All That Glitters Is Not Gold

We’ve all heard the phrases, “Don’t judge a book by it’s cover” and “All that glitters is not gold”. We’d be kidding ourselves if we all swore by these phrases, right? How many times a day do you find yourself making assumptions and judgments about people you don’t know? More than likely, you come across someone in an unfortunate situation and assume they made poor choices. Someone might seem to have it all and you think, “life’s been royal for them”. These days, with our entire lives shared on sites like Facebook and Twitter, we’ve put up a certain face for the world to see which is hardly authentic!  More often than not, people only share the absolute best of their lives and, only on occasion, the worst. What you don’t see is the everyday ups and downs that is their reality. People put too much stock in social media and it’s proving to be unfulfilling. I recently read an article on nypost.com discussing scientific studies conducted with Facebook users. 

 

Facebook
A few of my “best” and “worst” posts from 2014 before I lost Justin.

 

The article stated:

“In 2013, scientists at two German universities monitored 584 Facebook users and found one out of three would feel worse after checking what their friends were up to – especially if those friends had just posted vacation photos. Overall shared content does not have to be ‘explicitly boastful’ for feelings of envy to emerge. In fact, a lonely user might envy numerous birthday wishes his more sociable peer receives on his Facebook wall. Equally, a friend’s change in the relationship status from ‘single’ to ‘in a relationship’ might cause emotional havoc for someone undergoing a breakup”

 

Based on these statistics, it appears that many of us are living a double life. We live our ‘real’ life along with our ‘online’ life and end up confusing the two. Either way, we should never look at someone’s life and assume we know what they are going through.

 

Mommy and Jax Key West
Snapping a quick pic with Jax before heading out in Key West to perform.

I’m definitely not claiming to be supreme. I find myself making common snap judgments and natural assumptions about others on a daily basis.  However, when I meet someone new I try my best to listen to the actual person instead of what my eyes encounter. I try to stop myself from thinking negatively or positively based on what I see, and just listen. After I lost Justin I was very angry. I was jealous, bitter, envious, and YES, very judgemental. Because I had gone through such a horrific tragedy, I only saw my misery and nothing else. During this time, Facebook wasn’t very kind to me!  I was breastfeeding Jax all day every day and spent a lot of time in a chair with a baby attached to me. Therefore, I was stuck with nothing to do but pick up my phone and look at social media. Boy, was this a big mistake!! At first, I was amazed that the outside world was existing in such a normal state. How could others possibly care about movies, dates, youtube videos, or even their pets? Justin had died in such a tragic way and everyone else was going on with their lives? I found myself resentful that others weren’t understanding what I was going through. I also observed the joyous occasions people were sharing. Having babies, getting engaged, married, buying houses, new jobs, and celebrating birthdays. I can’t say this wasn’t a punch to the gut. It crushed me to see others celebrating life while I was merely trying to survive. From a different angle, I also saw horrible things and this was equally as hard. Death, illness, suicide,

Posing for a photo with my friend Rachel and here baby. You can see I was white and sporting that same blank stare I had every day for quite a while
Posing for a photo with my friend Rachel and her baby. You can see I was pale as a ghost and have a blank stare on my face. One I would have for a while

divorce, and miscarriage were just a few I read about and I could barely stop the tears. I then wondered, “What exactly did I want?” No matter

what I read or saw, it upset me. My mom always knew when I had looked on social media because I would sit with a blank stare while tears were streaming down my face. She’d come to me and say, “Did you go on Facebook again? Stop it!!” I decided to go with the “out of sight, out of mind” approach and delete the app off my phone. I wanted to permanently delete my page, but some said they worried about me when I deactivated it, so this seemed like my best option. Following this, I felt free from the burden of others’ happy existence. Maybe other people were having a good day but I didn’t have to know about it. Which at the time, was exactly what I needed.

 

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My mom sacrificing her 4th of July this year so I could perform with the band in Myrtle Beach. We are a team!!

