Saturday, December 24, 2016

Breathe, Balance, and Joy

I'm at my parents' house for the holidays. The change of scenery has been good, especially now when it's hard to not think about what was happening at this time last year. I've been spending lots of time with family and old friends. I've already seen 22 children--cousins' kids, niece and nephews, friends' kids. So many kids!

It's been pouring rain pretty much every day in Southern California, but today the sun is finally out and I took a walk in my parents' backyard. Where Greg and I were married.

This song popped in my head:

Greg used this song when he proposed to me. I haven't listened to it in a while. The lyrics have taken on a different meaning.

So many memories. It's hard to believe it's been a year since he was taken from me.

I do hope he's a peace and not haunting me. I've been at peace myself, overall. No magical thinking for me--at least, not after the first few months.

Here are a few things I'd like to share, ways I've been able to honor Greg this past year.

On what would have been our wedding anniversary, I got a tattoo in his honor:

If you notice the necklace I'm wearing, it was a gift from my friend Rose. It's a necklace in the shape of Iowa, with the geographic coordinates of where Greg is buried.

It was such a touching gift, and I wear the necklace almost every day.

Speaking of touching gifts, my company, Hachette Book Group, who has been so supportive, gave me the gift of a paving stone in Central Park, where Greg and I were engaged, and spent a lot of time together going on walks during the summer he was first getting chemo.

It's on one of the bridges to the reservoir, around 85th Street on the East side. Go see it if you're in Central Park.

As I mentioned in a previous post, I decided to have Greg's ties made into a bereavement quilt. He had a lot of ties! He wore them to teach.

I found Rosie Rhine online, and will say that she does beautiful work:

I'm going to hang it in my new condo. (Did I mention I'm a homeowner now?!)
Right after my closing with my keys!
moving in

Oh, and I ran the NYC marathon! I do still intend to blog about it (I got a little derailed by the election results--more grieving!), but for now, here are a few photos:

Alvina's Team for Greg raised over $26,000 for cancer research! Thank you to all who donated.

Alvina's Team for Greg! Clockwise from left: Kate, Ellen, Kirk, Jackson, Frank, and me.

photo by Mariko Nakatani
(By the way, I'm considering running again next year, so let me know if you're interested in joining my team!)

It's been a challenging, but rewarding, and amazing year. A year filled with lots of tears, and laughter, a few breakdowns, incredible stress, work challenges and triumphs, therapy, new friends, old friends, family, travel, great food and drink, adventure, and love. Despite everything, I do feel that I have a blessed life. I wish Greg were still here to share it with me, but I know he's rooting for me.

When I packed and unpacked, I did unearth many more memories of Greg. He used to leave me notes everywhere. Here is one of my favorites:

My mantras this year were imprinted on my rings. Breathe, Balance, and Joy.

I've ordered three new rings for next year. New year, new mantra.

Wishing you all a happy holiday season, and a peaceful and joyful new year.

Friday, November 25, 2016

Happy Thanksgiving

I'm thankful for friends and family, for warm memories, new beginnings, and love.

I'm thankful that I'm not just surviving the year, but living.

I'm thankful for travel, good food, good drink, laughter, tears, and conversation.

I'm thankful for sleep, and thoughts, and dreams.

I'm thankful for health and running. Of running with friends, of running with strangers cheering me on.

I'm thankful that there's good in the world to battle the evil. Thankful for hope. For action, for activism.

I'm thankful for the beauty of nature. For the sky.

I'm thankful for music. And karaoke.

I'm thankful for gelato, and pasta, and aperol spritzers.

I'm thankful for the children's book community--the books, the people, the readers.

I'm thankful for my beautiful new home (even though the heat isn't working properly right now!), and my old(ish), furry cat.

I'm thankful for the kindness of strangers, of acquaintances, of colleagues, of friends, of loved ones.

I'm thankful for all of you!

Sunday, July 10, 2016

Ode to long-distance running

I did a 10.75 mile run this weekend--was only ("only") planning to run 10 miles, but ended up running farther to finish up the Prospect Park loop--because, you know, I couldn't not finish the loop. So much of long-distance running is a mental game (although, of course, training helps)!

