A Dog’s Journey: Measured in Sloppy Kisses, Love and Bones

My dog died this past Thursday morning. She was 10-years old.

After my mother died in February of 2017, I feel silly for mourning the death of a pet. I feel like the loss of a pet pales in comparison to the loss of a parent but that kind of thinking is harmful. Death in whatever form is difficult.

I struggled with the decision of euthanasia. Back in 2013, when my cat Micki had kidney failure, her vet pressed for euthanasia. I spent five hours at the vet, pacing around the waiting room, calling every Tom, Dick, and Harry I knew trying to weigh their personal opinion. The bag was mixed. If I didn’t put her down, I was selfish. If I did put her down, I felt guilty.

I was raised in a household where all of my childhood pets died naturally. Sometimes, they did in our arms — like Shadow and Micki Mouse. Other times, they died alone – like Benji – underneath the dining room table, only to be discovered an hour later that he wasn’t breathing. Not once did my parents even contemplate the use of euthanasia.

I argued that if I grew up in a household that made those bold choices, then perhaps, I would have tackled Tykie’s cancer diagnosis differently. But for as often as I toyed with the idea or listened to my father, my mother-in-law or my best friend tell me to do “what was right by the animal,” I couldn’t. She didn’t have a bad quality of life. At least, she didn’t show it.

I took her to the vet on an early Tuesday morning in September when she was diagnosed with a stroke. I was sitting at my computer desk and saw Tykie’s body collapse. Her eyes began to twitch. We spent four or five hours at the vet and Tykie endured three blood tests, an X-ray and intense examination. At the end of the exam, our vet said she had either brain cancer or a stroke but that she showed more signs of a stroke than anything else. I couldn’t afford an MRI for clarification and even if I could, I didn’t have the money to afford regular chemotherapy treatments. The vet’s advice was to keep her comfortable until she went. But it was the kind of news I’d expect a senior dog to get.

For the first couple of weeks, she acted like herself. She ran in the backyard, ate a bunch of food, drank a slew of water. She wanted cuddles and to be up on the couch, sprawled out between the pillows. She jumped up on the bed. She wagged her tail when I walked in from work.

And then, in early December, she had difficulty going to the bathroom. We struggled, standing outside for close to an hour until she went. As the days went on, she didn’t want to go outside. When we did, she’d lay on the ground in the bitter cold and we’d try everything to get her up. We discovered that if we removed her leash, she’d get up and run. So, we worked with this until her motivation stopped.

One night, as I crouched down outside beside her, our next-door neighbors walked outside and asked us what was wrong. I told them that she had a stroke and how our vet told us there was nothing we could do during her natural demise. But then they offered up their personal vet and advised us to visit them.

She had an appointment the next day and my husband carried her into the appointment. She underwent another thorough examination. And the vet said that radiology wasn’t necessary; she diagnosed with her cancer. She had all the signs of it. For the second time in a row, a vet told us all we could do was make her comfortable.

When Tykie came home there was a sense of relief and sadness. We had a correct diagnosis, but it wasn’t the one we wanted. The vet put her on steroids and I foolishly flocked to PetMD to find out the prognosis. Steroids had the potential to extend a dog’s life by one or two months. As soon as I closed my internet browser, I begged with God to let her at least make it to Christmas.

Christmas morning, I hung up our stockings and filled hers with bones and treats. She ate them ravenously. She played with her toys. I took as many pictures of her as possible because I knew it was going to be her last Christmas. By Christmas, though, she was a better version of herself. She ate. She drank. She ran. She played. She slept. She wagged her tail. She got down on all fours, ready to pounce and play.

And then during the first week in February, she started acting strange. One night as my husband was holding her, she defecated on the floor. When we laid down her plate of food, she turned her head. When I came home from work, I found her hiding beneath the entertainment center or our bed. And then she stopped walking.

We knew it was time. And like clockwork, the conversation of euthanasia went down. But as soon as we started to discuss it, Tykie lifted her head and ate her entire plate of food. When we woke up the next morning, she wagged her tail. She drank her water. She ate her food.

It was so difficult to make a firm decision because of how hard she fought. Every time we’d seen her down, she’d fight her way to become the dog she used to be. Was putting her down when she had so much fight left in her the right thing?

Wednesday night, we came home and found her hiding between the couch and our ottoman. We picked her up and laid her down in the center of the living room and noticed for the first time that her head was shaking. That ugly conversation reared its head again and for the first time, my husband said, “I think she might be in pain.”

Identifying pain was difficult throughout her diagnosis when she acted like herself, or ate all her food or played with all her toys. Dogs aren’t like people. They don’t have the ability to tell you when it’s time, or when they want to end it. All they can do is give off signs and for the first time, Wednesday night, she gave us one.

What she didn’t give us was time.

Every day this week, my husband and I drank our morning coffee in bed. But on Thursday morning, we drank our coffee in the living room. We talked about a multitude of things: our co-workers, our friends and our plans to move to Florida. Midway through the conversation, we circled back to Tykie and I announced, quite profoundly that I was ready. About ten minutes later, John walked into the bedroom and found her dead.