These days, I can tell when I’m being labeled by people who don’t know me. They see a baby on my hip, no daddy in sight, and my mother in tow. It’s easy to assume she’s divorced, she got knocked up, she’s irresponsible, or perhaps she’s a military wife. What they never think is maybe she’s a widow. This bothers me!  These days I don’t think anyone looks down on mothers in these situations, I sure don’t.  It’s 2015 and we’ve been pretty accepting of most circumstances for a while now. Over 40% of our population are divorced with children and a recent study on nytimes.com stated nearly two-thirds of children in the United States born to mothers under 30 are born out of wedlock (statistics taken from divorcestatistics.org).  But that wasn’t me! I had a husband, I waited ten years to have a baby, I saved up and purchased a house to raise that baby in, and I had a great job that I loved. This was what I wanted people to notice because I was proud of it. I was proud of my choices in life and I wanted to be seen in that  light.

 

IMG_0666
Jax and I at his sprinkling ceremony. My Uncle Greg performed it for us.

About three months had passed since Justin died and I was slowly getting my ducks in a row.  Naturally, a few things had slipped through the cracks. In the midst of this, I was pulled over by a police officer while driving home from a grief counseling session when he pointed out my incorrect driver’s license address. Fast forward to the DMV (once again baby on my hip and mom in tow), the man helping me had to go through the standard questions for issuing a new driver’s license. Each question caused me to feel more panicky than the last. When he got to the final one, “Is Justin still your emergency contact?”, I simply stared at him in confusion and stumbled upon my answer of, “Uh nah nah, no”. I will never forget his expression after hearing my answer. He had a smirk plastered across his face and responded with, “So, I guess you decided to trade in Justin and the house, huh? Ha ha ha”. Need I say more? That seems about as judgemental as one can get. He assumed I was getting divorced, had moved in with my mother, and for some reason thought it was appropriate to laugh at my expense. After reacting with an evil stare, I chose to share my god-awful truth. I only hoped he might learn something from his childish behavior. Needless to say, I left the DMV in tears and was made to feel worse while facing an already tough day.  

 

But why did I even care? I know what I’ve done with my life and what I’ve accomplished, as do the people who love and care about me. Shouldn’t that be all that really matters? However, I dread having to explain my situation and story to a complete stranger when they ask me questions. I usually try to keep it short and sour, “I’m a widow”. If they have the balls to ask me what happened I sometimes say, “I don’t feel like talking about it” or maybe I share my story. No matter what option I choose, I still feel the impending panic attack and always feel worse after I’ve been asked.  

 

While performing with the band a few weeks back at a fancy wedding, some of the bridesmaids jumped on stage for a song. We were having so much fun when out of the blue one of them turned to me and said, “I wish I had your life”. With a glazed-over smile, I looked at her in shock. She had committed the cardinal sin of making an assumption about my life. From her perspective, I was living the dream. She saw glitz and

Glammed up and ready to perform at the wedding reception
Glammed up and ready to perform at the wedding reception

glamour and assumed my life was always like this. She saw a young bubbly girl singing, dancing, smiling, laughing, and entertaining hundreds of people. However, she had absolutely no clue of my daily obstacles or the darkness inside. Yes, I love what I do! I’m very blessed to have a God-given talent and the opportunity to use that talent. But even my work has difficult times. It can be emotionally and physically draining, demanding, extensive traveling, late hours, and even lonely at times. Even when I had the privilege of doing it alongside Justin, it still had major ups and downs. It almost seems comparable to the other end of the spectrum. People see me with a small child and make a different false assumption. Either way you look at it they are all judgments, and they are all false. You can never accurately pinpoint what the inside contains. Sometimes stereotypes exist for a reason, but why go there? The world is callous and we are all doing our best to make the most out of life. Some circumstances we can control and some we cannot. Assuming you know what others have been through can only result in unrealistic and incorrect conclusions. To truly accept people for who they are and to love one another means putting all judgments to rest. Why not start today!

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Guitar echoes in my heart: An amplified perspective

Performing together

I’ve been to quite a few concerts in my day and they all offered a unique experience. No matter the genre, they have a divine affect on me. Before performing music on a professional level, I was like most concert goers. The lights, crowds, big sound, and famous musicians captivated me. I felt starstruck to see something so incredible take place before my eyes and it was exhilarating.  Now, as a working musician/singer and seasoned performer, I absorb the experience differently. I always attempt to learn something new and take a piece with me. It’s almost like a workshop where I regain that joy and fine tune things for when I perform. Justin and I usually went to most shows together. I’d come away with my own perspective and he with his. We’d share our thoughts and feelings and found that we typically focused on very different things. I habitually noticed the vocals and he the guitar, but we both watched with a similar thought process. Having something you share a mutual love for is a powerful thing and we never took it for granted!

