Coffee and Grief

This is what a widow looks like…

This is what a motherless daughter looks like…

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.

But I Fly Helicopters!

This is my mantra when I am facing something scary, for example: spiders, bugs in general and anything that isn’t flying helicopters.

Why is this my mantra?

Flying helicopters was one of the scariest things I have ever done. Think about it, it’s a flying death machine being controlled by a human. What could go wrong, right?

I have had to face my fears many times without this mantra and it was not easy. For example, I had to face several of my greatest fears at one time: ocean water, sharks and stingrays all at the same time. That’s right I swam in shark and stingray infested waters and I didn’t have the mantra back then. 

I did have a hunky Tahitian guide with a traditional tattoo of a shark and stingray so I had a feeling I was in good hands. We were on an excursion of a lifetime and this was the moment you enter the traveler-zone or stay in the comfort-zone.

The brave ones jumped into the water without hesitation while the rest of us who were more apprehensive considered our options. One-by-one the reluctants joined in. It was me and one other lady and she was not even having it. So I watched our guide as he explained how the stingrays eat, he gave it a fish in the mouth and what looked like its ear! Holy shit! That was creepy!!

Since I was still on the boat, he asked me to hand him the bag of fish. It was blood-soaked and heavier than I expected. Fish blood and fish juice got all over my hand and arm and I was about to go into the shark and stingray water. WTF was I thinking?! 

I wasn’t, I just slowly climbed down the ladder into the warm clear water, making sure not step on a stingray because that would be bad, very bad. What you had to do was float and keep your hands and feet close to you so the sea critters don’t think your hands are food and try to eat them. So there I am doing the oddest doggy-paddle of my life while seeing sharks and stingrays through my snorkel mask. 

Then I heard my breath. Slow and steady. Calm as I could be while “swimming” with sharks and stingrays. It was the craziest thing I had ever experienced. 

I guess you could say, “But I swam in shark and stingray infested waters” would be a good mantra, but I disagree. 

Here’s why. I chose to learn to fly helicopters. I paid for lessons. I trained and I drilled the maneuvers. I was prepared for the weather situations, I was prepared for things not to go right and how to adapt. It was skill and hard work—and it was scary as hell. 

But you were trained and exposed to various elements that helped you handle a situation. And when you survived it you felt exhilarated. 

For example: Turbulence. We know them and dislike them in large commercial aircraft. Let me tell you they feel very different in a small flying death bubble. 

The first thing you are trained to do is to ease off the controls when you hit them. Most people want to plow through them and accelerate. WRONG answer. This is a very scary situation, you are bouncing around and being tossed about all the while trying to pay attention to your speed, altimeter, and listening for odd noises. 

During one of my three cross country flights I hit some really bad turbulence and I literally thought I saw my heart leave the cockpit while I tried to gain control of the flying death bubble.

Here’s what happened: I was flying through a canyon as per the flight plan. I was flying at the correct altitude and speed. Then I dropped and bounced in the sky. My training kicked in. I eased off the collective, cyclic and pedals, then looked at my gauges about shat myself because I saw the worst thing I could see. My speed gauge hit the red zone which means I could crack the engine and fall from the sky. Yup, that just happened. You are one and half hours away from your home airport what do you do? You pay attention to every sound she makes. You watch those gauges and prepare to land anywhere that looks safe. This is what you train for. This is what has been drilled into you. You can handle this. They would never let you fly by yourself for three hours if they didn’t believe you could do it. You are doing it and taking control of the situation.

You just recovered from a torrent of angry air and maintained control. You can do anything. 

That is why I say my mantra is, “But I fly helicopters.” To remind myself that if I can survive a flying death bubble, I should be able to kill a spider or any other creepy-crawly thing out there.


Guillaume Maillet, my first CFI and the best!! He was my favorite instructor. He believed in me and gave me the confidence I needed to fly R22 helicopters.

Here’s an article that sheds some light on the flying world from the pilots and owners of my flight school.

Here’s a video of a student pilot and instructor during lift off, clearance and take off. (Clear Left, Clear Right. Get that ETL.)

(We’re in the middle of a move so my log book, certificate, and photos are all packed up. I trained well before social media was a thing and documenting my flights was hard since I had a flip phone back then. If I was flying now, you bet I’d be filming everything!!)