Urbantravelista: 2016 Year in Review

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Twenty years from now, if someone ask me about the year 2016 , I won’t know where to begin. This has certainly been a tumultuous year for many.  There’s been birth, growth, and a lot of loss. No one was exempt.  I mean, we lost Prince. That alone was enough to send many of us over the cliff.  But for me, the first half of the year actually started off on a good note. Exactly this time last year, I was scouting my favorite shopping malls and boutiques in search of THE perfect dress to celebrate NYE in Dallas with one of my besties. I brought in the new year surrounded by good friends, good people, and positive energy. We spent the first day of 2016 enjoying a fabulous champagne brunch at a friend’s home. We fellowshipped, prayed, and spoke our goals for 2016. The following day, I boarded my flight back to Chicago feeling inspired, empowered, and ready to smash every goal and intention I set for myself. And things went well in the beginning. They really did. But by July, 2016 turned on me like a rabid pit bull. But such is life, right? Sometimes, a year will give you everything you hope for and more. And other times, it will leave you wondering how you survived it at all. In spite of 2016’s tragedies and having to put some of my adventuring on pause, I did have a few great moments in travel and adventure.

The birth of my brand

In April, I gave birth to my lifestyle/travel blog, Urbantravelista™. I created it as an outlet to share my personal life and travel experiences. I debuted my blog recounting my first international solo vacation experience. BTW, if you missed it, no worries. You can read it here: Solo Travel: Tips for a first time “Urbantravelista” . This is my second run at blogging and it’s the longest I’ve ever stuck with a writing project. Truthfully, running this project and growing Urbantravelista has kept me sane and grounded in the midst of 2016’s insanity.  I guess I finally found my niche.  I look forward to seeing it’s growth and evolution in the forthcoming year.  My goal is to encourage others to create their own fulfilling experiences by embracing the unknown and stepping outside of their comfort zone. I want to inspire others to live their truth (the good, the bad, and the ugly) and to make lemonade in the midst of life challenges…and be fabulous while doing it.  Life is imperfect.  Therefore, we don’t have to be perfect.  But we do have to LIVE.

 The Iceland Blackout

Also in April, I had the opportunity to join a meet-up experience in Reykjavik. We dubbed this event “The Iceland Blackout” as we collectively represented a group of over 70 black likeminded travelers from all over the world.  You can read about it here: Don’t sleep on Iceland . This adventure was special to me, because I had NEVER travelled this far away from home alone. Iceland was a destination that I never fathomed I’d ever visit or even have the desire to visit. Well, I completely underestimated it’s DOPENESS. I basked in the warm waters of the Blue Lagoon, rode the Reykjavik bus system by myself, danced with Icelanders in a Reykjavik hip hop club, toured the Golden Circle, felt the chilling magnificence of Gullfoss Waterfall, learned about Icelandic culture, walked the path between the American and Eurasian tectonic plates, and danced in the middle of nowhere under the Reykjavik stars while chasing the Northern Lights. I’m looking so forward to my return in March of 2017.  Stay tuned!

 

Golfing

When spring opened up, one of my best friends introduced me to the game of golf. It started with drink and appetizer outings at Top Golf. To my surprise, the more I practiced, the more I wanted to experience going out on a real course. So we did just that and after a few outings, I got to be pretty good at it. I do have a long way to go before I become proficient at it, but my performance and interest motivated me enough to invest in a set of clubs of my own.

 

Being Bobby Brown

He may not be significant to you, but he’s very much important to those of us that grew up during the New Edition era. My mom found out he was in town for a book signing in my neighborhood. Because she was a bigger fan than I was, I braved to two hour wait in line and got an autographed copy of his new book for the both of us. It was a couple of days for before my birthday and he was the first person to give me a hug and wish me Happy Birthday. How cool is that? Thanks Bobby!

 

TouristInMyTown Summer Challenge

 Over the summer, I launched a “TouristInMyTown Summer Challenge” campaign to encourage people to take advantage of the culture and tourism in their own backyard. I promoted this campaign by patronizing the various festivals, events, and tourist attractions in my city and challenging others to do the same in their respective cities. I kicked off the challenge at the Wells Street Art Festival held in historic Old Town. This festival featured over 225 artists from across the continent. Next, I attended the Taste of Randolph, a food and music festival similar to the Taste of Chicago, but on a much smaller scale. As summer progressed, I took the challenge to the south side where I attended house music’s signature summer event, The Chosen Few Old School Picnic.  This event is held in Hayes Park and takes place during the Fourth of July holiday. This was my third time in attendance and it gets bigger and better every year. Next, I headed back to the western suburbs and attended Naperville’s Rib Fest. This event is also held during the Fourth of July holiday and expands over four days. My final festival of the summer took place at Lincoln Park’s Hot Dog Fest. I stepped far outside of my comfort zone by trying a hot dog for the first time in 30 years. Yeah I know, pretty groundbreaking.  And in between my summer “festivaling”, I reacquainted myself with Oak Street beach, a Chicago attraction I haven’t enjoyed since my childhood. Sunbathing on the beach with my city’s beautiful skyline as the back drop was everything.

