Saturday, January 5, 2013

2012 Reflections

Usually I write and post this annual blog at the very end of each year, but unfortunately my computer has been dead and I didn't get a chance to at the end of 2012! I am definitely behind (nearly a week!) but it's never to late to sit down and write. I love reflecting on my year so I'm really looking forward to writing my 2012 Year in Review =)

I feel like every time I start my annual reminiscing-about-the-year-post I always want to start out with, “Wow! What a year it’s been!” But I feel like each year since I’ve started doing this it has been quite the year... Whether it’s been moving, getting engaged, getting married, major health problems, or 5 funerals in year, it never ceases to be an exciting year in some way for me. The life of Nikki is always interesting; at least that’s what I’ve been told. Sometimes I think an uninteresting year would suffice ;-)

2012 started out with a lot of optimism for me, believe it or not. I was more determined than ever to make this a great year, despite the newness of being The Riddle Family, minus one. I had a lot of things I wanted to get accomplished; probably a lot more than was possible in just a year. But my hopes were high. I think mostly I just wanted to keep myself busy. I had a mindset from the very beginning of becoming a widow that Spencer died, I did not. I didn’t want to waste a year just because my husband was gone. To me, it was a reason to live my life more than I ever had before and I really wanted to make Spencer proud of me.

Living at home again was a challenge. It was so nice to be around my family, but it was a big adjustment. My family has a different lifestyle than what Spencer and I had and not to mention I had gotten overly used to the city life. Bird City, KS doesn’t have much to offer in the way of entertainment. But I am so glad that I did move home for a while. The whole reason I moved after Spencer died was so that I could take the time to grieve and even begin to heal. I could be in the comforts of my childhood home with family available any time I needed them.

Shortly after moving home I was offered a babysitting position for the cutest 3 year old I know! This was SUCH a blessing due to the fact that I was worried about finding a job at all and making money. I needed to save up so that I could eventually move back out to Utah and also make some trips in between. I had a great time watching Ash.

We played dress up nearly every day, had bubble tea parties, drew on the sidewalk with chalk; played baseball with Andrew; had a lot of fun in the sun, did tons of arts and crafts.....

All of this among countless other things! Every day was an adventure with her and its one that I really miss! During my very last day watching her and her brother, Andrew, I came to work and found this:

A good luck banner, balloons all over the floor, with a homemade card from both of the kids. Brought tears to my eyes! I've never loved a kiddo as much as I started to love Ash!!

I made a couple of trips to Utah during my time in Kansas. There was a point in time where I felt like I needed to face the reality of Spencer’s death. Even though being home was exactly what I needed, I felt like being in Kansas was escaping my reality. It always felt like I was just taking a vacation. The moment I went back to Utah it seemed like Spencer would be there and we’d reunite again. Since I had taken many trips home to Kansas without Spence during school breaks it was understandable that I felt this way. My first trip back to Utah was a lot of fun and exactly what I needed. I spent my time there at the Soderborg’s house thankfully. I had really missed them and it was so nice to spend a week there! I remember my very first trip up to the hospital since Spence died. I went up there to eat lunch with Christine and we even went up to AIM B to visit for a few minutes. At first it wasn’t bad at all. Actually it really just felt like home. I mean think about it… Spence and I were at the hospital for 2 weeks at a time each and every month for the past 2 years, and then I spent the last 3 months of 2011 sitting in an ICU room with him. It became, instead of my 2nd home, my 1st home. I was definitely comfortable there – a feeling that I didn’t at all expect.

But once we went up to AIM B I got exactly what I needed; the reassurance that this place was no longer my home. Christine went to go and visit one of her friends in the hospital and I was out talking with the nurses and aids. After about 5 minutes they had to go about doing their job and I wasn’t sure which patient room Christine went into. I suddenly felt very, very out of place. Just a few months before I would have been able to go back to Spencer’s room. That was really the moment where things changed for me. Spencer wasn't there anymore and he wasn't coming back. I didn't belong at the hospital anymore. That place that we used to call home together was no longer a home for me.

Within the same trip to Utah, I went to visit Spencer's grave at the Orem City Cemetery for the very first time. I was really nervous about visiting. I had never went to visit a grave before and I didn't know what I was supposed to do or how I was supposed to act. If you think of the stereotypical grieving widow you see them dressed all in back, moving slowly, tears streaming down their face as they arrive at the grave site. And then you picture them hunched over the grave, sobbing uncontrollably. You picture them bringing flowers, belongings, pictures or something of the sort to the grave. But I just didn't feel like that was going to be me. 

Upon arriving to the cemetery I realized that it was very peaceful. It was kind of awkward at first, but I just sat down beside his grave. I didn't do much talking, I didn't cry. Instead I took out the sidewalk chalk and drew around his headstone. Writing whatever came to my mind. 