 

Me and Keely enjoying the show

The first concert I attended in Justin’s absence was an outdoor festival. For PCB folks, it’s become a grand tradition. The top country acts come together every year for the Gulf Coast Jam. Before this year, I’d never attended. I had performed with my band all weekend in Pensacola Beach and returned to an empty house. Jax would be spending the night with his Grammy (Justin’s mom, Vicki) and my folks were out of town. Weighing my options of what to do with my free evening, I got a text from a pal. My girlfriend Keely was in town from Nashville and somehow managed to snag me a ticket. I immediately accepted! Keith Urban was the headliner and if nothing else I could enjoy the eye candy, right? I’ve never been a huge country music fan but can still appreciate the talent and experience. Before heading out to the show Keely turned to me and said, “Is this going to be emotional for you, because you know he’s a shredder?” (Non-guitar nerds, this is a term for an amazing lead guitar player) I thought about it and realized, yeah I’ve been told this before, but for whatever reason it had slipped my mind. My thought process was, “Keith Urban is more of a mellow musician, I won’t feel too overwhelmed witnessing crazy rock star moves or Eddie Van Halen level guitar skills.” I told her I’d be fine but might have a moment or two. Try a hundred moments!!! All I can say is, I’ve never been more wrong about something. This man is a hidden gem in the world of country music. I think he must have taken the wrong bus from Australia because he SCREAMS Rock ‘N’ Roll!!!

 

Watching an incredible musician like Keith was something I wasn’t quite ready for. I stood in amazement of his talent with my mind constantly on Justin. As I watched him swap his Telecaster for his Paul Reed Smith, for his Gibson Les Paul, Justin was all I could think of. Being married for 10 years to a magnificent guitarist, I had picked up his way of thinking. I was now watching the concert through his eyes, not mine.

With every single detail (even down to what gauge picks he was using) I was now thinking as Justin. Boy, did this hurt!!! It’s hard to understand how someone so incredibly talented could be gone. It wasn’t fair that I was enjoying this experience and not him. It wasn’t fair that Justin

wasn’t the one ripping the guitar for thousands and would never get that opportunity again. His guitar-shredding days were long gone and I was feeling lonely and angry. I wanted so badly to have that connection with him while this was taking place.

Justin and our pal Gary
Justin and our pal Gary

In that moment in the presence of ten thousand plus people, I felt all alone. Looking around I thought to myself, “The majority of these folks don’t know what kind of guitar he’s playing and I doubt it’s crossed their mind” (other musicians, obsessive fans, and guitar nerds excluded, of course). Before knowing Justin, I would have stood like most others blissfully enjoying the concert as a whole. Now everything is different, he’s changed my way of thinking. Maybe this once again goes back to that guilt I still carry around. I feel a certain level of responsibility to do things for him and think like him.

 

After the concert ended and the crowd parted ways I felt like I’d climbed my Mount Everest. What an accomplishment for me to make it through the entire concert. Sure I was on the verge of tears throughout, but still I had conquered it. And even though it wasn’t Fleetwood Mac or Aerosmith, it was a start. As I drove myself home I started thinking about my new found thought process. I began to wonder, was this new way of thinking a blessing or a curse? I suspect a curse because I feel the pain associated with the crater-sized hole in my life that was Justin. Being in his mecca is harder than most places. Every guitar “shredder” I witness from here on out will be him and it will always hurt. I can’t genuinely enjoy a sensational guitarist because of the pain it brings. On the other hand, maybe the blessing is I now see certain things in life through a magnifying lens. Instead of only noticing what I usually would, I now think in terms of what Justin would notice. I will wonder what guitar effects he/she is using, or how many times they restrung their guitar that week, or how many strings they broke at the previous show. Maybe it’s subconscious and maybe its default, but it’s now kind of cool!!! I actually get to see life through my eyes, Jax’s, and now Justin’s. What a perspective! And because of that, I feel like I’m living for three.