My run started off sluggish, but after a few miles I was feeling really great--the weather on Saturday was unusually cool and Fall-like in New York, and I was getting that runner's high feeling that I could run faster, and run forever. And, I started feeling really happy and grateful that I brought long-distance running back into my life. I talk about marathon training and running sometimes when I speak at writer's conferences. About how one of the things that's most satisfying about running is that it's perfectly measurable. I ran 10.75 miles this weekend. I ran it with an average of a 10 minute, 20 second mile. Those are accomplishments that can't be taken away. Writing a book, even if it's never published, is also that kind of accomplishment.

Long-distance running--really, any kind of running--helps me think and get my head sorted. I generally like listening to podcasts when I run, but I often just let myself think. Sometimes I do work while running--draft emails in my head, think through problems. But, usually I just think about my life.

I prefer running outside with nature. Try to take in my surroundings. I love the solid feel of the ground under my feet. Sometimes I people watch while I run. There's always a lot going on in Prospect Park. Plus, I love looking at the sky.
A scene from an evening run in Prospect Park
When I ran the marathon ten years ago, I was actually in the process of going through a break-up. Running after (and during!) break-ups have always helped me put things in perspective (and, let's be honest, get back into dating shape!). And, believe me, I had a lot of time to think about things and the relationship while running the marathon. It gave me the peace and clarity to know that even though it would be painful, I would get through it. And, I did. There's nothing like running 26.2 miles to help you believe that you can accomplish anything, survive anything.

Training for the marathon this year has helped give me that same peace and clarity after Greg's death. Once again, I know I can get through it. I can do anything. It also gives me time to be alone without feeling lonely. I'm so glad I decided to run the marathon again this year, both to help raise money for cancer research, and for my physical and mental health.

I had a good weekend. Didn't do any work (although I could/should have), but had nice dinners with friends Friday and Saturday evenings, binge-watched some Mr. Robot, and spent a marvelous day today at the beach. Beautiful, peaceful, lovely. I swam in the ocean twice, and it felt exquisite--I honestly don't recall the last time I swam in the ocean, but I should really do it more often.

I hope you all had nice weekends, too.

Saturday, July 02, 2016

Six months, random email drafts

Since I've started writing on this blog again, it felt odd to not acknowledge that it's now been over six months since Greg died. I was at ALA for the actual day (June 25), which was a suitable distraction (and a great time overall). It helped that Grace Lin was there with me, for sure! And, Grace surprised me at our Middle Grade luncheon by telling everyone the story of our friendship, talking about how we had both lost our husbands to sarcoma, and announcing that she had dedicated When the Sea Turned to Silver to me, and had gotten the help of Little, Brown to keep it a secret from me, until then! Tears! And, Grace had solicited the help of Colby Sharp to record it all for the Yarn podcast, so stay tuned:

Six months. After Greg died, getting to six months was my goal. If I could make it to six months, I would feel myself again, start really living again. Of course, I know that's not how grief works. No doubt I'll have ups and downs and setbacks forever. But, for the record, I do feel like me again, and I've been living life this whole year.

On occasion (okay, more than I'd care to admit), I look back at old emails from Greg. Which reminds me of this article a friend shared with me on Facebook after my last blog post.

Here's a silly email Greg had sent me around the time Kobe Bryant had announced his retirement from basketball with a poem. Of course Greg had to write a poem, too.

I wrote a poem for you.  It is titled "Love."

L.  Without this letter, I could not spell the word "love." Or the word "Alina."
O. Like a circle, this letter makes a complete circle. 
V. Add this letter to "Alina" and you get "Alvina."  Or "Valina."  Or a range of things. 
E.  "Love" spelled backwards is "Evol," which begins with the letter "E." 
*Inspired by Kobe Bryant
Gosh, this made me laugh.

