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The Big 1-0

That Smile

May 21st, 2017 marks 10 years.

10 years since the bomb went off. 10 years since the phone rang. 10 years since the drive home. 10 years since the two men walked up to me. 10 years since Michael was pronounced dead at 22.

To say that a lot has taken place since his death may be an understatement…a lot has happened…and today I want to acknowledge some personal truths that I have learned and, most importantly, celebrate Michael’s journey.

It’s easy when you lose someone you love (in whatever manner) to use that loss as a reason to stop living…and for much time I used his death as an excuse to drown in my grief, to not tell the people I love the most that I loved them, to not pursue the dreams I held in the deepest parts of my being…but I needed to….

I needed to nearly drown myself emotionally to see that a bigger part of me wanted to “come up for air”…a bigger part of me wanted to believe that this catastrophe could be survived….I needed to simply acknowledge that I was still breathing, and that that meant something….something so many amazing beings have had cut too short….and I wasn’t going to waste it.

10 years later, I know with all my heart and being that I am not wasting this oxygen and carbon dioxide. Not one ounce of me (because admittedly, for 9 years a few ounces leaked out and I wanted to punch the universe for taking away something so special) wastes that inhale and exhale.

10 years later, I feel Michael in all that is good in the world and in my life.

I’ve known him longer dead then I have alive…yeah…that’s crazy shit right there….but I can tell you that memory lasts longer that any everlasting battery…and in his 22 years I had the “essential oil” of an extraordinary man…not diluted by so much of the pains and angst our world bears. And that “essential oil” of love for me and his family, for life, for the Army…has been an essence I’ve strived to diffuse in the world around me….and I see its beautiful effects every moment.

I can say that I am happier than I ever have been….and I know that I never thought I would be able to say this, but..I would go through this journey a million times over if it meant that I would live/experience/have the life I have now…and I don’t say that lightly.

In my 6 years of life with Michael he taught me many things….with the most important being that love conquers all….but even more so….that it can be fuel to live the most extraordinary life…no matter what circumstances you face.

He didn’t just teach me that…..but I chose/choose to live it….and it has made all the difference in my 31 years on this planet.

May 21st is a day that I celebrate the life of the man that chose a path that I stand behind and a man that showed all a love that all that knew him can ever lose.

I hope this Sunday you smile. I hope that you feel alive. I hope that you laugh. I hope that you feel love. I hope you feel these gifts….for that is to feel the legacy of Michael.

-per tenebras lucem quaero- through darkness I seek the light-

 

 

 

11

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“It is such a simple thing to say yet it carries so much weight, whether it is with a spouse while you both read your books or it’s with a friend who has been with you through thick and thin or it is to a family member who has loved you from the start.
Those words, that thought, the action of saying it to them with purpose and truth can mean the world to them. Because after all, they mean enough for you to say “Thank you for loving me.”- T.B. LaBerge

 

Today marks 11 years since I said “I do.” to a man that would change the whole trajectory of my life, heart and soul. A man that in his 22 years of life has inspired me to try and do a small fraction of the good he spread.

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Yeah….this is a funny story for another time 😉

On past anniversaries I’ve done a sea of random acts of kindness for a slew of strangers (you can check them our here and here ) as a way to spread the love he showed so many, but I awoke this morning struggling. Though I have enjoyed spending a whole day spreading joy to my fellow life journeyers, my heart felt as if there was something more important for me to fulfill this year…and after thinking back to something that a person I love so dearly shared (thank you, moochie), I knew what it was…

Instead of a day of random acts of kindness to strangers, I would spend a day of intentional acts of love and gratitude to those who have been there through it all….my family….specifically my 3 sisters and parents.

I tell my family I love them all the time….sometimes a little too much…because the truth is, after Michael was killed, I didn’t tell them “I love you” for nearly 3 years. Why? Because after experiencing the pain of losing someone I loved, I convinced myself that not saying it to them would save me from feeling that kind of pain again….it didn’t work and was a total #lifefail…don’t do it 😉

 

So what would I do to let them know how much they truly rock my heart?

