If It Looks Like a Duck – Part Two

Image courtesy of www.123rf.com

Image courtesy of www.123rf.com

A while back (Southern speak for any period of time more than two weeks ago) I wrote a post about having my DNA tested. In that post I mentioned wanting to get my husband’s DNA tested. Well, we did.

All family’s have “legends” – tales about things that may or may not have happened in the past. As is true of most stories, these legends may or may not be based on facts. One of the stories in my husband’s family was that his father was of Native American descent. Some of his dad’s physical characteristics, such as his dark skin and dark hair that only had a few strands of gray at the time of his death, made that story plausible. However, there were no facts to back it up. My husband’s paternal grandfather had abandoned the family when his father was young so there is an entire chunk of their family’s history that is missing.

Following in my husband’s footsteps, the year after he gave me my DNA test kit as a Christmas gift, I gave him one. So, he provided his saliva sample, we shipped it off and waited for the results. Now, where as my results were no big surprise, his were. His results were as follows:

45%  Great Britain

19%  Europe East

17%  Europe West

7%  Ireland/Scotland/Wales

5%  Scandanavia      (I would have never guessed that one!)

The remaining 7% consisted of results from “low confidence regions.” The Ancestry DNA website defines a low confidence region as “areas for which there’s a small amount of DNA evidence found in your sample. All ethnicities with predicted percentages of less than 4.5% appear as low confidence regions.”

Now, when you look at those results you may notice something missing. Yep, no Native American to be found. So much for that family legend. I tease my hubby and tell him that his dark skin and love of the road less traveled may be a result of some previously unknown gypsy blood flowing through his veins. (Romania is one of the many countries that make up the Europe East category.) So, while one mystery was solved, many more remain.

And, for those of you wondering about the accuracy of the tests, my brother-in-law had his DNA tested some time before my husband did. And, with nothing other than their DNA to go by (no identifying information is provided with the saliva), the DNA tests identified my brother-in-law as my husband’s sibling. I call that pretty accurate.

While I find all of this absolutely fascinating, I have been surprised by the number of people completely weirded out by these tests and the possibility of some future misuse of this data. Only time will tell if their fears are well founded. In the meantime, I’ll keep my child-like wonder at the mystery and miracle of genetics and DNA.

But, if you really want to know what weirds me out, it is devices such as Alexa, the Echo, and the Google mini. Big Brother is already watching, I don’t want him listening to everything that goes on in my house. So, while you are welcome to invite the electronic vampire to cross your threshold, I won’t be joining you.

What do you think? Is DNA testing fascinating or the stuff of nightmares?

 

Not So Happy Holidays

How I feel at the thought of putting up our large Christmas tree.

How I feel at the thought of putting up our large Christmas tree.

Once again the holidays are upon us. Here in the States, Thanksgiving is already behind us and Christmas is rapidly approaching. The holidays are an emotional roller coaster at the best of times, even more so for anyone who is grieving.

Grief has many causes, the first that comes to mind for most of us is the loss of a loved one. It can also be the result of many other life changes such as failing health, the loss of a job, moving, divorce, even the death or illness of a much loved pet. All of the firsts after a life-change event are difficult – and not just Christmas. Mother’s Day, Father’s Day, birthdays, and other days with no special names attached come with their own level of pain and adjustment.

But, there is something about Thanksgiving and Christmas that just seems to make everything worse. Maybe it’s the fact that the focus on family and togetherness does nothing except highlight the fact that someone, maybe even more than one someone, is missing from our festivities. The world is filled with bright lights, and excitement and yet sometimes we are on the outside looking in wondering what is wrong with us. Instead of “decking the halls” we want to run and hide and cry.