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My Guilt Divided

I can remember the exact moment I first smiled again after Justin died. It occurred while I was looking at Jax a few days after losing Justin. I’m sure it was the shallowest smile ever. When I say shallow, I don’t mean fake. The smile was genuine but completely overshadowed by sadness and guilt. To others, I’m sure it even resembled a frown. In Jax and I after his first baththe moment, I was like any new mother gazing into Jax’s alluring eyes. Without hesitation, a smile appeared on my face. I had done so much crying leading up to this moment when it actually happened I was caught off guard. My friend, Emily, was next to me. She turned and said, “Honey, it’s okay to smile at your baby”. I protested, “How can I smile when Justin is dead? How can I ever smile again?” Here I was a new mom and instead of celebrating a life I was mourning one. I started to feel guilty that I was the one with Jax and not Justin. I thought about him only having me to rock him to sleep, see his first steps, and hear his first words. Justin would miss it all and it was unfair. Many people say to me, “I hope Jax helps ease some of your suffering“. While that is true, he also adds another layer of pain. I get to see all the amazing things Jax does and learns every day, and it destroys me that Justin isn’t part of it.

Once I came out of the shock stage of grief, I awoke to my feelings. The guilt of how much Justin was missing weighed so heavy. I felt like I should be spending every moment crying and thinking of nothing other than what had happened. I kept saying to everyone, “It’s just not right. I shouldn’t be able to enjoy anything at all.” I finally realized I had taken on the responsibility of Justin’s feelings.

Family portrait pre Jax
Justin, Axl and I pre Jax

If he’d known this was in his future (or lack thereof), he would have been insanely miserable knowing he would miss Jax’s entire life. The pain I felt for Justin was so intense that I hadn’t yet begun to process MY pain. I was too concerned with carrying Justin’s. After talking with my family and friends (numerous times) about how I was feeling, they tried to help me see a different angle. They pointed out that this is not what Justin would have wanted for me, or for Jax. He’d want us to be happy, even in his absence.

 

Once I decided to listen, I quickly became aware of something new. “OH MY GOD, I’M MISSING OUT ON MY BABY!” Yes, I was nursing him when he was hungry, changing his diaper when wet or soiled, and snuggling him when he wanted to be close. But I wasn’t enjoying him. The day we drove home from the hospital I had the most incredible feeling in my stomach. It was like this bright light shone through me and directly onto Jax. Before having a child of your own, other parents will try to describe this feeling. You just don’t understand it until it’s you. I was able to enjoy this feeling for not even four days before it all turned to horror and emptiness. Once I realized I was missing out on the pure joy new parents have, my guilt, once again, started to weigh on me. This time, it was a guilty feeling for Jax. I felt like the worst mother on earth that I couldn’t feel joy for my baby. Why would God do this to me? Why would he give me such a blessing and then take one away? Yes, I loved Jax with all of my heart and had I not had him during this time, I would be in a much darker place. At least I had this piece of Justin with me forever and I should be grateful for that, right? However, when you are mourning your husband of 10 years, you don’t think logically and it’s hard to get past the intense pain and nausea you feel in your gut.  

 

Over the next few months my guilt went back and forth between Jax and Justin. If I cried for Justin one day, then I spent the next day crying over not enjoying Jax. If I spent one day blocking out the tragedy and focusing on Jax, I spent the next day feeling guilty over not mourning Justin enough. I was in a vicious cycle and not a healthy one. I had been seeing a grief counselor for about a month when we started to work on my daily guilt. He told me I needed to allow myself ample time to cry every day and equal time to smile. Both were okay and both equally important. I started the very next day. I gave myself the mornings to feel joy and evenings to feel pain. For some reason, when I saw the sun come up it gave me hope that I could make it through another day. Quite the opposite occurred when the sun went down. I’d find myself feeling depressed that another day had passed without Justin.

 

Now that almost 15 months have passed, I’d like to say I don’t have any lingering guilt. But I’d be telling a lie. Sometimes the guilt finds me during the most unusual situations. It’s like driving on the interstate and being side-swiped by a semi.  You are having an okay day until it blindsides you.  The other day I was in a clothing store looking at dresses (any gal loves to shop) when I suddenly became overwhelmed. A thought popped into my head, “Why the hell do I care about wearing a pretty dress? Justin is dead and I’m concerned with finding a dress to wear? One he’ll never see me in, nonetheless?” I immediately had to leave. My mom was waiting outside with Jax. When I rushed out she asked what was wrong. I simply said,“What do you mean what’s wrong? Justin is dead, everything is wrong”. She then looked at me and said, “I know sweetheart and I’m so sorry”. What else could she say? She only has to say this to me about a hundred times a day. Later I spoke to my best friend (Kimmy) on the phone. I was going on and on about how awful of a person I was for caring about stupid things like shopping.