 

Easy….think back to one of my lifetime wishes as a child, mix it with some wisdom learned along my life path, add in some extra sappiness and turn it into reality! Boom!

 

First, I typed up letters for each sister and my parents….not just telling them I loved them and appreciated them….but literally listing out every little thing from childhood and on that I maybe never told them but would want them to know in case today was my last day to live….Michael left no loose ends in his short life and everyone around him knew how much they meant….so yeah, my sisters were going to know how much I loved their love for “Ace of Base”, their drawing talents and intelligence, and that time we jumped off the stairs into a pile of pillows…..it meant my parents were going to know that every tuck into the bed and selfless sacrifice was noted and appreciated…….it meant I possibly cried my eyes out……it meant that they were probably going to hear more than they asked for and then some…. it meant it was perfect!

After the letters were typed I entered into the childhood dream part! Ok….this might sound weird but at the age of 9 I started opening up and sending in the Publisher’s Clearing House letters my parents received! (Hey….a kid can dream)

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I was so convinced that we were going to win that I would sit by the front window for hours and months on end…waiting for that darn  van to pull up and have someone jump out with the balloons, champagne, roses and a giant check! (See Photo…)

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I could get all the items for this day but the check…which I replaced with something I think is far better than money….love.

I picked up the goods and the sweet lady getting the balloons and roses asked me if I was doing employee appreciation gifts….I told her the whole plan and she shared with me that she had lost her daughter 11 years ago to leukemia and it made her happy to see good coming out of sad….i have a feeling we were supposed to meet. Thank you, Christina.

After checking out I recreated a scene from “Up” in the parking lot and maybe got a little excited….

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Then it was off to Lindsey’s house.

When I got there I hit my first snag….15 balloon ribbons all tangled up….sweet baby jesus…i just ripped them off….back to the surprise knock on the door! How did PCH do this so many years 🤔

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Lindsey is my second youngest sister and would be the first victim of love (that’s a good song title…just puttin’ it out there ;D ).

She thought I was dropping off some AWP stuff for her to work on….no sir-ee-bob!

The knock came and the love check/letter was handed over…

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She did not see it coming!

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…And her and her wonderful husband thought they were surprising me (and did), because when I came in they had champagne waiting too , to do a toast for today. They’re amazing.unnamed-4.jpg

Next up, my youngest sister, Sammi…the one whose life I missed out on so much while going through the darkest parts of my grief in the first few years after Michael’s death. The one I had a few more important things to share.

She thought I was dropping off cookies I baked (which should have been the first clue of a surprise to come since I’m not a baker).

As I drove over the perfect song came on…unnamed-6.jpg

When I got to Sam’s house she was out in the front yard….just like in the PCH commercials….

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Ok…maybe she didn’t faint, but I think it was a surprise and it was one of the letters I had the hardest time writing aka I cried a lot and hoped she felt the love.unnamed-7.jpg

Off to my last sister’s house. Kenzi was prepping the house for Christmas eve and answered the door in shock…being the oldest sister we always knocked heads….but I let her know just how amazing she truly is to me.

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Her smile and my other sister’s smiles made my year…I love them so much and am very lucky to have them love me back.

Last but not least were my parents, who were out at dinner but came home to this little setup:

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All in all….it was the perfect day.

I’m guilty of going through life supporting and helping and sharing love with people I barely know (if i know them at all)…and it has brought me so much happiness, healing and joy… but I did so just telling the people I love the most “I love you.” without ever really letting them know in all the ways, and without sharing the memories that have had the deepest imprint on my heart….

I’ve done it….and I never will fear that they didn’t know… nor will there be a second where I think “I wish I would have told them…..” and that is the greatest act of intentional kindness that I know how to give…and that is love…and that is family….and that is eternal.

