create some stress because who wants to screw up the beginning of “Don’t Stop Believing”? Not me!! I wish I could say this has never happened, but even Steve Perry probably messed up a time or two.

This is “band life”. I AM a Rock Star, and it’s a badge that I wear proudly. The rush I get when performing in front of 5,000 people is pure ecstasy, but it’s not for the faint at heart. It takes a lot out of me.

Every time I walk on that stage I give up a piece of my soul.  the singing widow blog logo

 

A droopy smile that lingered for a little while

Here is the original link to my article on Popsugar.com. Thanks Nancy for all of your invested time. It turned out great!!!

http://www.popsugar.com/fitness/What-Bell-Palsy-42807604

As the singer, I often griped at my bandmates for being too loud. But on this particular day five years ago, the volume was deafening, downright painful. “I’m in physical pain!” I hollered. “It’s too loud!” My bandmates looked confused; they stared at me as I fell to the floor in a state of panic. “I think I’m having a stroke,” I shouted. “Someone call 911.” I felt like I didn’t have any function on the right side of my face. Something was off.

I ran to the bathroom to get a look at my face. It appeared normal, but I could feel a difference. Then, my mind rewound back to when I was a teenager and my friend Brian got an odd disorder called Bell’s palsy. 

My  band members in 2011

My late husband, Justin, loved to tease me and deemed me a hypochondriac. But who could blame me? Since the age of 5, I’ve encountered a string of bad luck, and I’ve learned to prepare for the worst. I have broken my left arm twice, been in numerous car wrecks, almost burned my childhood home down when I was a teen, gotten run over by a car while on foot, had a diseased gallbladder forcing me to have emergency surgery, been hospitalized while eight months pregnant with fetus-threatening food poisoning, and, most horrifically, recently lost my husband to unthinkable circumstances.

“What if I have that thing Brian had when his face was paralyzed?” I said. “Bell’s palsy.” Justin chuckled at me: “Are you serious?” I could hear the other guys whispering and realized I wasn’t convincing anyone. While I don’t recommend using Google as a way to self-diagnose (especially for a hypochondriac like me), on that day it actually gave me some answers, and I knew that I needed a professional opinion, so off to the clinic I rushed. 

When the doctor entered the room, he looked at me like I was nuts and assured me that it couldn’t possibly be Bell’s palsy. Then he tested me anyway and discovered that my suspicions were correct all along. Yet, he still couldn’t tell me what had caused it or how long it would last. All he could tell me was it was going to get worse before it got better and most people fully recover in a month or so. I walked out of the clinic that day with nothing but a diagnosis, a prescription for steroids, and a referral to see an ENT specialist. I was freaked out, depressed, and even pissed off. What frightened me the most was the uncertainty: I wanted an exact timeline, a detailed explanation, and a treatment method. But unfortunately for Bell’s palsy diagnoses, this is not reality. 

Bell’s palsy can occur at any age and causes sudden weakness in your facial muscles. According to the Mayo Clinic, Bell’s palsy “makes half of your face appear to droop. Your smile is one-sided, and your eye on that side resists closing.” Doctors don’t know the exact cause, but it’s thought to be the result of swelling and inflammation of the nerve that controls one side of your facial muscles. It might also be a reaction after a viral infection.

For most people, Bell’s palsy is temporary. Symptoms usually start to improve within a few weeks, with complete recovery in about six months. Some symptoms of Bell’s palsy may include:

  • Total paralysis on one side of your face
  • Facial droop and difficulty making facial expressions, such as closing your eye or smiling
  • Drooling
  • Increased sensitivity to sound on the affected side (hence my aversion to my bandmates)
  • A decrease in your ability to taste
  • Changes in the amount of tears and saliva you produce

 

Christmas 2011. Still a few signs of facial paralysis

Having half of your face paralyzed would be a major blow to anyone’s self-esteem, especially a young woman. As a professional singer, I was devastated. Every weekend, my job was to stand on stage and sing in front of strangers. It required that I be the center of attention, but now I wanted to hide. I convinced myself that people would point and stare, causing me to chicken out and cancel all of my gigs for a month. In hindsight this seems superficial, but at the time it was what I felt I needed to do.

Bell’s palsy affected my daily routine in ways I couldn’t have imagined. I am an avid coffee drinker, but while I had Bell’s palsy, I gave it up. My reason for doing so? The first degree burns I received on day three while brainlessly attempting to take a sip. Remember leaving the dentist after having a cavity filled? That’s what it’s like while consuming liquids with Bell’s palsy. Any slurping, sucking, or sipping abilities for the time being are long gone. You may as well forget straws were ever invented.