The other day, I was also looking at my old email drafts. Sometimes I use email drafts as a type of journal, but I don't often go back and look. Here are a few I discovered that felt worth sharing:
Date: 8/29/13
Subject: No subject
What I'm terrified of is that I'll never get the healthy Greg back, I'll never see the man I married again, the man I went on that first date with. I love him so much, and although for the most part I can remain optimistic, that it's hard for me to fathom him dying any time soon, in the back of my mind I know that it might happen, and part of me is preparing myself for that, too. How will I cope by myself, where will I live, what will I do. Who will I hang out with. Will I have a child by myself? Will I ever find someone new?
But no...I will have a long, beautiful life with Greg. He will get stronger and stronger, and the cancer will stay away. Maybe it will come back 10 years from now, maybe something else will happen years from now, but for now, we'll get back to our normal life. We will start trying to have a baby. We will live.
I don't know where I was when I wrote this. Possibly while Greg was getting his last round of chemo, when his body was still recovering from surgery, when he was very ill and very weak. Or maybe while I was waiting for him to get scanned. It does reflect my general philosophy of hoping for the best but preparing for the worst. And, well, now I know where I will live, what I will do, who I will hang out with. Still to be determined: whether I will have a child by myself, or if I'll ever find someone new (although I have hope!).

Date: 9/12/13
Subject: No subject
Waiting with Greg in the room, waiting for Dr. Maki to come in after he reviewed the scans. I was imagining how he would break the news to us. Would he tell us immediately? Of course he would, this wasn't a competition reality show like I've been watching so many of--American Idol where they draw everything out excruciatingly. "I have bad news...I'm really sorry to have to tell you this...but you're not going to have to see me again for another four months...because the scan is clear!" 
This was on the day we found out Greg's scans were clean after he completed chemo. And, Dr, Maki told us the good news right away, of course. 

I'm remembering that this was also the day I found out that my friend James had died.

Date: 1/20/14 
Subject: Greg's obituary 
The cause of death was death. He died, unfortunately, after a long battle with death.

I don't remember why I wrote it. This was about ten days after we discovered that the cancer had recurred, so death was on my mind. Or, it could have been because Greg told me to write it down, that that's all he wanted his obituary to much for that. I have to stop feeling that I've somehow let Greg down in how I've handled things after his death, how I'm living now. I know he wouldn't want me to feel that way--he even told me that before he died. But, of course, part of me can't stop overthinking things. 

It's a long weekend, and I'm sticking close to home, trying to recuperate from my crazy few months. I've been feeling a little more pensive and melancholy lately, but I'll be okay. Life is full of ups and downs. The mortgage to my condo is still chugging along--the condo has some paperwork to file still, but I'm hoping to be able to close this month (how is it July already?) or next month. I'm excited (and nervous) to move and start a new chapter of my life.

Monday, May 30, 2016

Random update/musings

It's been a while since I've posted. I'm losing count of how long it's been since Greg died, which I sometimes take as somewhat of a good sign. It's been just over five months (who am I kidding, I haven't really lost count). And how am I doing?

I think I've been too busy lately. Traveling a bunch (Bologna Book Fair, Sedona and Grand Canyon vacation, was in Chicago for Book Expo America a few weeks ago, and am in Pittsburgh right now for three nights. Am doing the NJ SCBWI conference next weekend, then off to Orlando for ALA later in June, then California for the LA SCBWI Annual conference at the end of July/beginning of August), busy editing some late books, juggling creative and administrative work, and trying to wade through my 1,700-and-growing-work-email inbox. (Apologies to agents, authors, and coworkers for whom I've become a black hole. I'm hoping it's temporary.)

I've started training for the marathon in a less-haphazard way as before. Trying to do some long runs on the weekends. Ran my second ten-mile run of the month yesterday, and felt great doing it. I'm running a half marathon on June 18.

I've been going out almost every night--work events and hanging out with friends. Seeing plays (Eclipsed was particularly excellent). I'm in Pittsburgh right now hanging out with friends, and am seeing a Beyonce concert tomorrow night. #Lemonade!