A lot of emotions flooded me as I raced into the bedroom to find her body, but the strongest out of all of them was love. I held her in my arms and told her I loved her. When I placed her back down, I placed her down so gently as if I was avoiding hurting her. It reminded me of the moments before the funeral director closed my mother’s casket. At her funeral, my father rested his old pair of glasses in her casket. The glasses represented their 38-year long relationship. They were the ones he wore on the day they found out I was ready to leave the NICU. For me, I had written her a letter several days before her funeral. I laid that and a large-font note I had written her when I was five; I felt like I had brought our relationship full circle with all the words I could use to describe our relationship. The last thing I put in there was a plaque I had bought her two months prior that read “world’s greatest mom.” The plaque toppled over on her cheek as he tried to close the casket and I quickly grabbed it, laying it down on her side so the jagged edges wouldn’t hurt her. I laid Tykie down in the same way.

Later in the evening, my husband brought her to my dad’s house to bury her. It was the home where she spent the majority of her life. It was the home where Benji was buried. And Shadow. And where her long-gone feline mate, Micki was. My husband buried her with all of them.

It’s only been a day and a half and the two of us are feeling all sorts of grief-related emotions. I yelled at our cat, Jeanette when she wouldn’t stop kneading me to wake me up. He yelled at our other cat, Oscar when he dug his claws in his knee as he tried to lift him off his lap to reposition himself. I even got annoyed at our dog, Bella, for not showing any emotion over Tykie’s lifeless body. We left Tykie’s plate of food in the center of the living room and the puppy pad she laid on in case she had to go to the bathroom while we weren’t home. We woke up today feeling miserable and lethargic and empty. When I walked in from work yesterday, the house didn’t feel like it was whole. When John got home, he broke down. And then this morning, he closed the bathroom door and took a bath.

I almost feel silly being this upset over the death of a dog when I’ve endured so much more intense pain and trauma. And then I feel angry for thinking that I have to minimize my grief. I had my dog for almost 11-years. What part of this has to be easy?

Tykie saw me through two marriages and multiple zip codes. She saw me through the loss of my mother and the new cancer diagnosis plaguing my father. She saw me through battles and accomplishments. She saw me through the evolution of my life while I was fortunate enough to witness the evolution of hers. And all I can continue to rationalize is that death is never going to be easy. Even when it’s expected.

Sadness and relief can co-exist. My friend texted me that on Thursday morning in response to me telling her how I felt. I feel a sense of relief and sadness. I feel relief, first and foremost, that she’s free. But then I also feel relief from not having to worry or the stress associated with wondering what the right thing to do was. I feel relief that I can put objects back on the floor and that I can finally cleanse my rug from the scent of lingering urine.

What I feel the saddest about is that I lost the dog that over the course of 10, almost 11 years, was my friend. I miss seeing her wide-eyed expression or her excitement when she walked outside. I miss her standing on her hind legs and resting her two front paws on my lap. I miss her kissing me excessively to the point where it got annoying. I miss walking in my house and greeting Tyke and Bella, because for the first time in 10 – almost 11 years – I’m finally saying Bella’s name alone.

The death of a pet isn’t the same as the death of a person. In five years, the pain and sadness I feel right now will more than likely be replaced by fond memories as it has for every other pet I’ve lost throughout my life. But five years from now, the pain of losing my mom will continue to carry the same weight.

I feel that if I didn’t lose a parent already, then maybe I’d be more okay feeling my sadness instead of trying to remind myself that I’ve had it worse. But I’m not too shy to admit that I’m struggling with that. I hate the process of grieving. I hate the process of feeling so much pain and having no choice but to FEEL it. I hate having to go through the emotions of anger, but I know I have to FEEL angry because I am. How could I not be?

I remember last weekend holding up Tykie’s leash as she walked around and thinking about how it’d be nice to take them for a walk. And as I put it off, I remember saying to my husband, “I should stop putting stuff off. What if by next weekend she can’t walk?” It was like I had manifested my biggest fear.

But that’s the life lesson here: do not put off the moments when you think of them. I don’t have regret for not taking her on that last walk because she had so many walks throughout her life. One chilly weekend was a decent enough reason to forgo it. But, it’s important to push forward and do the things when you want to do them – whatever they may be.

Because at the end of the day, life is short. All we have are moments.

Cherish yours wisely.


What Next?

The other night, I sat on the couch with my husband feeling helpless. Three years ago, I was hustling! I was working a full-time job, spending all my lunch breaks hunkered down in my car writing a trending article for Elite Daily. After work, I’d come home, clean the house for an hour, start dinner, do homework and spend the rest of the night – 4 or 5 hours – working on my internship and later contract work for Mogul, an online platform where I dreamt about getting hired. I was getting four hours of sleep per night before waking up and doing it all over again. I barely spent any time with my husband — then fiance — and my mother’s cancer diagnosis played a backseat to the empowerment I felt following my dreams.

Sunday night, after finishing my homework and sitting down to a nice cup of tea before bedtime, I looked at John and said, “I don’t really know what to do.” My contract with Mogul ended in March of 2017 and after a stint as a front desk receptionist moonlighting as an Office Coordinator, I landed my first role in my field. Even though I may not be writing every day, I have the option to. Even if I may not love every aspect of my job, the people I work with, the environment — the opportunity to have pink hair — is the job I’ve been waiting for. It’s creative.

I’m not working toward those “big dreams” anymore because now I have them. I wanted the job in my chosen field; now I do. I wanted the freedom and flexibility to work in a stress-free environment; now I do. I wanted my husband to double as my best friend — he does. I wanted the perfect partnership — we have it. Aside from my father’s cancer diagnosis and impending radiation, which I’d want to be eradicated regardless, I have all the things I craved in my early twenties.

But I feel like I’ve plateaued. Where do I go next?