Jax and I on The Fourth Of July this year
Jax and I on The Fourth Of July this year

She then told me, “It’s okay to want normal things. Just because you care about superficial things again, doesn’t mean you don’t love and miss Justin every second”. I thought long and hard about what she said and decided to take it to heart. Nothing I ever do will feel like it’s quite enough for Justin. He’s not here anymore, and because of that I feel the responsibility to live life for both of us and be not only Jax’s mother but also his father.

After realizing this, I am proud to say today that I have no continued guilt for smiling at my son. An innocent child like Jax is such a beautiful gift from God.  I’ve now allowed myself to feel every emotion that a mother should and can feel in every stage of his life. My guilt in other aspects of life has gotten less and less but continues to linger. I’m not sure if it will ever go away and I can accept that. Some of us have battles in life we must face on a daily basis. If the guilt I feel for smiling, laughing, shopping, and singing is one of mine, then I will face it head on. Every day I will continue to fight for that guiltless smile I once had, and one day I know I will beat it. Justin Ayers would want nothing less!!

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A Song Of Fire And Ice And All The Understated Moments In Life

I once read a quote that said, “Simple Pleasures Are Life’s Treasures”. I realize now more than ever the truth in this statement and that it’s one thing Justin showed me over the years. He always seemed to bask in the pure joy of the small things and it was so refreshing. From the excitement of sleeping in his new bed to his favorite beer being in season, he was someone who walked with an extra skip in his step. Every year towards the end of August, Justin would start scouring the grocery stores for his beloved Octoberfest. Celebrating Life in St AugustineIt was like digging for gold. The look on his face when he finally found that first six pack was priceless. Like a kid in a candy store! He would be so stoked to start drinking his precious beer that by the time October finally rolled around, he was burnt out.

His infectious spirit didn’t stop there. He enjoyed the heck out of his favorite TV shows. Game of Thrones, Breaking Bad, and Shameless are just a few that come to mind. He was bound and determined to convince anyone who wasn’t watching a certain show that they needed to right away. It was as if they were missing out in life and this was just the thing to make them complete. He could even coerce someone who’d never seen a Nascar race in their entire life to join him on a trip to Talladega to see one live. By the time they got home, they’d joined his fantasy Nascar league.  

 

Being around Justin was a breath of fresh air and it’s part of the reason he was so well-liked. Every person who came into contact with Justin walked away thinking they had just met the coolest person in existence. I remember overhearing his guitar lessons from time to time. His students ate up every word that came out of his mouth.

His guitar lesson room
A photo of Justin’s lesson room he taught in at A Beat Better Music

I would stand there thinking, “Who cares about the awesome guitar TONE John Mayer has on his album or Lindsey Buckingham’s ability to make ONE guitar sound like three?” But Justin sure did and by the time those students left their guitar lesson, they’d bought into it as well. And by no means did they leave the store empty handed. They would not only purchase a guitar but an amp, pedal, case, strings, and tuner… that Justin suggested of course, while rushing home to practice Fleetwood Mac riffs.

 

The second Justin was taken from this earth it instantly became a darker place. A place without that gorgeous smile that exudes joy. I now find myself constantly searching for that joy he showed me in life. Now that he is gone, it’s hard for me to enjoy things we did together. I don’t think people fully understand what I mean when I say, “It’s the small things that seem to get to me”. Watching a TV show that I know Justin loved is at times unbearable. For two months after he passed away, I’m pretty sure our TV was never switched on (by my parents or myself). Even months later (TV finally turned on) it stayed on HGTV. That stupid home design channel was the only thing I could stomach and it resulted in my parents remodeling their entire home….OOPS sorry mom and dad. Our first, and only night home after Jax was born, Justin decided we absolutely had to watch the Game Of Thrones season 4 finale. I remember being half asleep, having just birthed a baby. But Justin, bless his sweet heart wanted to watch it so bad and I couldn’t say no. Now, as stupid as it may seem, I am forever grateful that we finished that season together. Had we decided to go to bed, I would always have that final episode haunting me and wouldn’t be able to watch the show again. I thought at some point I would completely stop watching it altogether. But, I decided I had already lost so much, I couldn’t let this be another thing that held me captive. Even now, one of my best friends (Pepin) still comes over once a week to watch a few shows I used to watch with Justin. We make a big deal out of it every week and no one