There are two important things to remember. First, there are no rules to grieving and whatever you are feeling is okay. Second, you can go from fine to sobbing with no real warning and that’s okay too. I am the perfect example of this. I began this post last week and I was in a much different place emotionally at that time. This is my first Christmas without either of my parents. (My daddy passed away last year, and my mama died this year.) Last week I was surprised at how well I seemed to be dealing with the holidays. I knew it would catch up with me at some point and it did – yesterday. My husband and I were getting out our Christmas decorations and I had Christmas music playing in the background. It wasn’t long before I felt like I had a big, achy hole in my chest. My husband held me as I cried. Plain and simple, I miss my parents.

My husband is dealing with his own holiday grief. His father died on Christmas day, 1994. His mother died November 7th of this year. Christmas always brings up memories of his dad and now his mom is gone too. He has been having a hard time today. Fortunately, we have each other and we will help each other through the hard times.

Grieving is kind of like marriage and parenthood – it doesn’t come with an instruction manual. Over the years, we’ve stumbled across a few things that helped us. I’m sharing them now in the hopes that maybe they can help you too.

My father-in-law’s death would have been devastating at any time but Christmas Day? That took things to a whole new level. At the time of his death our sons were young which actually helped. It would have been easy to allow a time of celebration to become a time of mourning but we were determined to keep Christmas normal for our sons and we did. Every year we filled stockings and had visits from Santa Clause and did all of the things we did before death insinuated itself in our lives. In a classic case of fake it til you make it, pretending that everything was okay meant that gradually, it was.

Last year had a new lesson in store for me. My first Thanksgiving and Christmas without my daddy were hard. It didn’t help that daddy’s birthday was also in November. However, in the midst of my grief, I stumbled across something that made things easier: in the middle of a season all about tradition, it’s okay to change things up. We’ve always had the standard seven foot (artificial) Christmas tree and the whole family gathered to decorate it. Last year, I just couldn’t and told my husband so. He thought that after so much sadness it would be good to try to get things back to “normal.” Well, what had always been normal no longer existed and I just didn’t have it in me to pretend. Even though my hubby missed the big tree he supported me in my decision to not use it. Instead, we found a local Boy Scout troop selling Christmas trees made from wooden pallets. It was perfect. Not a single ornament was unboxed and it brought me great peace. And you know what? Much like the Grinch, not having a tree didn’t stop Christmas from coming. It came, and it was good. Yes, there were times of sadness but breaking with tradition made it easier.

Our 2016 Christmas tree. Cat shown for size. (Not)

Our 2016 Christmas tree. Cat shown for size. (Not)

I would have been perfectly content to have continued using the pallet tree indefinitely but the rest of my family missed the big tree so much that I promised them that we would have a “normal” tree this year. Although, I did tell my hubby that I didn’t want to use the big tree again but that I would be willing to put up a smaller one. Little did I know when making that statement that life was going to throw two more deaths at us. Now, none of these deaths were total surprises – both of my parents and my mother-in-law were ninety years old and in failing health. But still, no matter how much warning you do or don’t have, when the end comes, it’s hard.

Just last week I told my husband that I thought one of the reasons the holidays seemed easier than expected was because we moved this year and are living in a different house with no memories of our parents associated with it. I was even okay when I put up the new decorations purchased this year. It wasn’t until we started getting out the “old” decorations that my emotions started getting the best of me. Seriously. I can’t explain why but when my hubby was assembling the Christmas tree, I was so stressed I could hardly breathe. By the next day, I could look at the tree without hyperventilating but I still wasn’t enthused about decorating it. (As for having a smaller tree, I hadn’t been able to find one anywhere. I do have the table top fiber optic tree that my daddy had but my heart isn’t ready to use it yet. I don’t know if it ever will be.)

When our kids came over for a belated Thanksgiving dinner, the plan was to decorate the tree after the meal. However, they weren’t anymore enthused by the idea than I was and once again – that’s okay. They are older with families of their own so, it’s time for that tradition to change. This year the big tree is going back in the box; it will be replaced by the small four foot tree that I finally found. The smaller tree will be decorated simply with a few special ornaments and honestly – I can’t wait. I’m tired of stressing out over putting the garland on the tree “just so” only to have to re-do it every day because the cats “rearranged” it. I am more than ready to simplify.