Life could always be improved. From our finances to my health, to the mountain of laundry piled in the bedroom, there are concrete things I could work on. But, personally, I’m not sure what I’m fighting for. When I was getting little to no sleep, working a job I hated, I was still fueled by the desire to make it. I was going to be someone someday. Now that I have it, I don’t know how to springboard myself to a different level. I’ve been so depleted and so focused on getting here that I never gave much thought to what was going to sustain me in the long-run.

I lost a chunk of myself when my mother died. I toyed around with painting, providing a getaway from writing the same sentence over and over again, ala Jack Nicholson in the Shining. I liked painting but it never became a tool of my enjoyment. It was a deviation from an old path that I tried to make anew.

Writing had always been my first love, but when you write all day, that fire begins to dwindle. It doesn’t provide the same flame. It doesn’t burn as bright. I come home, sit down at my computer and sometimes get so lost in my thoughts that I’m preoccupied from the words on the slab of digital paper. My words — like my mind — is just a bunch of mumbo jumbo just trying to piece together something cohesive.

I always thought writing would take me to that next level. And don’t get me wrong — it has — and it will. But, in the interim, I need to figure out what steps I need to take to get back to feeling like the closest version of myself. I need to feel good again. I need to feel inspired. I need to feel like the world is filled with endless possibilities as I did when I didn’t take “no” for an answer. I just need to re-establish what I wanted from the world before it all turned sour.

One Week Out

lose a parentToday marks one week out until the second anniversary of your death.

I’m trying to place my life that week out; trying to remember if there were warning signs that death was imminent — but all I remember was us casually talking like normal. I’d share with you my weekend plans, and how I’d just spent all of Saturday hopping wineries with my group of girlfriends. I’d share with you the painting I’d just done at one of those wine and sip classes. I’d share with you my desire to re-do my newly moved in kitchen.

One week out, you organized my spice shelf and yelled at me when I didn’t bring you back anything from the Olive Garden. You held up a can of strawberry banana yogurt, telling me how insensitive I am that you had spent your entire morning organizing my apartment, only for me to not bring you back a Zuppa Toscana when I went out shopping for scrubs with Amanda. I’ve gotten over the regret of not bringing you soup, but your can of yogurt still sits in my fridge.

I remember, one week out, me having to help you sit down into the black, swivel chair in the middle of the chaotic living room. Your face was swollen and as I needed to help place you, you had an honest breakdown about what life was like. As you cried, and as you spewed anger, I somehow managed to say to you, “I worry, that when you die, I will have thought you led a miserable life.”

And you told me that you did.

And one week later you were gone.

Two years of grieving have taught me that anger-laden moments aren’t representative of life in a bigger scope. I’ve had plenty of anger-laden moments since you’ve been gone: rage toward my fiance that he would have rather spent our first Thanksgiving without you, with his own family; anger toward shopping for wedding dresses; rage when someone would tell me to cancel my wedding, to cope, to change the way I was thinking about it; rage when it came to feeling so confused over doing what I wanted when it came to getting married — because I didn’t want to get married without you, but I wasn’t ready to take that experience from me entirely. Rage, rage, rage. I’ve had my moments.

I’ve had the rage seep into every seam. I’ve felt it coil around my neck like a noose. I’ve known it as an intruder. I’ve felt it’s violation like a #MeToo movement.

In the scope of things, I know that your life wasn’t bad. It was made up of moments. Moments painted by insecurity. Moments painted by past loves and feelings of inadequacy. Your life was not as you pictured it — but mine didn’t flourish in roses, either. Mine’s still blooming. I’m still a bud shrouded in thorns.

One week out and I’m sure I didn’t imagine that what was coming up would materialize. I thought I had more time. I thought I’d get my chance to say goodbye, to tell you how much you mean to me, to remind myself that no matter where you were, the love you feel for me would always be in reflective reach.

There were many nights I banged my head against my kitchen counter just wanting to join you.

People say that they understand what it means to lose someone they love. You and I never spoke sporadically. We didn’t go from being close during childhood, to distant during adolescence, to visiting once a month because I have my own life going on as a twenty-something just trying to get by — just trying to make my mark.

You and I, we spoke every day. We spoke for hours every day. We weren’t a part of one another’s world – we were the world to one another. Everyone beside us were just guests — invitees to the party we’d concocted. Losing you is losing my right arm when I’m right-handed. It’s hard to breathe. It’s hard to think. It’s hard to wake up every Saturday morning and not have the stark reminder that I can’t call you; that you can’t call me. It’s hard to find the kind of naive, innocent happiness that I held, one week out.

Because one week out, everything was still perfect.




8 Reasons Why You’ll Love In-N-Out Burger

If you live near Philadelphia, you’re too consumed with trying to hunt down the world’s greatest cheesesteak. Ironically, the world’s greatest Philadelphia cheesesteak can be found at Romano’s Pizzeria & Italian Restaurant located in Essington, PA. PHL17s Weekend Philler did an incredible segment on the shop where they serve up a slew of tasty and amazing stromboli. The Philly Cheese Steak Stromboli is actually so good that it’s better than any other actual cheesesteak found in the surrounding areas. My husband and I have made it a tradition to stop there every time we have a flight back to Philadelphia – where I, of course, always get the cheesesteak stromboli.

So it’s obvious that when it comes to hunting for the best burger, much like that episode of How I Met Your Mother, those native to the Philadelphia region have bigger fish to fry…


John and I like to travel and in recent years have become obsessed with visiting the West Coast. After our trip to Portland, OR, we realized how different the vibe is out there compared to here.