I have visited Spencer's grave a total of 3 times since he passed away and I have realized that I'm just not a huge fan of visiting the cemetery. His physical body may be there, but he isn't. I don't necessarily get much comfort, as some people do, from visiting his grave. It took me awhile to accept that I don't enjoy going to the cemetery. For awhile I felt like I "had" to for some reason. (probably stereotypes). I can't exactly state why I don't like going, but I've come to accept that it's okay if I don't go. I have to remind myself that Spencer isn't there. He's around me. He's everywhere. I don't have to go to the cemetery to talk to him, to seek comfort from him, to be with him. I have moved on enough to be okay with that, and for that I'm thankful.

At the very beginning of 2012 I started working on a website in memory of Spencer and as a way to spread awareness and education about cystic fibrosis. It took a heck of a lot of time and dedication, but the website, launched in April and it was a huge success. I was, and am, very proud of myself for following through with this project. 

During the end of spring and very beginning of summer one of my best friends, Emily, flew from San Diego to spend a week with me -- we had a BLAST! We spent a few days in Colorado visting our good friends Molly and Lauren. Unfortunately Molly was pretty sick and on Dialysis, but it was more of a reason to go and visit her. To keep her company and lift her sprits up a little bit. We made some great memories, and even dedicated a day to honoring Spencer's memory. We ordered a specially made cake (THANK YOU Kim and Jake's Cakes!!!), released balloons, wrote on the sidewalk with chalk, and ate a gigantic pizza. We shared many memories and made many more. 

In May I was extremely honored to be asked to go back to Los Angeles and speak at the annual Starlight Children's Foundation gala! Not only did I get to prepare a short speech, but I presented the humanitarian award to Morrison and Foerster, a law firm in LA that is super supportive of Starlight. I had a blast being back in LA, seeing old and familiar faces, and once again being among and mingling with the celebs of Hollywood. My best friend Emily and her wonderful mom got to accompany me that night and I got to see another friend who I rarely see while I was waiting for the event to take place. The night was a huge success and my speech went so well. Did I mention that it was a HUGE honor?!

Right before my big trip to LA, I drove to Salt Lake City again to see my friends and participate in the Great Strides walk for cystic fibrosis. It was such a great experience but it was hard to be there around other CF families, knowing what they are going through. And it was hard not having Spencer there with me -- but it was more motivation to walk! If anything, I was doing it for Spence and for the many friends that I have who are fighting CF every day. I had a very successful fundraising year for the walk! I got more donations than ever before. If I remember correctly I raised over $400 through donations and by selling t-shirts. Hope to at least match, if not top that number for 2013's fundraising!!

This summer I was also asked to be a backstage mom for a local (Cheyenne County in KS) scholarship program called Young Miss. I participated in this program my Junior year of High School and I had a blast and learned so much! I was so happy to come back as a mom =) My 'daughter' was the pervious years Young Miss and so I helped her help the contestants prepare for their big night! Kaitlin was a blast to mentor and I'm so glad I got to know not only her, but the 4 other girls as well! (well 3 if you consider Steph, as I've known her my entire life.)

In late July I decided that it was time to move back to Utah which was a very difficult decision, but it was one that was for the best. I missed Utah; the beauty, the city, my friends. I realized that I had done all the grieving that I could possibly do in Kansas I hit a stand-still and it was time to continue on my path. I wanted to enter into the next stage and I wanted to feel like I was starting to heal. Upon arriving back in Utah, things literally fell into place more perfectly than I could have ever imagined.

Two friends that I met while Spencer was in the hospital offered me their home up in Ogden while they were away for the summer. This was great and perfect as I had time to look for a good place to live and a decent job that would get me by. Shortly after moving back, I applied for multiple positions at ARUP Laboratories knowing in my heart that this was the perfect position for me. Within a month of applying, interviewing, and a little bit of waiting I was hired! My first "real" job! I now work in the Infections Disease Rapid Testing department at ARUP and it is PERFECT! I absolutely love my job and my co-workers.

A week after getting hired I found a very good place to live -- excellent price and a perfect location. Right next to research park, only 3-5 minutes away from where I work! It's a cute little condo.

I live with 2 roommates, who are sisters, and they are super nice. It's really hard living with roommates, but I'm slowly adjusting and trying to accept another persons life style.

After moving back to Utah, between working and sleeping, I tried my best to hang out with friends more and get out and do things. I went to three different concerts and they were so much fun!! The first one was A Capella Stock -- the second year that I went. The groups that performed were AMAZING! I just love the sounds of the human voice, no instruments.

The second one I went to was The Piano Guys concert at Red Butte Gardens and it was amazing! It was a live recording for a PBS show that was aired in December. And if you know me at all, you know how much I LOVE TPG!

I also went to a Train concert with My best friend Christine and Grace. The energy was great and we had such a blast together!