And that, my friends is the next lesson that I have learned from grieving. It’s okay to not do things the way you have always done them. And you know what? You don’t even have to give a reason. But, if, like me, you feel you must a simple “I just can’t” should suffice.

Our first season of grieving we dealt with by sticking to traditions, the second and now third seasons, we have dealt with by changing things up. Neither decision was“better” than the other, but each one was what we needed at that time.

Don’t have it in you to bake the elaborate dish everyone is expecting you to bring to the office potluck? Don’t. Stop by the grocery store and pick up something premade. Not up to doing that? That’s okay too. People may be disappointed but they’ll survive. You take care of you.

Do you have any tips for getting through the holidays? If so, I’d love to hear them, just put them in the Comments so others can see them as well.

If you need someone to talk to, I’m here. I’m no counselor but I have tissues, chocolate, and a shoulder to cry on if needed. You can always reach me by leaving a comment or by emailing me at Isabella.Norse@gmail.com. We can get through this season together.

Here’s Your Sign

Image courtesy of www.123rf.com

Image courtesy of www.123rf.com

I’m not a superstitious person and, for the most part, I don’t believe in signs and portents. However, occasionally things happen that I take as sort of a divine indicator saying “Hey, that thing you’re worrying about? It’s going to be okay.” There are three times that come to mind: the purchase of our second house, the time I was admitted to the hospital during my second pregnancy with a condition that could have easily caused a miscarriage, and the purchase of our new house. For the purpose of this post, I’m going to stick to the houses and save the pregnancy problems for another time.

When our boys were 8 and 10 we decided it was time to move. Four people sharing a house that was less than one thousand square feet in size and which sported only one bathroom was getting a bit difficult. So, the search for a new domicile began. We knew we wanted a house in an older, established neighborhood with lots of mature trees. Our search eventually led us to two houses on the same street – and that’s where the difficulties began. My husband preferred one house while I liked the other. We toured both houses, had many discussions – and a few arguments – to no avail. The stalemate continued. Finally, we met with the real estate agent to take one more tour of the house my husband wanted. I thought it was a complete waste of time. However, during the tour I did something I hadn’t done before – I opened the cabinet under the kitchen sink. My heart skipped a beat when I saw the pattern on the liner that had been used – it was different from the liner in any of the other cabinets in the house. The pattern on the liner under the sink was a cow print – white with black spots. Simply put, I adore cows; they are one of my favorite animals on the planet. As soon as I saw that print, I knew beyond the shadow of a doubt that even though that was not the house I wanted, it would be okay. And you know what? It was. We lived in that house for twenty years and honestly, it worked better for us than the other house would have.

Once our boys left home and we no longer had the responsibility of caring for my aging parents we could get serious about moving back to the country. My husband and I both grew up in a rural environment and we missed being surrounded by nature. Earlier this year on his way home from visiting his mom, my husband came across a house for sale that he thought might interest us. While that house wasn’t the right one for us, it did begin the house hunting process. We even made an offer on a house only to withdraw it. The more houses we looked at, the more I doubted that we would ever find something that appealed to us both. Then, I fell in love with a  house that my husband wasn’t crazy about. He finally agreed to go look at the house one more time but, on the way, we drove through a neighborhood that we had driven through months earlier and encountered another house for sale. The new house hadn’t shown up on my searches because the price was higher than the limit I had set. That price difference was enough to make me hesitate about seeing it but, since my hubby was willing to go back to the house I loved, the least I could do was see the house he wanted to see.