But, none of them compare to the deliciousness of one…single…moment when my lips softly graved the end of the thick, juicy….hamburger patty from In-N-Out Burger!

in-n-out burger las vegas

This past weekend John and I flew out to Las Vegas, Nevada to see Cher’s Vegas Residency at the Park Theater. John had actually surprised me with the tickets for my birthday, but because I’m me, I ended up spoiling the surprise about two weeks before my birthday. Right before my bachelorette party, my friend and I went out to dinner where she told me about this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to get tattooed by the lead singer of New Found Glory,  Jordan Pundik.

I agreed that I’d fly out with my friend the weekend of November 11th: just two, married gals visiting Los Angeles with the bright lights and palm trees. It was going to be terrifying, slightly insulting to my appearance and self-esteem, and amazing all rolled into one. I got home, told John enthusiastically that the two of us were going to fly out to LA and he quickly was like, “NO! YOU CAN’T!”

And that’s the story of how I inadvertently ruined my 28th birthday surprise to see Cher perform in Las Vegas.

Sorry, babe.

We flew out Friday night and rolled into our hotel around 10:30pm Nevada time.

With only seven hours to tour Las Vegas before getting ready to see the ~~~**the queen**~ we decided we’d just walk the Las Vegas Strip and whatever we stumbled upon that seemed interesting, we’d do. One of the main things on our list was to hail a cab and grab something to eat at the In-N-Out Burger we passed on our drive to the hotel.

We don’t have any In-N-Out Burgers on the East Coast so spotting one in real life is kind of like seeing a teacher have sex on your front porch. IT’S JUST RARE!

While we were walking down the strip, we noticed a familiar looking arrow that pointed right. It took us down this frighteningly unique little canal, abundant with sushi burrito restaurants, daiquiri stations, opportunities to go zip lining, a Ferris Wheel that was an ACTUAL BAR, music, fountains, a Sprinkles Cupcake ATM (which I love) and of course – an In-N-Out Burger!

Here are 8 Reasons Why You’ll Love In-N-Out Burger:

  1. The food is ridiculously cheap. Our entire meal cost less than $10 for both of us.
  2. The cheeseburgers are off the hook. Make sure you get everything on it because it will make your taste buds explode!
  3. The atmosphere is retro and quaint.
  4. They have an efficient process to get your food. For as busy as there are, it’s insanely organized.
  5. Hamburger selfies
  6. World-famous burgers that live up to their reputation
  7. Animal fries. Google that shit. 
  8. Part of the West Coast experience

Lunching at In-N-Out Burger was more than just munching down on a tasty burger. It’s part of the quintessential West Coast experience!

courtney dercqu in-n-out burger

When John and I travel, we make it a point to experience something that is outside of our A-typical culture. Sure, it may be touristy, but that’s what we are: tourists! 

We did much more on our Las Vegas trip, including a gondola ride at the Venetian, drinking copious amounts of Starbucks, visiting Paris, turning $100 into 32 cents (we have a real knack for that!) and so much more which will all be getting their own blog posts very soon, so stay tuned!

Have you ever eaten at In-N-Out Burger? What are some restaurants you can ONLY get on the West Coast or East Coast that you recommend we try next?



Check Out My Latest Articles on Unwritten

As of last week, I’ve had my debut article featured on Unwritten. I will be having articles published on Unwritten’s website on a weekly basis, with one posting tomorrow on Halloween!

Unwritten is home to a plethora of talented writers.  You can follow them on Twitter here!

  1. 7 Things You Should Absolutely Avoid In A Job Interview
  2. Why It’s Harder To Maintain Friendships The Older You Get



How My Husband Reacted to My Negative Pregnancy Test

We haven’t been trying to get pregnant for very long.

Even saying that sentence: I’m trying to get pregnant, sends me into a field of emotions. I’ve waited for this moment.

Yesterday morning, around 10 o’clock, I texted my husband to say that I was spotting. Women – we know our cycles. It’s why I knew I’d have my period for the first week of our tropical honeymoon. Our bodies sometimes operate like clockwork. I’m not due for my period for at least a few more days, and the fact that I was spotting caught the both of us off guard.

He texted me saying that we’d had sex a few weeks earlier around the time when I’d possibly be showing symptoms of an early pregnancy. Joined with frequent urination and the strong surge of french vanilla coffee making me sick, he texted me and said, “Babe, I think you’re pregnant.”

For the rest of the day, the two of us texted back and forth with loving conversation mixed with a few holy shit moments. Loving, thinking about the possibility that there could have been a baby inside me, growing, a human being we’d love from the minute the stick turned up two, life-changing lines. Holy shit, because we thought about the possibility that there could have been a baby inside me, growing, a human being we’d love from the minute the stick turned up two, life-changing lines.

When I called him on the drive home, he held this vigor in his voice. He said to me, “I couldn’t concentrate at all today. All I kept thinking was how I could go home and find out I’m gonna’ be a dad.”

I stopped off at CVS and bought a box of pregnancy tests. If the test did come up negative, I figured we’d get use out of the other sticks eventually. I walked out with my box o’sticks and a 20 oz. bottle of water that I chugged from the parking lot to my parking spot. After two more glasses of water and only about seven minutes until we had to leave for my chiropractic appointment, I walked into the bathroom, took the test and placed it on the bathroom mat. We set the timer for three minutes as I shoved my feet into my winter boots.