As 2012 wound down I sure didn't! During the first big snow of the year, [over a foot] I had my nieces over for a cookie decorating party. Man those girls are wild, but I had so much fun with them. It's so important to me that I stay a part of their lives and it was a great bonding opportunity. We decorated cookies, played out in the snow, drew their Uncle Michael pictures to send to him on his mission, had hot chocolate, and watched a movie! I think I gave them a sugar high and I'm shocked they didn't throw up from it all. I'm sure they crashed well that night ;-)

Even though 2012 seemed to be a fairly good year for me, it definitely wasn't all rainbows and butterflies, so to speak. I had a lot of rough moments and a lot of expected and unexpected challenges that were thrown my way.

First of all I had to face, for the very first time, all of the significant dates and holidays since Spencer passed -- Spencer's birthday, our anniversary, the anniversary of his death, and more. I handled them with a lot of grace and I tried to honor his memory the very best that I could. They were still difficult, but I got through them with the love of family and friends. Spencer's birthday was a good memory for me. I spent it with my sister after I got off work. We went to the store and picked up a big chocolate cake, kit-kats, skittles, and balloons. We had a balloon release for him, shared memories, and ate a great cake!

Another challenge I faced was loosing 3 more very important people in my life which marked 5 significant losses in one year -- too much for anyone to have to bare. On February 11th, my Grandma Johnson passed away. That was a pretty tough one because it was on the 2 month mark, to the day, of Spencer's passing. (As if the 11th couldn't suck more!!). I then lost my Grandpa Sanders and my Mother-In-Law within one day of each other. I volunteered and had the great honor of writing and presenting my grandpas Eulogy. I got to learn a lot about his life that I didn't previously know -- he was an incredible and very accomplished man. My mother-in-laws funeral was on the same day as my grandpas and so I wasn't able to attend which definitely hurt. But I was able to speak to her over the phone before she passed away and I wrote her a detailed letter telling her all the things I needed to say to her. I was told it brought her to tears. I miss them all so very much.

Loosing so many people in a year presented a huge problem with my grieving. It was hard to grieve one person, let alone 5. I will be on this journey of grief for a very, very long time; and really for the rest of my life. I am starting to notice feelings of grief, for the first time since their deaths, for my MIL and my grandparents. I notice their absence in my life. As the grief for Spencer gets less, the grief for them intensifies. But it's a feeling I am now familiar with and am having an easier time coping with.

When 2012 came to a close I was blind sighted by December coming so quickly. December was a terribly hard month for me, one of the hardest I have had. The anticipation of Spencer's angelversary and the holidays without him was getting the best of me. I had many moments where I just didn't know what to do myself and desperately didn't want to be in my shoes.

But on December 11th I felt a huge brick taken off of my shoulders by the end of the night. We had a wonderful celebration of life for Spencer and it was perfect. Friends and family gathered at his childhood home. We looked through pictures and cards, shared countless memories, signed ornaments in memory of him, listened to They Might Be Giants all night, ate great food, had a balloon release, and watched the video that George put together with all of the pictures of Spencer growing up and into adulthood. It was a beautiful night filled with so much love.

Honestly, when December hit I was terribly depressed about the way that my year had turned out. I didn’t feel like I accomplished enough. I felt like I had SO much left that I wanted and/or needed to get done before 2012 ended and 2013 began. I had the overwhelming feeling that it was as if I didn’t get these things done the moment this year was over, I would have failed in some way, whether that be failing myself, my friends, my family, or Spencer. For some reason I felt like this year had been a waste. I felt empty. I had never ended a year with this feeling before and it bothered me a great deal. So I do what I always do, I spent days talking about it and reflecting about it over and over again. Obviously  as you can see from this ridiculously long blog post, I have had a HUGE year, full of memories, and so many fun things. I have done so, so much in such short amount of time. There is no way that this year was lacking in accomplishments, especially if you consider what I've lost. But I finally came to the conclusion that the reason I felt this way was because I was missing the biggest part of me -- Spencer. He still has that piece of my heart and he always will. Thankfully this feeling subsided about a week after his angelversary, and it's now completely gone after writing this blog post reflecting upon my busy year!

Within the last two weeks of December I was able to go home and visit my family and friends. I had a wonderful Christmas with my family and spent a lot of great quality time with my best friend from High school, Jay. You know you have a true friend when you've been able to keep a close bond through 1 year of Jr. High, 4 years of high school, and 3.5 years being separated during college along with all of the little arguments and things that have come up in between! =) I'm thankful for a friend like him and I really value what we have.

Unfortunately I had to work on Christmas, and even more unfortunately I had to walk to work on Christmas due to the battery on my car being dead (It was freeezing!!!), but I was able to ring in the new year with a co-worker and new friend, Mary. We went to Village Inn together, had a great meal, laughed a whole bunch, and rang in the new year there. Shortly after midnight hit we were both overly ready to head home and go to bed.

All-in-All 2012 was a very successful and busy year!!! I learned A LOT about myself and so many life lessons within the year. It was jam packed with new memories, experiences, and emotions. I just hope that 2013 can match it, or even top it! I'm sure ready, so bring it on =)

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