All food tasted pretty gross, and even chewing it was a dilemma. I discovered this one day when a piece of bread I was attempting to chew ended up in my husband’s beer. Also, the drooling side effect is no joke. I always carried a rag or handkerchief to blot my mouth. I recall petting my dog, Axl, one day only to realize he was soaked with my saliva — payback for all the times he drooled on me?

I also gave up wearing any and all makeup. I saw no point in accentuating a droopy lip and one considerably larger eye. Plus, any mascara would have just ended up all over my cheeks from the excessive watering I caused by constantly rubbing my eye in an attempt to close it. 

In the end, the absolute worst “functioning” side effect had to be my loss of eye movement. My right eye would not close on its own, which presented a major problem. Not only did it look creepy as hell when I attempted to close my eye — my eyeball rolled back in my head — but it made it utterly impossible to fall asleep. After watching a few YouTube tutorials, I took advice from others and opted to tape my eye shut at night. This was incredibly uncomfortable and required that I wake up multiple times a night to readjust, basically ripping my eyelashes off in the process. I was never so thankful for fake eyelashes!

In the end, I managed to recover fully in about 60 days, with my worst symptoms lasting around three weeks. Most recent reports show 5 to 9 percent of Bell’s palsy patients report a recurrence with an average timespan of 10 years in between. I learned that for every bad situation you endure, you’re never alone. With the internet, you can find tons of people with comparable circumstances, and it’s beneficial to rely on one another when necessary. Reading blogs and watching YouTube videos helped me the most. It was why I decided to document my own experience, in an attempt to help someone in my situation down the line.

Check out my youtube video documenting my experience with Bell’s palsy.

 

I also applauded my husband (Justin Ayers was an amazing man!) for effortlessly putting up with a nightmare of a woman and never once complaining about it. After it was all said and done, I had gained a new perspective in life, I was actually thankful. My disfigurement only lasted 60 days, and I know I’m lucky; people who suffer from strokes often endure permanent damage and endless challenges. But most of all, I learned that life will always be unpredictable, with a mix of good and bad. The good is what we think what we want in life, but it actually teaches us nothing. It’s the hard times that we can learn from and that allow us to become the best or worst version of ourselves.

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The Day the Music Died

This latest blog entry has also been recently published by POPSUGAR, a popular online media forum. You can find the official link here:

http://www.popsugar.com/moms/Coping-Grief-After-Husband-Death-42193197

 

There I sat, my 3-day-old infant in my arms, trembling in fear as chaos and horror played out in my living room. Muffled by my bedroom door were sirens, chattering voices, and screams that will forever haunt my dreams. Frozen and in a state of shock, all I could see in my mind was the lifeless face of the only man I ever intended to love, his lips white and his body lying on the floor in an unnatural state. “I couldn’t feel a pulse, but he has to be alive,” I told myself. A police officer slowly opened my door and disturbingly made his way to my bed. Out of the corner of my eye I could see the willing arms of family members reaching out for my infant son. As the words “He’s deceased” came out of the officer’s mouth, all went black.Websized (59)

A stray bullet is how the news reported the story, but we will never know the whole truth. The bullet that killed Justin went against pure logic and had a statistical probability of one in infinity. In a drunken stupor, my backyard neighbor fired his 9mm semi-automatic handgun. The bullet managed to travel through his screen door (dodging dozens of trees) over 200 feet to our home. It crashed through our glass door and blinds, continued across our living room, and finally stopped when it hit Justin in the head at the very second he jumped up from our sofa.

It’s been two years since that tragic day, and at 33 years old, I see myself a much sadder but wiser girl. Going through something so horrific and life-altering not only changes the way you see the world, it transforms it. Grief is a very personal thing, and while I would never claim to be an expert on coping, I do know firsthand how to live with it. I like to compare it to a scar. More specifically, an internal scar on your heart and in your mind that follows you everywhere. A dark cloud that hovers over everything good and beautiful for the rest of your life. For one to truly understand the full gravity of the situation, you have to know the story as a whole, not just the ending. Therefore, I must jump back 19 years.

17151_343319827570_747901_nI was barely a teen, a 14-year-old girl in the eighth grade, when I first met and fell in love with Justin Ayers. He could play the guitar like Jimi Hendrix and crack a joke like Jerry Seinfeld. He was a smart, talented, adorable, funny, passionate boy, and I took notice. As I think back on our love story, a specific song lyric comes to mind: “Each night I ask the stars up above, Why must I be a teenager in love?” I would sob, “Why can’t we just get married today?” My friends and family (with the exception of my mom) would chuckle at the idea, dismissing us as just kids who would grow up and realize it’s just the hormones. But I never once doubted. In 2003 (one year after I graduated high school) we finally tied the knot.