“Can you read the test to me?”

I had this image of John walking out of the bathroom, stick in hand, his smile leaping off his cheeks as he shouted, “You’re pregnant!” We’d hug, shed some happy tears and just feel over the moon at the news. We’d walk around, doing aimless chores, folding laundry and making dinner, knowing that there’s a baby inside me. He’d lean me down toward the couch and hold me and then run his fingers against my flattened tummy, rubbing it like I was a tiny Buddha, telling me he loves me, and he loves our baby. Somehow, we’d end up buying a pregnancy announcement shirt or nursery decorations or a onesie for the baby, before we even heard its heartbeat on a monitor.

Time’s up!

He walked out of the bathroom, stick in hand, pursed his lips and shook his head.

I said, “okay.”

He said, “I’m going to wash my hands.”

We went to the chiropractor and as I laid down on my stomach, feeling my doctor’s hands crack the back of my spine, I felt silly for thinking that I’d be pregnant.

It’s been a month.

We got home and John went into the kitchen to start dinner as I sat in the bedroom starting my homework.

“Do you want to talk about it?” I asked, leaning up against the mountain of laundry in the kitchen where our washing machine was running.

He turned to look at me, his face flushed, his eyes watery, “I just really thought you were pregnant. All the signs were pointing to yes.”

He hugged me, asked me how I was doing before we made love for the second time, him feeling more determined than ever to make this work.

This morning, we both felt a little melancholy and me, a little foolish. How can I be upset over one negative test result when there are women every single day who are told they can never have children? How is it fair of me to pity myself and our lack of conception when couples are being told they are infertile?

And then I realized what was making me so upset. It was John. It was his face. It was the crack in his voice as he told me that the test was negative. It was the image rushing from our thoughts of how we anticipated our night going. It was the look of heartbreak.

And it was a look I’d never seen on him.

This journey to become parents has enlightened me. Yes, we’re getting healthier by the day: eating more veggies, trying to exercise and stay hydrated. Our stress level has decreased exponentially. As we talked on the phone during our lunch break, I said, “We’re no longer doing this casually, are we?” Without hesitation, he said “no.”

We tried to do this casually, saying we were just going to let nature take its course and it’ll happen when it happens. While that’s still true, our realization that we want a child inspired us to become more proactive in what we can do to get there.

As I said, I’d never seen that look on his face before. It’s a look I don’t think I’ll ever be able to forget. It’ll forever stay with me, just like the crack in his voice when I heard him say, “I thought I was going to be a dad.”





My Mom is Still Attached to My Wedding and I’m Broken About It

I’ve been my own worst enemy throughout this wedding process ordeal. 

Not too long ago, my best friend came to me in the heat of the moment and said, “You’re making this harder than it has to be.”

At the time, I was furious. Why would I be making this harder than it has to be? In all actuality, how is any of this my fault? I became so distant from my friends, my family, recoiling into myself like a venomous snake who people were tired of my spewing poison. I felt a stark contrast to how I’d been around people who were grieving: I left them alone.

Yesterday, I’m standing in my doorway, breaking down in hysterics saying, “It’s too formal, it’s too formal” over and over on some overanxious loop. I told John that I can’t get married without my mom. I just can’t do it. Not like this, anyway.

Fast forward several hours later and I’m at my friends house, feeling like an outcast because I’ve forced those who love me to act weird and distant to me, forbidding them to talk about the wedding because I’m over that general excitement people have toward us. It’s become like a stinger and I want to die each time someone asks me, “Are you excited?”

Our friends have a young daughter who is almost four, and throughout all the years I’ve known her, I’m always overwhelmed with happiness when she actually likes me. Last night she kept jumping into my arms, cuddling me, showing me all her dolls and toys, holding my hand and sticking with me the entire night. I tucked her in on the couch until she was “snug like a bug in a rug” and made sure her new favorite bear, Princess, was beside her because like I told her, “Lily is Princess’ best friend.”

I spent the majority of the night upstairs playing Paw Patrol with an almost-four year old, alone, away from all the crowds, our friends and my almost husband. We sat watching television on the couch and I can now list all the names of the Paw Patrol gang: Marshall, Rubble, Rocky, Everett, Chase and Skye (although I assume there’s many others).

At the end of the night, her eyes welled up pink when I said I had to go, and I had the hardest time not wanting to pluck her from the floor in her living room and take her home with me. My friends are aware that I’m always borderline kidnapper.

Spending time with Lily last night reminded me of my grandfather. My mom, don’t get me wrong, was always by my side and did whatever I wanted, but my pop-pop had this innate capability to not lose focus for hours when it came to me and my cousin when we were small children. I once created a game where we had to sit underneath of their aluminium kitchen table and make sure a yellow balloon wouldn’t rise up and hit the bottom of it. My cousin swears she had another game underneath the table and it makes me wonder why we were both so obsessed with a rusted, aluminum table from 1954.

The topic of having a baby has always been a lively one, but a realistic one more recently. As we were taking the curve off our exit to head back home, I asked, “Do you think it’s foolish for me to talk about wanting to have a baby when I can’t even talk about my wedding?”

In short, John’s answer: “Of course not. They’re two different things. One is emotional.”

I asked, “Do you think it’s immature of me to not allow people to get involved or talk about the wedding to me?”