Wouldn’t you know it? The house I loved, which had been on the market for several months with no activity suddenly had not one but several offers on it – none of which were ours. My heart was aching a bit as we met the real estate agent to tour the house hubby wanted to see. Then, we went inside. I loved the house and everything about it. It had a very cabin/rustic vibe which is right down my alley. The house is situated on just over four acres of land and even though there are other houses nearby, they aren’t on top of each other – there is space to breathe. We spent two and a half hours walking the grounds and touring the house and, before we left, we put in an offer. The rest, as they say, is history. We moved in at the beginning of August. That said, there were times I questioned our decision. Were we nuts to be spending so much on a house? Had we made the right choice? Should we back out? In spite of loving the house, I couldn’t seem to stop the nagging doubts. And then, I got my sign.

A couple of weeks after we moved my husband asked me if I had seen the back of the door in the basement bathroom. The back of the door? No, I had not. I had looked behind the door to make sure there were no holes in the wall or anything like that but I hadn’t actually looked at the back of the door itself. To be honest, his question made me a little uneasy. The last thing I wanted was to find something that needed to be repaired or replaced. Hubby assured me that it wasn’t anything bad so I headed downstairs. Not knowing what to expect, I stepped into the bathroom, turned on the light, closed the door, looked at the back, and burst into tears. This is what is on the back of the door.

Blue Angels - edited

Why would a signed poster of the Blue Angels support plane (Fat Albert) make me cry? Well, my daddy (who passed away in February 2016) was a Navy guy. His time in the Navy is one of the things he was most proud of in his life and he was a huge fan of the Blue Angels. He also had a picture of the Blue Angels, signed by all of the pilots, which was one of his most prized possessions. So, to find this in my new house… Well, this is my sign that, once again, everything will be okay. Since finding it, my doubts have gone away. This is where we are supposed to be and, if he were alive to see it, my daddy would love this place.

How about you? What signs have you had in your life? I’d love to hear about them!

 

Faith in Humanity Restored?

Image courtesy of www.123rf.com

Image courtesy of www.123rf.com

I see a lot of posts on various social media sites titled “Faith in Humanity Restored.” I enjoy theses posts and save many of them, they highlight the many good people and actions in our world. The thing that saddens me about these posts is that so many people seem to have truly lost faith in their fellow human beings. I have not.

I don’t think of my self as an optimist or a pessimist – I consider myself a realist. I realize that terrible events occur every day and that there are genuinely bad people in the world. I also believe that there are people whose actions go beyond “bad” and enter the realm of evil. Such people have always existed and always will. But, just as these people existed, so have those who have stood against them. But, for all of the people you read about, there were countless others you don’t – their actions were small, possibly impacting only a handful of people. In those instances, the world doesn’t remember their names, but you can be assured that that handful of people did.

We live in a day of information overload – news is accessible twenty-four hours a day via our televisions and the internet. If by some chance you manage to escape that bombardment a quick glance at Facebook, Twitter, or other social media sites will be more than enough to make up for it. I don’t understand why our media has decided that all news must be negative. It’s easy to get discouraged when we are constantly surrounded by negativity. But, how do you avoid it? Simple. Turn off the television. Put down your phone. Get out of the house. Take a walk. Not only does exercise release endorphins which cause feelings of well-being but walking exposes you to the real world surrounding you, not just the one you are told about.

Once out in the world, look for the good. It’s there. I saw it recently during a trip to pick up my grandson for a visit. On the return trip to my house, I came across the scene of a nasty single car accident. The accident was so recent that first responders weren’t yet on the scene. However, the occupants of the car weren’t alone. Several other drivers had pulled to the side of the road and rushed to their aid. Some people were on their phones calling for help while others comforted the injured and still others were running to their vehicles for bottles of water, etc. It did my heart good. None of these people were concerned about the color of the victims skin, or anything else – they saw fellow humans in need and responded. People are performing actions like this every day across the world in towns large and small.

I refuse to be a part of the negativity pervading our society. Not only do I write stories with a sense of humor and a happily-ever-after, I do what I can to share the actions of those doing their part to make their corner of the world a little better. How? On Pinterest I have a board named Life is Good where I pin posts about people making a difference. I’m also going to start using my Facebook page to do the same. In addition to my regular posts about my writing and other things important to me, I plan to make a daily post about someone – or something – positive. After all, the best way to to shatter the darkness is by shining a light.