More huge news: I sent in my contract and deposit on a new condo that I'm in the process of buying. Feeling excited thinking about starting a fresh, new life there, but also really sad that I'm doing it alone, without Greg. (Thank goodness for my cat, at least.)

This post perfectly captures this push and pull of emotions I've been having recently:

And still, running underneath all of that is such a deep, pervasive sadness. Knowing that the work I do now is happening only because my love died. Knowing that the people I’m meeting now, the friendships and professional relationships I’m building, are happening only because he died. If he were here, other beautiful things would be happening. If he were here, my life would be so different.

I can't help but wonder all the time, What Would Greg Do? What Would Greg Think? Would he approve of my choice for a new condo? Would he worry about me living there alone? I get particularly pensive when I travel, because I become hyper-aware of the circumstances under which I've been able to travel again.

I've been thinking about starting to date again, too, and it feels daunting and scary (but also a little exciting). After Greg died, I set an alarm on my phone for six months--June 25. "You will love and be loved again." Greg had told me that he assumed I would be "broken up" for about six months after he died. Once again, I'm thankful that Greg was clear to me about his expectations--I don't have to worry/think too hard about What Greg would want, what he would think. In some things, I know, and that gives me a little bit of peace.

Tuesday, April 19, 2016


When Greg was in the hospital, and was fairly sure he was dying, he made all kinds of preparations, including writing down for me exactly what he wanted on his gravestone, and where he wanted to be buried.

Yesterday, I was sent this photo:

The subject line just said "Stone" and I opened it without thinking, and there it was. I knew it was coming--after all, I had chosen the stone and seen a proof of what it would look like back in January. I knew it would take some time to make, and wouldn't be placed until Spring, after the ground thawed. Still--it was unexpected, and I probably shouldn't have opened the email at work.

But, it's beautiful. And I'm at peace knowing that this is what Greg wanted. And as several friends have told me, it's such a testament to our love. It's just so surreal and sobering thinking that his body is buried underneath there.

Someday I'll travel out to Iowa to see it in person.

Spring has arrived in New York. The weather has been absolutely gorgeous. I've been going on runs and long walks. Surrounding myself with friends and family. I've been apartment hunting (looking to potentially buy a place). I've been traveling for pleasure (Sedona and the Grand Canyon) and for work (the Bologna Book Fair in Italy). My life is good. But, of course, I miss Greg every day.

Sunday, March 06, 2016

I'm running the marathon! (again)

As some of you know, I've decided to run the NYC Marathon again this year, in memory of my husband Greg.

I last ran the marathon 10 years ago, in 2006, in honor of my friend Grace Lin's now-late husband Robert. Hard to believe it's been 10 years!

Once again, I'm running with Fred's Team to raise money for Memorial Sloan Kettering cancer research.

I hope you'll consider donating here:

I know so many of you (friends, acquaintances, and even strangers) have already generously donated to Mt. Sinai or the Sarcoma Foundation--and I thank you! Even if you've already donated, I hope you'll consider donating an additional $26.20, in honor of the 26.2 miles I am my teammates are planning to run! Greg was in the care of MSK for the last 9 months or so of his life, and they're making great strides towards finding a cure for cancer.

This time, I've formed a Team, called "Alvina's Team for Greg", and a few friends have already signed up to join me. If you're a runner (or even if you're not), and you've had any desire at all to run the NYC Marathon, you should run with us! Joining Fred's Team gives you automatic entry into the marathon (there's a minimum fundraising requirement of $3,500). They do have a limited number of slots, which tend to fill up in the summer, so if you're interested in joining, you should do so in the next few months!

You can join via the Team page.
(If you would like to join the team, let me know and I'll give you the password to join.)

Thank you, all. I hope you'll consider donating, running with me, or just cheering me on! And if you are so moved, feel free to help me spread the news.

Tuesday, February 23, 2016

Zuangzi's wife, and blogging.

I just found an email Greg sent me last October. The email was just a link to a blog post about his favorite Chinese Philosopher, Zhuangzi (spelled Chuang Tzu in the blog post). I'm sure I skimmed the story at the time, but Greg was always sending me emails with links and articles, and I didn't always absorb everything he sent.