In short, John’s answer: “No, it’s not immature. It’s a sad subject that you want to avoid. I think what happens more often than not, when it comes to how you handle the wedding, is that people are frustrated. They want to help, but they just don’t know how. It doesn’t help that your emotions vary. One time, asking about the wedding may be fine because you’re in a much more positive head space, whereas the other time, you may not be and that’s when it’ll set you off.”

“Sometimes I feel like I’m making this out to be worse than it is,” I said. And it’s a phrase I really hate saying out loud.

One line that has always stuck with me throughout this wedding process/grieving process was that I’m not coping. I always found that quite ridiculous considering every single day I’m pushing myself toward this new identity.

Since my mom’s been gone, we looked at buying our first house. I started painting and wrote a children’s book. I went out and landed my first job in my field. Even the conversation about having kids doesn’t hold this pain and agony that my wedding holds.

And I figured out why last night.

Because all those things are things that were started after my mom was already gone. They’re not connected to her. My wedding still is.

My wedding was planned with the thought she would still be in it. My wedding date was set with an image and a forecast of all the things we’d do to prep for it: buying a dress, experiencing these lovely mother-daughter moments, her being there to watch me walk down the aisle, her being there to help me get ready that morning of.

My mom is tethered to the original forecast of this wedding and that’s what I am incapable of changing. I feel, often, like I’m at fault for making this harder than it has to be not only on me, but my groom, my friends, his family. I feel inconsiderate that my pain takes away an otherwise, happy and loving experience.

What I’ve failed to realize though, is that these shackles I’ve attached to myself don’t belong there if I don’t want them. I don’t have to get married, and by that I mean, this day is about the two of us – and we’ve talked until we’ve been blue in the face for more than a year about the constraints of this wedding that we can choose to live without. At the end of the day, all we want is to be married to one another. There doesn’t have to be formality and tradition in that.

I need to take the pressure off myself that I have to go through with things a certain way just to make outside people happy – friends, family, society. At the end of the day, it’s solely about the two of us, and if we’re both okay with doing things a little non-traditional as a way to adjust to the heartbreak that’s associated with our impending nuptials, then so be it. I’m not in a box. I’m not trapped. I’m not like my mom, voiceless.

I don’t have to uphold to this concept and probability that I even need to do things a certain way. I need to remove the pressure that comes with the heavy grief and sadness when I think about having to formally walk down the aisle and spend an entire morning away from the only person who has kept me calm and stable throughout this entire process. There is no such thing as traditional in our lives. I mean, our vibrant, artistic house is a common example of how we think outside the box of traditional norms. I need to remove the pressure on my shoulders that thinks I have to adhere to anything that’s too hard for me. At the end of the day, if I have the loving support from the man I’m traveling through life with, then nothing outside even matters.

Speaking Candidly About My Wedding

Since I’ve lost my mother, there’s been one thing that’s been difficult to vocalize: I don’t want to get married without my mom.

If I could just sign a marriage certificate while sitting on my olive green couch eating a steaming hot pizza from Domino’s and consider myself a wife, I’d opt for that any day of the week. People think that because I don’t want to get married that it means I don’t want to be married. 

I want to be a wife. I want to do wifely things. I want to embark on our journey together at high speeds. I want to wear a ring that symbolizes my partnership with my best friend. I want to be introduced as Mrs. Clements. I want to introduce him as my husband.

But I don’t want to get married.

I shouldn’t feel this enormous weight and pain and guilt for not wanting to, either. I’ve got enough on my plate as is.

I’m constantly caught in this middle ground, where what I am able to handle out of this doesn’t fit into the image of what my groom, or his family, and all of our friends, collectively want. I can’t include my dad in this because he gets it. He’s the only one out there, existing as broken as I am. When I talk about eloping, my father urges me to do it and all he asks is to get a picture so he can see.

You’re probably reading this thinking to yourself, “My god, what an inconsiderate father you have! How could he not want to be there for your big day?” But, the opposite is true. My father is the only one in my life who is going through this grieving process with me. Not to say, other people don’t miss my mom – they do. Her absence is noted on certain days of the week, perhaps the spontaneous Tuesday when her brother may feel like picking up the phone to call her.

But my dad and I feel it every day. We feel the anguish from the time we wake up, him in a recliner because he hasn’t slept in their bed in over a year. He gets his own cup of dollar store coffee in a Beatles mug that was my mom’s. He lists on eBay and stopped working on remodeling the house because he only ever did things for her. He put a chair on the outside deck she died one week before he finished, and it sits, empty every morning next to his office where we all imagined us sitting on drinking morning coffee.

I wake up to a black screen. Maybe some text messages about the wedding, maybe about an inside joke or gossip. But, I stopped waking up to the text messages my mom sent me every morning – a good morning text and a pink heart emoji. Every single morning. And every single morning, since February 28, 2017, I’ve had to adapt to life without it.

It’s not a pity party, but grief is a real thing; it’s tangible. It not only exists in my heart where I’m mangled, torn trying to stitch myself back up, but it’s on my phone where I stopped receiving those perky messages. It’s tangible when my dad sits across from me at the diner and the seat next to him is empty. It’s tangible on Christmas morning. It’s tangible when I sat down to write my wedding invitations and had to write, “Mr. Al Dercqu” on a single, manilla colored envelope.

Grief is tangible. Just like that empty seat at our favorite diner, or wedding invitations, or Christmas morning, my mom’s absence is found getting dressed the morning of my wedding. It’s tangible when her hands won’t be able to zip up my dress. It’s tangible when I walk down and see an empty seat to my left. It’s tangible in the “family” photos. It’s tangible when she’s not there to talk to.