Are you tired of the constant barrage of negativity? Then join me in shining the light of love and positivity. Don’t know where to start? My social media links are at the top of this page, check out my Life is Good board on Pinterest or follow me on Facebook for ideas. Together we can make a difference.

 

 

Saved by the Belle

Saved by the Belle Isabella Norse Web Last year, with the publication of Dial V for Vampire, I introduced you to the world of Kudzu Korners, a small (fictional) southern town located near Savannah, Georgia.

Today, I’m beyond excited to introduce the next entry in the Kudzu Korners series, Saved by the Belle. The events of Saved by the Belle take place before the events of Dial V for Vampire when the town of Kudzu Korners was struggling to find a new lease on life.

One of my favorite things about this story is the heroine, Dot Habersham. Dot isn’t the typical twenty or thirty something heroine, she’s middle-aged, curvy, colorful, and comfortable in her own skin. Want to know more? Read on:

Blurb:

Dot Habersham spent the first half of her life traveling the world, meeting new people, and trying to make a difference in the lives of others. Now middle-aged, she has settled in Kudzu Korners, a small town filled with Southern charm and good friends.

But the arrival of Russell Phillips, widower, father, and the spitting image of Dot’s favorite actor, stirs emotions that she hasn’t felt in many years. Could love come knocking at this point in her life—and his?

Just when their friendship begins to blossom into “more”, Russell says something that might be impossible to fix. Will the memories of those they have lost keep each of them tied to their pasts, or can their budding relationship be SAVED BY THE BELLE…

Excerpt:

“Dot, drop everything! We have a hair emergency.” The bell hanging from the handle of the door jangled as Amber pushed her way into Polka Dots hair salon.

Dot, salon owner, paused in her sweeping and looked up, eyebrows raised. “How big of a problem can it be, hon? I just cut your hair last week.”

“Oh, no. It’s not me, it’s my dad.” Amber propped the door open with her heel, leaned out, and tugged a reluctant gentleman in by the arm.

“Well, hello there, handsome.” Dot studied the newcomer with a skilled eye. “Amber, I don’t know what you’re talking about. Your dad looks fine. Better than fine, actually.” She gave the man a wink.

“Thank you,” he began, only to be interrupted.

“Fine? You call this fine?” Amber grabbed her dad by the shoulders and turned him around, gesturing toward his head. “My father has a… I can barely say it.” She took a deep breath and tried again. “My father has a ponytail.”

https://www.amazon.com/dp/B074DJ8X7D

 

Faith. Laughter. Happily-Ever-After.

I have a confession. I’m terrible at tag lines. I love coming up with titles for my books and even writing blurbs for them. But tag lines? I seem to be incapable of describing myself or my books in a single, memorable line.

In 2014, I decided to have custom website designed but still didn’t have a tagline. So, I stuck with the basics: “Isabella Norse, Romance Author.” I requested that the designer (the amazing Ida Jansson of Amygdala Design) use light colors to reflect the fact that my stories tend to be on the humorous side and that she include cats in some fashion since they tend to show up in all of my stories. She created the image below that I have used for the past three years:

Original FB Header

It hit all the points I asked for and even met with my love of symmetry – a love that Ida didn’t even know about. Even though I was happy with the design, I still couldn’t help but long for something even more… me. S0, the search for a tag line continued.

I will admit to more than one why-didn’t-I-think-of-that moment as I came across other amazing tag lines created by other authors. I also came up with – and discarded – more than a few potential tag lines for myself. One example? Love, Laughter, Happily Ever After. But, that one seemed to be everywhere.

However, everywhere or not, I kept circling back to it. Finally, I realized that all I had to do was change one word to make it work for me. The result? Faith. Laughter. Happily-Ever-After. Perfect.

Faith: I’m a woman of faith and my faith, like my love for cats, works its way into each story.