Saying Goodbye

After experiencing one of the best summers I’ve had in years, travel and adventure came to a screeching halt when I experienced my biggest heartbreak ever, saying goodbye to my beautiful mother. Death is an event that you never see coming. It doesn’t send an invitation for you to prepare or RSVP. It just shows up on your doorstep completely uninvited and gives zero f*cks. My fall and winter itinerary suddenly became replaced by profound grief and sadness. Discovering my “new” normal and picking up the broken pieces of my heart has become my newest adventure. It’s all a very unwelcomed adventure, but still an adventure that most of us will face some day nonetheless. Looking back, I came into 2016 feeling empowered and inspired. Although my year took a tragic turn, I still find joy in the goals I was able to accomplish. I find solace in the positive experiences I was able to create and the possibility of inspiring at least one person to create some positive experiences of their own. I’m not sure what’s in store for 2017, but the only thing that keeps me optimistic is my desire to continue living the way my mother wanted. She lived vicariously through my adventures and I look forward to honoring her memory by creating more awesome experiences in 2017.  Sure, it’s dark now, but joy comes in the morning. Let’s hope the sun shines brightly in 2017 with more travel and adventure.

 

 

 

@urbantravelista

 

My take on grief: I didn’t ask for this, who do I return it to?

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It’s been just shy of a month since my mom’s passing.  And I’m doing…well okay…at least I’d like to think so.  I do what everyone else does.   I go to work  (often late, but I still go).  I sleep and eat.  And, I’ve even been able to make it to the gym a couple of times, catch a movie (BTW, Moonlight was pure awesomeness), and have a couple of dinner outings. I mean, life goes on right? That’s what happens in the movies? How I wish it were that easy.

When I first announced my mom’s transition (yes, on Facebook…because that’s the most comprehensive way to communicate both good and bad news), a friend of mine responded with following words of comfort: “you’ve just given birth to grief”.   I wasn’t sure how to process that statement.  I mean, I’ve experienced “loss” before.  You can’t live 43 years in this life without losing something.  Over the years, I’ve lost distant loved ones.  I’ve lost a couple of pets before.   And like most people in my age group, I’ve even lost a job, marriage, and home before. But none of those losses ever compared to this. Pets have a short life expectancy.  I knew my parakeet and goldfish wouldn’t be with me throughout my golden years.  My distant loved ones?  They were elderly and it was the appropriate time for their departure.  The job, marriage, and home?  Like most people, I can recoup those losses again.  Money comes and goes; it’s the circle of life.  I can always get remarried again. I mean Liz Taylor was married 9 times. But I will never have my mother again. I will never talk to her again.  I will never get to listen to her vent or share celebrity gossip with me again.  I will never get to take that mother/daughter trip with her that I had been planning.  So many nevers…it’s all final. She’s gone.

As my friend referenced on the most horrible day of my life, birth is defined as “the emergence of new individual from the body of its parent”.   I can’t speak for anyone else, but I can certainly attest that grief has changed me.  I’m not the same person I was before November 10th, 2016.  You see, the old me was kind of happy go lucky…in a dark comedic kind of way (if that makes sense).  I always saw the positive in everything.  I always encouraged other people. My bounce back game was strong. And I had a resilience that defied statistics.  But the new me?   My daily positive talk and words of affirmation have been replaced with talk about my loss.  I bring up my mother every chance I get.  I mean, just look at me writing another blog about it right now?