If you haven’t lost a parent, it’s a concept that’s difficult to understand. People try, and I can’t fault them for doing so. They want to understand but it’s outside their realm of capability. It’s not a bad thing, it’s just something they can’t comprehend. People often get offended when you tell them that they can’t understand the way you feel, but it’s nothing to get offended over. You should be happy that you can’t understand. I wish I could go back to that time of innocence and not understand it, too.

I don’t want a rehearsal, nor do I want a rehearsal dinner. I don’t want the traditions. I don’t want to sit down and subject myself to these things that are inscrutably hard and painful. I’m caught in the middle between wanting to give something to people I love, but wanting to avoid them because they’re hard for me.

My mom’s passing has affected everyone at this wedding. It’s affected my friends who grew up with my mom and feel helpless trying to remove my hurt. It’s affected my relatives who want to say something but can’t find the right words to say. It’s affected my groom, who has to be the one to witness my pain firsthand, behind closed doors, before everyone else. It’s affected my groom because he’s caught in between of wanting a traditional wedding, but not wanting to subject me to one, either. It’s affected my dad, who is going to his daughter’s wedding stag – alone – something that breaks him apart every day. It’s affected my soon-to-be-mother-in-law who pictured this day and these wedding details so differently. It’s affected me, most of all, because I’m getting married only a year and a half after burying my beautiful mother. This isn’t how I envisioned my wedding day – or this process. This isn’t what I planned, what I wanted.

I am a grieving woman before I am a bride. They aren’t interchangeable. They aren’t able to be swapped out for a Sunday afternoon. I’m a grieving woman who buried her mom a year and a half ago – and had to look at bridal gowns only 6 weeks after picking out my mom’s casket. This isn’t easy for me. This is hard. This is painful. I cry every single day, not because my mom won’t be at my wedding, but because every single day, all I want to do is talk to her. All I want is for her to be here. The knowledge that she’s looking down and in a place more serene and peaceful than I could even imagine does nothing to bring me solace. It bears pain. And that pain…is tangible.



Why Saturdays Are the Worst

Every Saturday morning is met with an irrevocably loud silence. I’ve always been amused by the way people often describe silence as deafening because it’s ultimately the biggest contradiction, we as a society, make. We attribute these emotions and abstract concepts to simple feelings because silence, can actually be one of the most destructive and overwhelming forces out there. The reason why is rather boring: it’s simply because silence can’t and won’t drown out our thoughts.

I’ve written pieces lately that have been wholly candid in an effort to chronicle my emotions and my daily grief. I’ve published articles about them on platforms like Thought Catalog, but they’ve been published when I’ve been at my most hyper. Those pieces were written when I was feeling outwardly downtrodden, when the concept of joy and happiness were fleeting emotions I grappled with trying to hold. It’s easy to pour out your emotions when you’re feeling that way. When you’re in the center of that vortex, the words are easily formed, the tears are easily dispersed, and then when you place that final punctuation, you’re left feeling exhilarated because all you needed at that moment was someone to talk to. And sometimes that person is the bright, luminescent screen of your HP monitor.

Saturday mornings once held promise. I wouldn’t be particularly turned off if John slept until 11:00 am, because my morning would be filled with other things. My long-standing tradition would be to sit down and write some articles I’d submit for publishing later on in the week. I’d detail stories my audience could connect with: love, fulfillment, the typical drone and hype about twenty-something, millennial confusion. It’s easy to write about an emotion you feel when that emotion isn’t pain. Even if there were mornings when the writer’s block took hold, I managed to exist in other forms. Saturday was an unmarked square in my date book. It symbolized endless possibilities and words that would take me there.

Now, it’s a reminder of anguish.

I can spend my Saturday morning enjoying myself, but it’s within those first few hours of waking up, when the house is quiet, and my partner is drooling into his pillow, that I realize how alone I am. I realize that grief has taken a lot more from me than just a physical body and a vivacious laugh. It’s taken away my ability to dream.

I’m not a particularly gifted artist. I don’t study the craft or try to improve my technique. Sometimes, on the rare occasion, something will turn out decently and I’ll be left mildly in awe that I was able to create something my father is immediately biased toward. I turned to painting because, in the constraints of my grief, writing was no longer my solace. It was no longer my home away from home. It’s funny, I’ve written so many short stories and characters and concepts whose lives are consistently tossed into chaos and grief permeates and drips off the page. They always had a Mary Poppins ending. A grand, TA-DA that came at the last second to show that they rebounded from their tragedies – and they were actually happier for it.

I’ve learned that that’s not real life. Grief is not something you just bounce back from. It’s not something you wake up and tackle in a grand spectacle. There is no “I’m ready for my close-up, Mr. Deville” moment. I turned away from writing because how many times could I subject myself to seeing my pain in black and white? How many times could I retell the story of the morning my mother died? How many times could I etch into my skin the pain and sorrow and anger that had already been woven into it? How many times could I fall victim to my own memories?

And Saturdays, well, they are the worst. They’re a painstaking reminder that the traditions I once held – the multitude of writings, the soft, charming words that fell like petals on a warm, dewy morning in May, were nothing but a dank reminder and repellent for who I’ve turned into. The damaged woman persists. The damages woman curls at her own platitudes.