Laughter: My stories tend to be humorous. Even on those rare occasions when they get dark, there is still humor.

Happily-Ever-After: I write romance, so this one is a given.

Once I settled on a new tag line, it was time to contact Ida to give my website an update. If you’re reading this post, you’ve already seen the results.

headn2

I love it – it is so me! The new header keeps the same colors as the old one while including the new tag line and a more subtle reference to my feline fascination. The rustic image is also exactly my style. Of course, I picked it out, so it should be, LOL!

So, here’s to the end for the search for a tag line, a new look, and everything that lies ahead. *raises chai latte in toast*

What do you think of the new look?

The Battle of the Landline

My husband and I are able to agree on most things with relative ease. New furniture? No problem. We have the same taste. New paint color? No big deal. He really doesn’t care so he pretty much goes along with what I want, but I know he would weigh in if he had a problem with my choice. However, one of the two areas that gives us problems is our landline. (The other is house-hunting but that’s a topic for another post.)

We still have a landline. Yes, I know. We’re dinosaurs.

Seriously, you can find anything on the internet. (Image courtesy of www.123rf.com)

Several years ago my husband tried to talk me into getting rid of the landline but I refused. At that time, our elderly parents primarily called us at that number. And, since we had had the same number for years, I really didn’t want to go to the trouble of getting them used to calling our cell phones. However, over time, my mother-in-law began calling my husband on his cell phone and my parents were sort of half and half—sometimes they called our landlines, sometimes our cells. At this point, I decided it would be okay to go ahead and get rid of the landline. My parents would adjust to the change.

I was excited about telling my hubby that he was finally getting his wish—no more landline! (I was also pretty stoked about the monetary savings but that was secondary.) So, I made my announcement and… my husband said “Great! We’ll add another cell phone to our plan, port the landline number over to it, and then cancel the landline.”

Wait. What? Um, no. I put my foot down. “No, we won’t. Adding another line to our cell plan will be more expensive than the landline and do you know how long it will take the “home” cell to disappear? About five minutes.” He swore that it would be fine, we would keep the phone in the kitchen where the landline resides. Yeah, right. Sooner or later, (my money is on sooner) the new cell phone would get misplaced, the battery would die, and we would never find it.

After many rather heated discussions we finally had to agree to disagree. And, we still have a landline. My hubby doesn’t want to get rid of it because he wants to user that number when placing orders online, etc. I understand not wanting to get spam calls on our cells but, to be honest, it’s much easier to block calls on our cells than it is our home phone.

We have revisited this discussion a few times over the last few years and it has never gone well. But, I think I have finally found a resolution—moving. Now that our eldercare responsibilities have lessened we are no longer tied to our current home and are actively looking for another house further outside of town. (We both grew up in the country and miss country living.) My husband has reluctantly agreed that moving the landline wouldn’t be cost effective. (Score!) Now, if we can just agree on a house…

Do you have a landline? Or better yet, do you even know anyone who does?

You’re Not Crazy, Grief is Weird

My father passed away in February 2016 and my mother joined him in death in February 2017, one year and eight days later. My life has been filled with emotional ups, downs, and where-the-heck-did-that-come-froms over the past year and a half. (My grieving process began with my father’s fall three months before his death.)

Image courtesy of www.123rf.com

Image courtesy of www.123rf.com

Science breaks the grieving process down into five steps: denial, anger, depression, bargaining, and acceptance. In reality, the process isn’t that clear cut. The steps don’t come in any particular order, and you may even skip some and repeat others.

In my case, there wasn’t much bargaining. Both of my parents were in their nineties and not interested in staying trapped in failing bodies. My mother moved two states away to live with my oldest sister and brother-in-law after my father’s death so the extent of my bargaining consisted of “Please God, let me be with my mother when she dies.” My prayers were answered and I was holding her hand when she passed away, but that’s a topic for another post.