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You can’t cross the sea merely by standing and staring at the water. -Rabindranath Tagore

 

Tomorrow I leave for a 12 day buddhist pilgrimage on the small Japanese island of Shikoku.

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I have no earthly idea how I was led to do this, how I’m going to get around on an island of non-english speakers (and my small knowledge of Japanese language…..other than that which I owe to 80s music ….case in point:

Thanks, guys….wait…I mean domo arigato 😉 )

Add to that a forest of pit vipers, wild boars, signs I may not be able to read to get to my next village and poisonous centipedes…and I’m kind of feeling like Indiana Jones, but the indiana jones that didn’t like snakes and found himself in interesting situations:

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But man…I am pumped!

Yes, maybe at times I’ve worried about trying to figure out how to use the japanese baths  (luckily I found this jewel): bath_small.jpg

 

And I was worried about what to pack ( but found out I’ll be sporting this amazing and symbolic ohenro-san apparel….where every item has a very deep and spiritual meaning. “It is said that white is worn because long ago some pilgrims would collapse from the physical exertion and die during the pilgrimage, and the white robes could serve as their burial clothes”….two birds, one stone…respect):衣装.jpg

 

I’ve had the great gift and capability of being able to travel to many places and this will be my second pilgrimage (with the first being the Camino de Santiago I did at the one year mark of Michael’s passing) and if there was anything that I learned that time around, it was that everything would be okay if I trusted the path. That was very difficult one year after Michael died, as it was hard to believe that anything happened for a reason, but nine years later, years into trusting my “path”, I look forward to challenging myself even more….mentally, spiritually and physically. As it’s been said about the Henro:

What is important is not the destination,
but the act of getting there.
The Path itself is the goal.

Buddhism has also played a role in my life after loss and I love the idea that On the way of the 88 Temples, anyone that you meet, anyone that you hear, anyone that you see; they are all manifestations of Buddha. Learn from their strengths and reform your own shortcomings.….so listen and learn and honor them…..I think that’s a goal to embody in everyday life.

 

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INSERT YOURSELF HERE…you look great in orange too!

There are many “seas” in this inner world we each hold within…and I have stood upon many shores looking out at what seemed like an endless abyss..

An abyss that your mind tells you you can not survive and that tries to freak you out (like these signs on the Henro Pilgrimage: )

 

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Not sure what’s going on here…but the snake looks pretty friendly…and has nice hair 😉

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Pumba does not look happy!

…but I have crossed them, because my heart always said it would be worth it…and it wasn’t lying.(What the heart forgot to mention is once you cross that first ocean, you open the door to looking through the binoculars to see there are many more seas out there waiting for you if you are willing to look deeper…not on the beach, but in the current, the unknown, life.)

 

So yes, I am a bit nervous and have no clue that will come my way,but THAT IS LIFE and  and  I’m ready to keep on living’ it!

 

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Lots of love- Taryn

What it holds….

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I’m not one for resolutions, but I am one for honesty and accountability…

And what better accountability than words I can go back to.


 

2015 was insane.

In all truthfulness, it was the year I questioned life more than ever (even more than after Michael was killed in Iraq….and boy….did I question a lot after that).

Seeing the things that I saw in the poverty ridden areas.

Seeing the things within my heart and mind that were tested, uprooted and resurfaced.

Seeing the lack of understanding and gratitude for life.

Seeing that the more that I learned the less that everything made sense….

 

It did a doozy on me (<—is it did? or played? or had? Is doozy even the right word?anyways…).

 

And with that doozy I spent the latter part of 2015 trying to realize what I wanted/felt called to do with the experiences, teachings and life that I have experienced thus far. I blowed it into the wind to be answered by those forces unseen.

 

Now there may be that question, “What about the AWP?!”