On Saturday mornings she feels the sting of that loneliness; a home with four walls and memories of one fateful morning, a black phone screen devoid of text messages from the one she wants to hear from the most, the screensaver that sways across her desktop because the blank page behind it has nothing on it; these are the reminders of who she’s become, only, unlike her characters, she’s not a better person for them. Instead, she’s empty, a lonely carcass like a woman who looks just like her.



Another Laborless Labor Day Weekend

I go into Friday with a long, laundry-list of items on my checklist. Most of them center around chores. I often crave the ability to wake up on a Sunday morning, sit outside and drink my coffee with the whole day sprawled out before me, ready to be enjoyed. I daydream about smelling the roses but I’m too busy smelling the dank, leftover Chinese food spoiling in my fridge from the week before.

I went into this long, three day weekend, hopeful. Friday night, we went out with two of our friends to grab some dinner and dessert, laughing over people we know and things we did. And then, the weekend rolls around, like it always does and somewhere along the lines it turns from motivated, Sunday Funday, to “I never, ever have any fun.”

The argument that I never have any fun seems wholly ironic considering half of my blogs focus on traveling to places like Portland, Oregon or the Elk Forge Bed and Breakfast in Maryland. I’m constantly seeing shows on Broadway, like Cats or Frozen. I paint, often finding solace and a content balance between brushstrokes and inked words. Somehow, I’m always eating.

But, there’s something that always happens during the weekend that defines it. I never, ever do what I want to do.

My fiance could justifiably argue that HE is the one who never gets to do what he wants to do considering he’s my go-to-guy for hanging up pictures or rearranging them on the wall. He’s the one that hangs up new curtain rods and reaches all the things in the house my stubby little legs and miniature arms are too short for. These aren’t things I like to do, though. Cleaning my house is something that I have to do. And my house seems to always be messy.

I used to be a relatively clean and organized person, but the last year of my life developed some unhealthy and emotionally taxing habits I’m trying to break. When my mom died, I had a whole ton of laundry that never got done, and in the process, ended up feeling too broken and too isolated to even gather up the energy to do them. They sat and sat and sat, adding on new tops and pants we bought, new dresses I wore only once but “just had to have.” I’ll wash them, dry them, bring them into my bedroom only to have nowhere to put them. The closets are jammed with clothing and bags of clothes we were trying to donate, guitar cases and luggage, bins of movies and books and other items we just shoved in the closet with the intent on putting away a year ago when we moved into this apartment. The chest of drawers is overflowing, and whenever it comes to putting away what we just washed, it ends up requiring a complete reorganization of these spaces.

By the time I’ve done all of that, I’m exhausted and angry that it took as long as it did, and now I have no energy to actually put the laundry away. So it sits. Until it gets mixed in with the dirty laundry and we can’t remember what was clean, and what wasn’t and so it all goes back into the washer with the intention of getting things straightened out, but never happens.

I forgave myself for becoming lazy over the course of several months because my grief became too stifling and overwhelming. Food didn’t even have a taste to it, so why bother cooking it? My fiance handled the things around the house but maintenance is too much for one person taking care of two, especially when one of his main focuses was on being there to keep me company, to let me grieve, to take me out of the house to try and smile.

So, the weekend comes, and all I’m eager to do is complete the laundry, and make the bed, and do enough straightening up that it takes me until noon on Saturday. Every weekend before that was met with school work, or taking time off so I could be with my widowed father. Sunday comes and I try to cram in an entire week’s worth of hobbies: write, edit my book, paint a picture, clean the house, organize the closets, wash all the clothes, go out for ice cream, pay the bills, list a bunch of items on eBay or Facebook Marketplace to earn some extra cash. Sprinkle in the responsibilities of the wedding, and I end up putting so much on my plate that they crash and I end up avoiding them completely.

And perhaps one of my worst habits has been avoiding things with my wedding at all costs. When people text me with questions, such as hairstyles and props for flower girls and ring bearers, it’s not a huge deal to answer, but I’ve become so worked-up over every minute detail about my wedding, that I mentally can’t even handle the question. I become burdened down with all this emotion and want to avoid the subject. I’ll tell them that I’ll let them know, but I never did. My answer, much like my laundry, sits and sits and sits and sits. The more anxiety I put on the mundane tasks of my wedding that often come with short, simple answers, turns into this big, complex situation because I’m afraid of follow-up questions. If a friend comes to me and says, “What kind of prop do you want the flower girl to have?” I’m scared that if I answer, it will lead to another question of showing me dresses and personal opinions, suggestions, thoughts and the dreaded, “Are you excited? It’s getting close!”

I don’t answer because I’m avoiding that question. That question is too upsetting. It’s too emotional. It’s too destructive. It cuts me and then it eventually leads into me falling into this pit of despair. The irony, is that if I just answered the question or didn’t put off a bridal fitting like I’m doing again tonight for the second time, then the anxiety of all these wedding preparations could begin to melt away and I could actually live a life where there weren’t a constant reminder and dagger to my heart.

If only I were that smart and capable.

So, that slowly becomes my weekend. It becomes laundry and cleaning, and household projects that never get completed. My hobbies become an oversight and I’m left reeling with the guilt and frustration that I wasted and withered away another free 48-hours before I start my workweek because for some reason I only think I have the time and energy and availability to do them when I’m not at work.

I’m trapped in this continuous cycle of constantly feeling overwhelmed and unsuccessful, melting my weekends away with mundane tasks and things that don’t have to be done – but need to be done – instead of focusing on fun and happiness and relaxation.

I’m really unsure of what I do about it.