Anger was similar. In late 2016 it became obvious that my mother wouldn’t be with us much longer. My initial reaction was anger. Why? I was just starting to get my feet back under me emotionally after my father’s death and I really didn’t want to go through that process again. But, it wasn’t about me so I had to rather quickly pull up my big girl panties and just deal with it.

However, through all of this, the emotions that have been the most surprising are the ones that have completely blindsided me. The first time this happened I had just picked up a prescription from the pharmacy. That’s it. I picked up my refill, got in my car, and cried all the way home. Seriously emotions? What’s up with that? My husband and I began using a locally owned mom-and-pop pharmacy shortly after we moved to this town. We knew the employees and they knew us. After we moved my parents to live across the street from us, they began using the same pharmacy. When my husband or I would stop by to pick up my parents’ prescriptions (of which there were many) the staff would always ask about them; they were genuinely interested in their health and well-being. Sadly, the main pharmacist and owner developed pancreatic cancer and died shortly before my father. After the pharmacist’s death, his family sold the business. The new owners repainted and removed all of the vintage decorations that previously graced the store. My tears were joined with sobs of “This isn’t my daddy’s pharmacy anymore” which didn’t make sense to me. It took my husband (who is far more perceptive than he thinks he is) to point out that what it meant was that there was no longer anyone at the pharmacy that remembered my father or could share my grief over his loss. It was a completely routine action that temporarily re-broke my heart.

The next incident involved my father’s walking stick. Daddy’s walking stick has been propped in the corner of my dining room since shortly after his death; I see it every day. The sight of it makes me smile. Admittedly, it’s usually a bittersweet smile, but it’s a smile nonetheless. A few weekends ago my grandson was visiting and he decided that he needed to bring me all of the walking-type sticks in the house – this including both of our hiking staffs and my daddy’s walking stick. No big deal, right? Wrong. I hugged my daddy’s walking stick and cried like a baby. Why? No idea. Like I said, I’ve seen it every day for over a year. Maybe it has something to do with the fact that I was touching it instead of just looking at it.

I will be adjusting to my new normal for the rest of my life. Emotions will continue to blindside me but hopefully the occurrences will lesson with time. For a long time, I had problems going to pick up my grandson – the route to his house is the same route that I drove countless times taking my parents to various doctor’s appointments. At first, by the time I got to my grandson’s house I would be fighting back tears. Now, I’m still filled with a sense of nostalgia, but I no longer cry. I call that progress.

So, why did I write this post? First, to let you know that you aren’t alone on your grief journey. Second, to let you know that even when your emotions are bouncing around worse than a squirrel on caffeine, you aren’t crazy – grief is weird.

What tips do you have to offer those who are grieving? Let me know in the comments!

Thank you Bioware

Image from Pinterest

Image from Pinterest

In my last post I talked about how playing the video game Fallout 4 by Bethesda Game Studios helped me maintain my sanity during the time that my elderly father’s health was declining. However, once daddy passed away and I was dealing with all of the grief associated with that, I needed something different, something familiar and comforting. Only one video game series meets that qualification – the Mass Effect trilogy created by Bioware.

I was already having Mass Effect flashbacks due to Bethesda’s use of voice actor Brandon Keener for many characters in Fallout 4. Brandon Keener also voices my favorite video game character ever – Garrus Vakarian. Garrus is a companion and eventually a potential romance partner in the Mass Effect games. So, when my heart was torn apart by grief, I returned to saving the galaxy with my virtual friends and lovers.

Garrus Vakarian Picture courtesy of masseffect.wikia.com

I will be the first to admit that I am partial to Bioware games – their storytelling is what makes their games shine and my heart sing. The writers at Bioware create believable worlds inhabited by believable, but flawed, characters. Jeff Moreau, known to all as Joker, is the pilot of the Normandy (a space-faring frigate) in all three games. Not only is Joker the best pilot in the Alliance (human military) and a total smart ass – he also has brittle-bone disease. Joker is a wonderful example of how our limitations don’t have to define who we are – we can shine in spite of them. At the other end of the spectrum is Gunnery Chief Ashley Williams. In a time in which humans know they are no longer alone in the galaxy, Ashley doesn’t like aliens – a pretty big drawback for someone on a mission that includes as many alien crew members as it does humans. Ashley’s unfailing negative attitude toward non-humans is one of the main reasons that when forced to choose between saving Ashley or fellow crewmate Kaidan Alenko, I always choose Kaidan – even though once-sweet Kaidan turns into a complete dick in games 2 and 3.

