This sticky note is taped on the wall at my desk to reaffirm the things I do.
Why does it feel good to be a unicorn and what does it mean to be a unicorn you ask?
For me, it means that I am happy with being unique and I embrace my weirdness and the choices I’ve made in my life.
My path was (and still is) a long and meandering one. Much like a quest or bildungsroman, my coming of age was very different from what I would call “standard.” Meaning, I went into the military after high school, then worked in corporate, then went university, then back to corporate, then retirement (which just means doing things on my terms), to now being creative and working on the things I put off for 30-plus years.
Now I do things for me—not because I have to.
I never embraced my unicorn-ness until now. I’ve always been different and I’ve been proud of that, but now I don’t let the fear hold me back like I did for the earlier part of my life.
For example: I wanted to be a radio DJ back in high school. I think I would have been good at because I love music and I believe in the power of music. My mom was not having any of it and told me I had to find a real career and get a real degree.
Well here I am 35 years later doing a podcast because I freaking can and I am having fun doing it. People have been telling me they like my voice, they like the show and they like the content. I am beyond jubilant with this feedback.
That joy was 51 years in the making and I regret nothing. I now have the confidence to put myself out there and have fun. I am powerful, creative force for good with loving intentions and a joyful spirit, trying to create a better world for myself and others.
When I think about how much fear held me back and how much farther I could be now, I just have to remind myself that I needed to grow on my terms and cool my jets. It seems that my life is a constant hyper-speed of delayed gratification. I work hard and fast for a very long period of time for some sort of reward. My life is very much my tattoo: Festina Lente—to make haste slowly.
You’d think I’d be tired always going at this pace but it works for me. I have two speeds: go and stop.
I will keep unicorning until I can’t unicorn any more.
This is what a fatherless daughter times two looks like…
This is what grief looks like…
In four years I lost 3 family members. Not including being estranged from my bio-dad in 2010 after grad school graduation. He up and left with his new family and never made contact with me again. That’s why my step-dad of 40 years became my “Jad” (his name was Joe so I called him “Jad”). That’s a lot of loss in a short period of time.
I learned how to handle my first loss in 2017 with the help of friends, family, a therapist and a personal trainer. I spent 5 glorious weeks in Rome learning to heal through food, coffee, culture and a long-term friendship. For once someone took care of me. I didn’t have to think, just heal. It worked. I was healing.
I went back to work ready to face new challenges and be a better person having gone through the hardest thing I had ever experienced in my life. Not to mention the trauma and PTSD from that experience. It was so bad that I couldn’t watch hospital scenes on TV. Even though my brain knew it was for drama, it was still too close to home. I spent a lot of time in the hospital; I’d log 14-16 hours in the room keeping my late wife company. I even slept with ear plugs, eye mask, face mask and gloves. It wasn’t great sleep so we all decided that I should sleep at home even if it was only for four hours.
My best friend would come and get me to help me recharge; we would go to Denny’s, Chili’s, or grab coffee somewhere. As a caregiver you have to learn to take care of you too. It was hard to leave, but it was important for my mental health as well even if my heart didn’t like it.
I became a widow at 47. We had an amazing 10 years together. It wasn’t all sadness and sickness. We went to Fiji, Tahiti, Hawaii, Thailand, Cambodia, Indonesia, and Hong Kong. We had a great life and I am thankful to have been there for her. Vanessa was a sensitive and beautiful person and she wanted me to mourn her, but not be lonely. She wanted me to be happy and find love again.
I thought that would never happen because who wants a widow? We’re damaged, sad, stuck in the past, or you’re competing with a ghost. These were my thoughts. I figured I’d be alone for the rest of my life, untouchable by another because the other person would think I couldn’t be in love them as much as I loved someone before. I had massive fear of rejection. Massive fear of loneliness and massive sadness.
Never knowing or realizing that I was very much wrong.
Enter Brandi. She didn’t run because I was a widow. She didn’t feel like she was competing with a ghost. She didn’t say the wrong things, in fact she said the most perfect things to me. I had no idea someone would ever love me the way she does. I had no idea that my late wife gave me tools to help me understand Brandi’s sensitive heart. And because Brandi and I went through so much trauma we are able to really help each other and work together to fix a situation or work through a problem. We both see signs that Ness approves of this relationship. I know that Ness and Brandi would have been great friends had they ever had the chance to meet.