 

Slow your roll 🙂 The AWP has been my heart and soul for nearly 9 years, but once I returned I saw the other beautiful hearts, love and sweat being put into it by my team…and saw that they had taken it to another level where my involvement up front was not where it any longer needed to be. And I think that’s the hope of any founder….to see that the mission and services can live on, expand, and flourish in your not always involved presence.

At the core of the AWP, my hope has always been to have a place of healing that was built and brought upon by those who knew the darkest depths of pain and loss. Even more so, I wanted others to see that we heal by helping, holding and honoring those around us. The AWP is me, my fellow widows, our heroes and supporters. The AWP is life, perseverance, survival and hope personified. The AWP is so much, but above all it is love.

I remembered….Michael was not only a soldier…. he was not just a man, a boy, a husband, a friend, a dreamer, a lover of math and learning. He was not just someone who wanted to become an ocean engineer, then maybe a nomad, then onto a father and who knows what else. He understood that life has many roles, and the biggest one he played after he died. He played the role of letting me know (and share with others) that LOVE heals everything…. A torn heart, a lost soul, a war-torn place.

And with that reminder I know that I am not only a widow, wife, Founder, daughter, girlfriend, hippie, learner, lover, lunatic, executive director, female, traveler, etc, etc. Those are labels that I do not hold onto or glue to stay in place.

I am at my core, someone that wants others to remember the power that they each hold when they can be vulnerable, compassionate, forgiving and loving……to themselves. Because that is the first place where any magic starts.

And with that simple (yet complex and kind of “free love” on many fronts) it happened….

The soul whispered. 

The calling happened.

The “Here’s what you’re going to do with the stories, life and learnings you’ve accumulated, struggled over, succeeded at and simply lived”

And so I venture out into it with my role at the AWP still here, but with this seed planted to what my heart is calling me to do, like it did with the AWP….

To do what I’ve always seemed to do.

To do what I’ve done on this blog for almost 9 years.

TO look within. To invite others to do it with me. And by doing so start the ripple effect our world so needs in seeing that there is light at the end, middle and beginning of any tunnel we are traveling through. 

To know that where we are is the perfect starting point.

To live wildly in the great unknown.

And I’m excited. And I feel alive.

And that’s al I could ask to feel in life.

So here goes 2016……

(you can learn about it all here).

 

10

The relationship you have with the world is just like any other relationship. Every now and again, even if it’s pissed you off for no good reason, you have to look it in the eyes and say: I love you.

10 years ago I married a man, who I met as a boy, who died as a hero.

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As I’ve stated before, the day Michael was killed in Iraq wasn’t the toughest. I don’t define his life by his death.

But our wedding anniversary, now that was a tough one. Although I didn’t define his life by his death, I did define it by the love he showed me and countless others…and struggled in the first few years on how to handle this day.

In the past, I’ve done random acts of kindness which changed the “sails” in observing such an occasion, but I awoke at 6 am this morning thinking about what else I could do that honors such a love from such a soul in a way authentic to us both.

Giving a random stranger a bouquet of flowers or a gift card or a hug had worked in the past, but I wanted to kick it up a notch.

I wanted people to be reminded of how great they are, the same way that Michael had reminded me (before and after death).

He saw the best in me when I couldn’t and has been the inspiration behind some of the biggest leaps I’ve taken in life.

He showed me that anything was possible and that life is too short to forget that fact.

Reminiscing on his encouragement and love, I created these notes:

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But not only that, I wanted to make sure that whoever I gave these notes too could give something to someone else to brighten their day….and if their is anything that I’ve learned it’s that a joy shared is a joy tripled….and I set the goal to know that their would be at least a 10 person trickle of happiness and love).

As they printed out, I stepped outside to see a dense fog and smiled….I knew that like my life since his passing, the fog would lift and today would be magical (and it did not disappoint).