My last year has included not one but TWO play-throughs of the Mass Effect trilogy. As with Fallout 4, the time spent working through virtual political machinations, fire fights, and brokering peace between warring races for the good of the galaxy helped me work through my feelings without getting lost in them. And the tears I shed over being forced to say goodbye to much loved characters such as Legion and David Anderson were not only for them but also for my daddy.

So, if any employees of Bioware see this post – thank you. Thank you for your games, your stories, and your characters – they mean more to me than I can ever explain in a simple blog post. Your stories gave me the push that I needed to finally start writing – none of my stories would exist without yours. And, thank you for helping me through one of the hardest times in my life.

And now, dear Bioware, we are entering a new phase together. Just as I started getting my emotional feet back under me, my mother passed away. So, now I am leaning on you again. I have big hopes for the release of Mass Effect: Andromeda on March 21, 2017 – one day after this post goes live. I am hoping that Andromeda will bring the best of both worlds to this new stage of grief – exploring new worlds with new virtual friends while bringing back the best of what I loved about the original games – wonderful stories and believably flawed characters, both human and alien. Here’s to more adventures – and more healing – together. *raises chai latte in toast*

Thank you Bethesda

Image from Pinterest

Image from Pinterest

If you’ve kept up with my rather sporadic posts over the last fifteen months you know that there has been a lot of “life” in my life – including a lot of strong emotions to work through. (You can read the highlights here and here.) All of the sadness was sometimes overwhelming and really impacted my creativity. I wrote very little – blog posts or stories. I just couldn’t. I’m sure plenty of authors would write through the pain but mine was just too raw. Even though my brain was still working on stories, I just couldn’t put them in writing.

However, stories are too big of a part of me to turn my back on completely. I found my salvation in the stories of others, but not in books – in video games. During my grief I continued reading but it was easy for my attention to wander away from the pages and find its way back to all of the things that were so overwhelming. That way lies anxiety and panic attacks.

During this time my husband was playing Fallout 4 from Bethesda Game Studios. I wasn’t planning to play because I’m not a huge fan of open world games. (Also known as sandbox games.) There are a couple of reasons for this: First, there is SO MUCH to do in these games and I always feel like I have to do ALL of it which kind of sucks the joy out of the experience after a while. Second, the quests in most open world games tend to become a bit repetitive after a while and it starts to feel like you are just doing the same thing over and over in different locations. In spite of my trepidation, after the fall that started my father’s decline, I created an avatar in Fallout 4 and begin playing.

Image from 9gag.com via Pinterest

Image from 9gag.com via Pinterest

Many thanks to you, Bethesda. Your game helped me retain my sanity during a very difficult time in my life. I spent at least a portion of virtually every night for the next three months wandering the wasteland, building settlements, and avoiding Preston Garvey and his inane quests. When my heart was aching and I was tired of crying I could enter a virtual world and work through those emotions while I rescued settlers, battled ghouls, and avoided super mutants. At the end of a couple of hours of playing my emotions would once again be under control and while I might not be ready to face whatever the next day held, I was able to do so.

However, dear Bethesda, it was your decision to use Brandon Keener as the voice actor for so many of your characters that ultimately drove me to leave your game. How could I stay in the wasteland when those dulcet tones had me picturing the face of Garrus Vakarian at every turn? Nevertheless, in spite of that decision, it is you to whom my first thanks for helping me through the past year must go. So, thank you again Bethesda. I am forever in your debt.

How do you deal with extreme stress?