287220_10150352076777403_517877402_8146827_1769927128_oOver the next 10 years, Justin and I made our own rules in life. We had several goals we wanted to pursue, so we decided to wait to start a family, knowing we needed time to grow up. We formed multiple bands, traveled for leisure and work, and wrote and recorded an album together. It was definitely outside the norm, but it was our norm, and we savored it. Then one morning, I woke up and suddenly felt different. I wanted a baby! And Justin agreed. We’d been married for 10 years, and we both knew we were ready to become parents. We got busy between the sheets and in September 2013, I became pregnant with our son, Jax.  

IMG_0110On June 14, 2014, I remember looking at my infant son and realizing, “I finally understand!” His hair was thick and silky, his lips were bright red, and his eyes were captivating. Beyond a shadow of a doubt, bringing a child into this world has to be one the most incredible feelings a woman can experience in life. A few minor birthing complications cost us an extra day in the hospital, but on the third evening, we were released and went home to be a family.  

We tend to refer to the next day as “the day the music died.” I had a 3-day-old baby and now a dead husband. I was a brand-new mother and now a widow at only 31 years old. I never had a chance to tell Justin goodbye or tell him how much I loved him. I like to think he already knew.

We buried Justin on a Saturday, exactly one week after Jax was born. The day after his funeral, the crowds were starting to disperse, and my support system was dwindling down to a much smaller group. It seems incomprehensible to try to portray the level of darkness I slipped into. A darkness that is so scary, I wasn’t “allowed” to be left alone for one second. NOT even to take a shower.IMG_0109

“Jess, you okay in there?” my friend Casey hollered as she banged on the bathroom door, “Jax is crying and needs to eat. Do we need to break the door down?” Time seemed frozen as I realized it had been two hours since I’d snuck away to the bathroom, granting my first chance to be alone since losing Justin. I took it as my only opportunity to bask in my own misery. The light from the hall shone brightly under the door as I lay in a pool of tears staring at everyone’s feet pacing back and forth. With the chill of the bathroom tile on my cheek being my only comfort from the pain, I decided in that moment that I was ready to completely give up. I wanted to die.    

I could hear multiple voices in the hall way all pleading for me to open the door. But in the distance I could hear a tiny voice that resonated in my heart. It was Jax, he was hungry, and I knew I was his source for food. “We are sending someone to the store for formula,” my mom said to me. That was the defining moment when I had to make a choice, life or death. I realized that even though the life I’d worked so hard for was gone, I could try and start a new one. My son needed me to survive, and I needed him. It took me over 10 minutes to actually stand to my feet, but once I did, I felt a little hopeful. Life is a series of choices, and this choice to live started with my decision to get up off the bathroom floor and feed my infant son.

IMG_1501Over the next year, I was like a chameleon. I became so many different versions of myself that I didn’t know who I was anymore. Was I Justin’s wife or his widow? Was I a stay-at-home mom who used to be a musician or would I sing again? Would I ever have the opportunity to have another child? I had always wanted three. The endless questions and constant wonder consumed me from the inside out. For close to 10 months I disappeared from any social scene, social media, or social circle that didn’t include a few select people. I was hiding from the world and wasting away to nothing, a shell of my former self. Then it happened again. I looked at my now 10-month-old baby and felt ashamed. That hungry infant, once crying for mommy’s milk, was now starting to talk, walk, and think. Looking at my gorgeous baby boy I once again realized that it was time for me to make another choice between life or death!

Looking back on the last two years of my life, I realize how many choices and decisions I had to make to arrive where I’m at today. I needed to find “me” again and that required throwing myself back into my biggest passion, which had ironically become my biggest fear: music. My love for performing and music was something I shared with Justin, and it was now something I was forced to explore on my own. By sheer circumstance, I reconnected with a former bandmate and was presented with the opportunity to fill in on a few gigs. With much hesitation, I accepted. Declining the opportunity and turning my back on what I used to love would have been the much safer bet. But, I knew it would mean I would end up spending the rest of my life running away from the pain and the joy it would bring.

IMG_3389The rollercoaster of emotions I go through during a Fortag show are endless. However, I choose to face them every night because in the end, the good outweighs the bad. I maintain the idea though that the happiness I experience day to day is by my own choosing. Every single day I wake up like everyone else and I’m faced with a choice. Some days I hate life and choose to be sad, angry, hurt, scared, resentful, and lonely. Other days I feel blessed and choose to be happy, optimistic, thankful, forgiving, and compassionate. Each day is a new decision, and with each decision brings a new outcome. I can only hope I’m making the right choices for my future, especially for Jax’s.

IMG_3746When I close my eyes at night, I like to tell myself three things. I will be eternally grateful for you, my mommy! I will forever worship you, my Justin! And I will always love you, my Jax!

Some of the greatest quotes in life come to us in the form of song lyrics. So, I will leave you with these words:

“Life’s a journey, not a destination. And I just can’t tell, just what tomorrow brings.”

Aerosmith

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