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I should have prefaced this with the fact that I also woke up with the nastiest cold known to man….I’m talking bad bad….so it took me a while to get out the door (and lots of Afrin and DayQuil), but I typed up a gameplay of locations and goals and set out

 

Locale # 1 Ross…

unnamed-9I love Ross. It’s super affordable, everyone that works there is so nice, and I never get weird glances for buying that $1 item that may or may not have a hole/be expired/explode 😉

I was warming up, had this shirt on…and was ready to remind people of their awesomeness!unnamed-3

I went up and asked to buy two gift cards. The girl, who looked like she may have the same cold, told me about how busy it was and pointed out the Christmas Decorated gift cards she thought I may like. When she handed them over with the receipt I pulled out my handy folder of notes, paperclipped the gift cards, asked her to give them to two families who she thought may need a little brightening, then presented her with a monetary donation for her good deeds 🙂

She didn’t know what to do! But said “Thank you!” and later went on to post this on Instagram under the hashtag (#swwr (someone who was reminded)). I read it when I got home and did a happy dance.

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Next stop, Salvation Army. But in between the drive the good tunes were a flowing, like Michael had become the DJ….case in point:

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#2- Now I love Ross….but do I LOVE Salvation Army. My whole wardrobe is from there and they basically know me by name!

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They don’t do Gift Cards, so I just put 3 money cards together, found a great sweater for $3 and headed to checkout. I handed the lady one for herself and two others to give to the next two customers.

She was stunned. Like really, stunned….She called her manager over to see if it was ok and he said he’d never had it happen (which needs to change) and told her it was ok. She got the biggest smile on her face and just kept saying “bless you.”…..she was the one that blessed me!

Next stop (#3), another favorite, Alamo Drafthouse cinema.

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I nice pink-haired dude who worked at the counter started chatting with me about “Star Wars” which led to me talking about “Creed” (which everyone should see) and then on to the disappointment that was “Mockingjay”. Finally I got to the part of asking to buy 3 gift cards, which I then asked if I could put him on a mission to distribute them out to those needed some extra cheer. Mission accepted and I gave him a little gift too for his work.

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At this point the cold medicine is waring off, my eyes are getting glazed over, but love conquers all…..even evil colds!

What it didn’t conquer was my full bladder…..so the plans changed and I ended up in a nearby Marshall’s (Ross’ Big Brother). I’m fading fast but use my restroom break to spread some love (sorry, should have dried the counters but I was in a hurry to get out before anyone saw me).

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Afterwards, I headed up to see a young girl asking if she could take a break (her shift ended at 1am) after she rung me up….score!

I asked how she was feeling, chit chatted, paid the amount then handed her this note with a little treat. Her reaction:

“What!!!???? What!!???” really loud and I just strolled out, kind of like this (minus Antonio), but with joy exploding in the background.3ffd9ae95e40650d79eaed6889dee844.gif

On the way through the parking lot I placed the notes on random cars and finally headed home to write this update before the anniversary ends.

 

The day ended with me knowing that I brightened a couple of people’s day, but from those few people that I interacted with, they brightened twice if not quadruple the amount of people….and that is what Michael’s life and love did.

Michael’s love is a light in my world, but from that love he has touched so many more others…and that is what I choose to remember today, and everyday.

Eviction

“Most people think happiness is about gaining something, but it’s not. It’s all about getting rid of the darkness you’ve accumulated.”

Darkness comes in many forms.

In the form of grief, depression, loss, regret…

but we forget about the other kind.

The kind of darkness that squats in our soul because our fear, insecurity, doubt and ego has invited it in.

So if happiness is that Sheriff that serves the eviction notice to darkness, it is our awareness of this happiness, that sees it out the door.

The issue so many face though, is recognizing the joy and love that “knocks” daily on the “doors” of these unnecessary guests that have over-stayed their welcome.

So listen….

Listen in that morning kiss from your lover.

Listen in the patter of dog paws on the hardwood floor.

Listen in the exchanged smiles with a stranger.

Listen in that sip of wine and bite of chocolate cake.

And in listening….bid farewell to the darkness within.