Anyway, read the story in the link, but here's the gist: Zhuangzi's wife had died, and everyone was in mourning. Zhuangzi's friend Huizi went to visit to offer his condolences.
Huizi arrived at Chuang Tzu's home. There he saw his old friend, sitting outside, banging on a drum and singing as loudly as possible. 
“I expected to find you in mourning”, said Huizi. “You loved her for decades. She raised your children, and you grew old together; but here you are, a smile on your face, banging on a drum and singing at the top of your lungs. Don't you think this is a bit much?” 
“Not at all”, said Chuang Tzu, still smiling. “I mourned for a short while, but then I realized mourning would defy my own teachings.” 
“People will think you never loved or cared for her” said Huizi, “You must grieve. People need to know how much she meant to you, how fortunate you were to have shared a life with her." 
“Yes, I was lucky” said Chaung Tzu. “I spent most of my life with someone I loved, and she loved me in return. Many men will live their entire lives and never know the joy that I had.” 
Chuang Tzu continued, “That is why I do not mourn.”

Another message from Greg from the great beyond. I'm just so in awe with how thoughtful he was, how much foresight he had, knowing that I would find comfort in his emails after he died.

Of course, I do mourn, but I also celebrate life, and I love that he's giving me permission to move on.


In other news, I've been reading some of my old blog posts. Gosh, I used to be a good blogger! Here's a post about the negativity of mainstream publishing. Here's a post about fearless and cautious kids (and oh my gosh, those kids are 9 now!). Here's a post about judging a book by the beginning (from the Blue Rose Girls blog). And, here's a post encouraging everyone to do something they've never done before. (I'm sad that I can't remember who the friend was who told me that...if it was you, let me know! I may have to do that this year.)

One of my New Year's resolutions was to write in a blog and/or journal more. We'll see if I keep it up!

Saturday, February 20, 2016

How I Mourn, How I Cope

Greg always marveled at what an amazing project manager I am--mainly because of how well I was able to manage the logistics of his illness, all while working a demanding job. Being an editor is basically being a project manager, so I've had a lot of practice! I've realized recently that I've been, in a way, project managing my own mourning. In case this might be helpful to some, here are some of the things that have helped me cope:

-Breathing. Deep breaths.

-Focusing on each and every moment. Instead of going through the motions, I try to focus on each motion, no matter how mundane.

-Keeping busy, especially on the weekends. Friends have been good about reaching out to plan outings, and I've basically been saying yes to everything, but I also don't hesitate to do my own reaching out. When I want/need to schedule my weekends, I do. And it's been great to reconnect with friends I haven't seen for a while.

-Keeping busy, but not TOO busy: leaving myself some time to be alone, to grieve, to cry. And know that it's okay to feel sad. I don't want to avoid my grief. Also, a friend told me her therapist said that intense emotions generally last for 90 seconds and then subside. I haven't actually tested this theory, but it's a good reminder that "This too shall pass."

-Going to a Meet-Up group for widows and widowers under 45. I didn't know what to expect, but it turned out to be really great to connect with others who are going through the same thing.

-Reading. A few friends sent me books on loss (Healing After Loss and How to Survive the Loss of a Love--thank you Caroline and Christine!) and most nights I read a little before bed. 

-Reading blogs and listening to podcasts: I've also been reading some blogs written by widows or widowers. This one in particular. I've also been listening to the "What's Your Grief" podcast, by the women who run the website. Their post about secondary loss was particularly enlightening.

-Writing and journaling. I've always kept a journal, and I've been writing in it a little more often. Blogging a little more, too!

-Exercising. I've decided to run the NYC Marathon again this year, and going for runs in the cold winter air has been wonderful. Lots of walking, too, and I'm taking a Pilates class at work.