Us with Breaking Bad star Giancarlo Esposito
Justin and I at Walker Stalker Con with Breaking bad star Giancarlo Esposito(aka Gus Fring)

dare watch Game of Thrones or The Walking Dead without one another. This seems to make the process a little less painful. Justin and I never had much lazy time to just chill, so in our down time we loved to cuddle up and watch a great show. It was something we would plan months in advance. We’d look on the calendar to see when we had a weekend off from performing and decide what new TV show to binge on. When that weekend arrived we would spend the entire weekend snuggled on the sofa drinking beer and chowing down on chinese food. It was such a happy place for us both, just being close and enjoying something away from the rest of the world.

 

The shows that seem to bother me most now are the ones I only watched with him. I’ve slowly started to watch a few TV shows at night by myself. When something BIG happens on the show I instinctively turn to my left for his reaction. The tears start to fill my eyes as I yearn for that connection that is forever gone. I can’t seem to bear the sound of a Nascar race on TV or the radio. I doubt I will ever watch Nascar, but I hope I can bring myself to take Jax to a race one day. It was something Justin talked about all the time. When we discussed our family together it always came up, “When can we take him to a Nascar race? When he’s two? Three? Oh come on, four?” It was something he shared with his father and couldn’t wait to share with Jax. Everytime I pass the Octoberfest in the grocery aisle I think of him and die just a little on the inside. Seriously doubt I’ll ever drink them again.

 

I’ve yet to listen to any music we both shared a common love for. Fleetwood Mac, Aerosmith, and Guns N Roses were three of our top picks. We had the incredible opportunity to see Aerosmith a massive six times together, enjoying each one more then the last. We had tickets to see Fleetwood Mac’s reunion tour last year. When the time came for me to go to the concert without him, I couldn’t do it. I ended up giving the tickets to his father.Before a night on the town in NYC Something we both dreamed of happening one day was a GNR reunion. We said we’d take our entire life savings and follow the band all over the country (this was mostly a joke). It was something we both wished for but knew would probably never happen. Now I find myself feeling the opposite. I dread the day a news article surfaces that the band has reunited. It would cause me to feel like once again I’ve lost something I should have been sharing with him. Everyday I try and nip away at another thing I have shunned in my life since losing Justin. Some have proven to be more difficult than others, but each thing opens the wound in my heart leaving another scar. All I can do is think of his smile and try my hardest to regain the joy I once had. There are so many tiny pleasures in life surrounding us daily.  For you it might be your favorite college football game, or taking your family to the beach, or taking your daughter to see her first ballet because you loved it as a child. It’s all the simple pleasures and we must try our best to take Justin’s perspective on life. Sit back and enjoy them because you never know when you might have watched your last and final episode of your Game of Thrones.

Special shout out to Justin Pepin for coming up with the post title for this blog entry.

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Anniversary Day Signs

With four major FIRST milestones behind me (Jax’s birthday, anniversary of Justin’s death, anniversary of Justin’s funeral, and Father’s Day), I felt I had the right to take a deep breath and give myself a mental break. Having so many FIRSTS in this first year without Justin, I hadn’t begun to process what was soon approaching in July. I would be facing my “first  SECOND” a day I had agonized over all year long, our wedding anniversary. Last year, Justin passed away five weeks prior to our 11th anniversary. I was in such a tremendous fog that I could barely process it.  At the time, my mom suggested that having Justin and I’s closest friends and family surrounding me would be best. I was in no state to consider other options or care for that matter. I used people, food, and alcohol as a distraction to get me through the day, which at that time I thought was best. Thinking back, I am amazed I didn’t completely fall apart. This year would be a horse of a different color. I was off my Lexapro and my drinking had been back to social levels for a while now. Along with this, my emotions and feelings were raw and I was dreading it! I had cried so much leading up to it that I wondered how I would handle the actual day. Sometimes I find myself anticipating a holiday or anniversary so much that I tend to get a lot of depression out prior to the actual day. Not only do I mourn Justin, but I mourn our life we had together and our life we should have had.