When I told my in-laws about Brandi they were very happy for me. We met up for dinner and I told them all about how we met at her coffee shop and showed them pictures of her and us. They were thrilled that I was happy again. Mind you, I had tried to push them away after I came back from Rome. They knew what I was doing and they weren’t having any of it. We still talk and text regularly. Every few months or so just to check in, catch up on who’s doing what, our various travels and just connect. This family has been my pillar. They are understanding since we all went through the same trauma and we were all there when the crap hit the fan. They broke the mold with this family and I am so glad they stuck around and didn’t let me push them away. Love you MKamps!!
Grief is a bitch.
There is no wrong way to go through it, only the way you feel.
I woke up every day waiting to be on the other side of it. The sad, sleepless nights, the unhungry moments that lead to poor diet and unhealthy weight loss sucked, but I had to go through it my way to understand what rock bottom, for me, felt like. It felt like shit and the only thing that got me through was coffee.
I met friends for coffee, even if I couldn’t drink it, I still ordered it because I loved the smell. I loved how my favorite coffee shops felt like a warm blanket in my sad lonely world. Coffee was my solace in Rome. And coffee is what brought Brandi into my life.
Coffee and I have had a very long and open-relationship; we’ve always been there for each other.
Grief and coffee are very much linked for me. My mom loved coffee, she introduced me to coffee (see https://coffeefitnessunicorn.com/2021/10/26/coffee-lover-not-coffee-snob/comment-page-1/#comment-241). At the hospital we would see a little coffee cart outside a patient’s room (we didn’t know that was actually something you didn’t want to see as that meant it was very bad for the patient and that was a way for the hospital to provide comfort). I had to switch to decaf when I was a very fresh widow as my emotions made me feel sick to my stomach daily for several months. Then I was able drink half-caff for a few months after that until I could handle full strength once again. Grief and coffee were battling with me. Grief felt like it was winning, but coffee never gave up.
Grief maybe a bitch, but coffee is a badass warrior who always fights for me.
Mom. Mom. Wake up. We need to go to the Emergency Room.
These are the words I said to my mom as I stood at her bedside at 4am with the worst pain of my life.
My mom, who normally takes 15 minutes to wake up, throws back the covers, proceeds to fly out of bed, grab the keys, and drives us safely and swiftly to the hospital emergency room.
What killed me the most about that experience was the look of sheer terror on my mom’s face.
They ran tests and more tests and had no diagnosis, a lot of guesses but no real answers. So they sent me home to see my GP later that morning after they got pain under control.
He knew what was wrong and he knew it was bad. He sent us to a Urologist who saw us immediately and he said the funniest and scariest thing you never want to hear a Urologist say.
He said, “you feel that? That’s your kidney. We shouldn’t be seeing or feeling it.” Then he asks the funniest question: “do you drink beer?”
No, I drink coffee, lots of it.
Well, that’s the problem. If you drank beer we would have caught this a long time ago.
How much coffee did you drink last night?
I’m studying for finals for undergrad, so I had three Venti lattes.
Yup, that’ll do it. Your blocked kid. You’re going to need surgery.
Whaaaaaaaat!!!!! I have finals!!! I can’t have surgery. It’ll have to wait.
That’s not up to me kid, you’ll want to talk to my colleague she’s the expert. I’m old school, I’ll cut you halfway around the middle, take half a rib and leave you a 12″ scar and it’ll take you 4-6 months to heal. She does robot-assisted, reconstructive kidney surgery. She’ll leave you with a few small holes and a few weeks recovery time. Go talk to her to see if you’re a good candidate for her surgery. Best of luck to you kid, good luck with finals.
So off we went to see robot-lady. She asked a lot of questions and drew a diagram of what she thought my problem was. She said, “you have UPJ. A congenital condition. It’s a miracle you weren’t diagnosed with this earlier. You’re 37 that’s amazing.”
The simplest way to describe it is: you have a kink in your kidney straw.
So she runs tons of tests to see if she could even perform the surgery as there is a major artery that she needs to be sure is safe to not be affected. After many nuclear tests and tons of peeing in cups, it was determined that I was an excellent candidate for this procedure. She asks when I would like to have the surgery?
At the end of the year. She looks at me and says, “no, seriously.”
I am serious. It’ll have to wait. I already missed some finals and have to make them up. This will have to wait until December. It was July. She agrees begrudgingly and says, “no later. We’re booking it now.”
I said you got it. I literally had my robot-assisted, reconstructive kidney surgery the day after my last final of the year in December as promised. I was back in school 4 weeks later to finish out my last year of undergrad.
The surgery was a success! Everyone was jubilant, especially me as I could now drink 3 Venti lattes without issue while studying for finals which was awesome since I still had two more years of university.