-Cleaning and organizing, rearranging the furniture in the apartment, getting new furniture. I've kept photos and other wall-hangings the same, but have rearranged the layout of the living room and bedroom (thank you to Rose, Jason, and Kirk!), which for me helps the apartment feel different and my own, while maintaining the familiarity. I've decluttered quite a bit. I also bought this Lumio lamp I'd been coveting ever since I saw it on Shark Tank years ago. It's a book that opens up into a lamp! It makes me happy.

-Getting massages. In general, taking care of myself.

-Brunch! Dinner! Wine! (see "taking care of myself" above.)

-Focusing on work. It was hard at first, of course--working all day in an office is exhausting! I don't know how anyone does it. But, by the end of my second week, I felt like I was really back. It was familiar, and good to focus.

-Doing small rituals. Another organization I'm in the process of joining (recommended by Gwen) called The Dinner Party sent me this article, and I realized that much of what I've done fits into this. Going through Greg's belongings. Listening to the music he loved. I found a woman who makes beautiful "bereavement quilts" out of ties, and I sent her Greg's many ties to make a wall hanging. I saw this "I have done love" bracelet on Cheryl Strayed's Instagram, and ordered one for myself. I wear it every day. It's from the quote: 
When I get to the end of my life, and I ask one final "What have I done?" Let my answer be: "I have done love." -Jennifer Pastiloff

Okay, that's all I can think of for now. 

It's starting to get light a little earlier--I can feel Spring coming! If you have other advice/techniques for coping and healing that you'd like to share, please do.

Sunday, January 24, 2016

A month

It's been four weeks and two days since my husband died.

I know this year will be full of milestones that I won't be able to help but notice. One day. One week. One month. Tomorrow would have been Greg's 41st birthday.

I'm doing okay. I'm okay. A month feels both so long and so short. It passed in a daze. The pain isn't as raw now, but I still feel a little a bit in a fog, on autopilot, like I'm living someone else's life. Beauty helps a lot--the beauty of nature, the city, flowers, children, music, snow. In the past few years, while dealing with Greg's illness, because I didn't know what kind of future to plan for, I tried to focus on being present, on noticing the beauty of the world, and that habit has helped enormously these past few weeks.

For the most part, I'm doing okay. (Did I say that already?) I'm living a normal(ish) life. I see friends, I'm cleaning and organizing the apartment, I'm cuddling with Venus. I'm able to enjoy food and drink and company, TV and movies and music, I can laugh and sing and dance, and I can sleep. For the most part I can think of Greg without feeling sad. Remember moments and stories, talk about him without crying. And then other times I just feel irritated constantly that this is our my life, that he is gone, and everything makes me feel like crying.

We had a lovely memorial with our friends in our apartment in Brooklyn on New Year's Day. I spent a healing two weeks in southern CA, seeing friends and family and spending lots of time with children. In the middle was Greg's burial with his mother, sister, and extended family in beautiful Iowa. I feel good about his final resting place.

I'm planning to start working again tomorrow--I've completely checked out of work, and I'm thankful that my wonderful colleagues understand. I'll work at home for a few days, and then plan to go into the office for the first time on Wednesday. I can't say I'm ready to go back, but I'm not not ready either. I needed to just set the date, do it, and see how it goes. I think the routine will be good for me.

I wanted to say thank you--thank you to family, my friends, Greg's friends, our friends. Thank you to loved ones, acquaintances, to the publishing and kidlit community, to strangers. Thank you for your comments, your messages, emails, cards, letters, phone calls, donations for cancer research, stories, flowers, gifts, thoughts, prayers, help, and kindness.

Here are a few photos from the last month.

From Greg's copy of The Plague.
me and Grace Lin on New Year's Eve
mom and niece
niece Jessie. Lots of "kid therapy" in CA.
Greg's favorite tractor. In Harlan, Iowa.
me with Greg's mother and sister.

hiking with my dad
Lot of time and love with my niece Shoshana
A snowy night in Brooklyn
This is one of the songs Greg put on my mix that has been especially comforting. "You'll Never Walk Alone" by Gerry & The Pacemakers (and yes, he knew this from football/soccer, but it's still such a beautiful song):