Ireland 2008
Taking selfies in Ireland 2008

 

With a week of tears behind me, I made it to July 26th. I had made plans (once again) with friends and family. The only exception was, this year, I didn’t feel a need to bring any attention to the significance of the day. Instead, I wanted to treat the day like any other and try my hardest to enjoy it instead of sulking around being depressed. July 26 had always represented something so positive and beautiful to me for 10 (almost 11) years. Justin was very romantic when it came to special holidays. For our wedding anniversary, we usually had a fun trip planned. For our fifth, we went to Ireland and New Orleans for our 10th, and last one together.

Ireland 2008
Justin In Wicklow County Ireland

 

He also loved to shower me with gifts and was pretty unique with his choices. Very rarely would he be cliche by sending me a dozen red roses or a piece of jewelry. He loved to surprise me with fun things and take me on personal shopping trips. He always told me, “I just love seeing you smile”. Making me happy was a top priority, which he always succeeded at, and I know it would have been this way forever.

I ended up spending the day on a friend’s boat and the evening with my girlfriends watching reality TV. These options may sound abnormal or strange, but they were just what I needed. I was able to soak up some beautiful gulf air and sunshine with Jax as well as watch some trashy TV with my girls. The day did still have very depressing moments but all in all I can say I pretty much enjoyed it. I believe Justin was looking down on me knowing how hard it was for me to crack a smile. He did show me in a few ways that he was with me. It may sound strange to say he gives me signs from time to time, but I do believe it with all my heart, as I don’t much believe in coincidences. Besides our anniversary being on the 26 of July, my birthday falls on the 26 of April. Therefore, Justin and I developed a mutual love for the number 26. We coined 26 “our number” and would see it everywhere. We’d pump gas and accidentally stop the counter at 26 dollars. Our receipt at Target would total $26.26 and we would be seated at table number 26 at restaurants. It was usually pretty surreal and no one else understood it besides us. We decided when we went to Las Vegas or Biloxi that it was our “winning” number and we’d spend all night at the roulette table betting number 26.

Vegas 2011
My handsome stud in Vegas 2011

We actually hit pretty big a few times but it never failed us. We would hit 26 eventually and it always made our day. It made us feel like we had a secret no one else knew..  

So as for the number 26 this year, well let’s just say it followed me everywhere. At the grocery store waiting for my turn at the deli, I was number 26. I was on my way home when the radio dj announced the next song and it just so happened to be number 26 on the countdown. I pulled into my driveway and listened. It was a Michael Bolton song named “I Promise You”.

 

 

The lyrics were as follows:

 

I’ll love you forever, I promise you

We’ll be together, our whole life through

There’s nothin’ that I, I wouldn’t do

With all of my heart, I promise you

 

When I was in the water with Jax, I felt something underneath my foot that felt strange. Instinctively, I grabbed it to investigate and to my surprise it was a beautiful starfish. I smiled and quickly grabbed my phone to take a photo. When I looked at my phone the time was displayed and it just so happened to be 2:26. I held that starfish tight as I thought back to a day on our honeymoon in the Bahamas. While snorkeling I distinctly remember Justin discovered a starfish in the ocean. We were ecstatic to have found this while snorkeling as no one else in our group had much luck besides a few seashells. At the time, we saw it as a sign that our marriage would always be blessed. And it was very blessed! Even though it was cut short and wasn’t free from it’s own challenges, it was certainly blessed. As time marches on, I continue to see so many blessings in my life. From my beautiful baby Jax, to my kind and loving parents (who everyday help me raise my boy), to my wonderful girlfriends willing to drop everything just so I have some company on a tough day, to Justin’s mother Vicki taking off work whenever I ask to keep Jax. Vicki always reassures me what a wonderful mother I am while reminding me how happy I made her son. In the wake of losing Justin I have to constantly remind myself of these blessings. No matter how much time passes, I will never forget how blessed I was to have had him in my life and how blessed I am to be the one raising his beautiful baby boy.the singing widow blog logo