One thing I’ve come to learn about grief is that in addition to transforming you, it also reveals things about other people.  During this birthing process, I’ve learned that people will use your grief as an opportunity to gain something from you.  There will be opportunists.  That ex you haven’t seen in over 10 years will catch wind of your loss and will invite to fly you in because they want to “help” and be your source of “comfort”.  I’ve learned that my faith will be tested.  I now have a love/hate relationship with God. I love Him because I’m supposed to love Him, but hate Him for taking away my Mom.  I find no resolve in cliches like, “God knows best…she’s in a better place…and God will bring you through it.”  Why couldn’t He just save her?  I’ve learned that even the most well-intention people will try to interfere  and take over the home going services you’ve planned for your loved one to appease “their” wishes instead of those of the departed.   I’ve learned that people want you to grieve, but not too much and for not too long.  People will ask you how you’re doing, but sometimes, they really don’t want to know the truth.  They want responses like, “I’m doing okay, I’m hanging in there” because your truth and painful reality is a damper on the parade that’s going on in their own life.  Keep those negative vibes over there to yourself.  Grieve, but remember…no one likes a Negative Nelly or Debbie Downer.  No one wants to be that person.  Things happen in life and you should eventually suck it up and get over it.  I’ve learned that people will knowingly and unknowingly minimize your loss.  You lost a parent?  So what, their car got repossessed last winter.   You lost your active parent at 61? So what, they lost their 99 year old great-grandmother when she passed peacefully in her sleep. Life isn’t fair, so deal with it.  But on the flip side, I’ve also learned that people will show up and show out in ways you could never imagine during this unpredictable birthing process. And sometimes, it will be the people you least expect.  The person you least expect will send you a card, offer you words of encouragement, and accept your grief and how you choose to cope no matter how uncomfortable or inconvenient it may present to them, usually because they’ve been where you are. This is a club that no one ever wants to join.  But if you live long enough, you will inevitably gain membership. The tables will turn and you will birth a grief baby of your own.  I’ve learned that people that understand this won’t be so bothered by your process, because they understand they will too experience it someday.

But in spite of the above, the most important thing I’ve learned is this: grief is a very convoluted and unique process.  Just like childbirth, no two experiences are the same. It’s your process and journey. Each day will be different.  Some days, you will be the ocean easily riding the waves.  And other days, you will drown in it.  There is no way to get around grief.  You can’t go over it, underneath it, or around it.  You have to go/GROW through it. There is no easy button or pill to make it go away.  It’s your experience and your timetable.  It’s your TRUTH.  And, the people around you can simply take it or leave it.

As I complete this very painful birthing process, I hope to be able to “positive think” my way back to my former self.  I hope to get back to posting about positive, warm and fuzzy stuff on my social media networks.  I hope to get back to blogging about all tings concerning traveling, because grieving is for the birds and I’d rather be blogging about my hike to Patagonia.  I hope to be able to think of my mom and my first Christmas without her without bursting into tears. I hope to be able to live my truth and deal with my grief authentically without making others feel uncomfortable about it. I hope to get to a point to where grief is something that just kind of lives here, but doesn’t consume me…it just has a few things over here and visits every me once and awhile, like that old boyfriend that will always have your heart.

 

@urbantravelista 

The spirit of gratitude: Lessons learned during my mother’s death journey

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Life is funny. Actually, sometimes it’s down right cruel. Today, I was supposed to be going a family road trip for the Thanksgiving holiday, just like we did last year. We would crack jokes the entire way, stop at Boomland to buy useless knick knacks, and hit the casino as soon as we arrived in Tunica, MS.  And the following weekend, I would be preparing for my last trip of the year, a solo vacay to Montreal I had been planning since September.   But none of that would ever happen.  Why? Because tonight, I’m preparing for my mother’s memorial service next weekend.  A memorial service.  I had to say it again, because I’m still in disbelief.  I know she’s gone, but I don’t want to believe she’s gone.  I had hoped that both my mom and I would grow old and gray together. I think most would agree that we all want to believe that our parents will live well past the age of 99 and pass peacefully in their sleep. We don’t expect to lose them so suddenly, especially when life is going pretty well. This isn’t exactly how I intended on ending 2016.  But, I guess life isn’t the last 2 minutes of The Titanic.

Life can really change on dime.  Nothing would prove this theory greater than the events of October 26th, 2016.  I never fathomed a simple ER visit would lead me here: looking for poems to include in my mom’s obituary, yet here I am. Vague flu-like symptoms would turn into a severe headache.  A severe headache would turn into a full blown seizure.  My mother’s last audible words to me would be, “make it stop”. I would rub her head and tell her everything would be okay.  And every day, over the course of 15 days, I would be reminded that everything would NEVER be okay. She would never speak again.  She would never laugh again. She would never squeeze my hand again. She would never gain consciousness again. My worst fears would be realized and my emotional rollercoaster would begin.

Fifteen years of nursing experience would never prepare me for the nightmare in front of me.  As a health care professional, it’s a difficult place to be when the roles reverse.  I mean, I speak their language. I’ve seen this movie before in my professional practice and I know how this story ends. I know pathophysiology. I read the expressions of concern and hopelessness in my mom’s prognosis when the residents and attending make their morning rounds.   I comprehend abnormal lab values. I understand abnormal diagnostic reports.  I know when I walk into my mom’s room and observe she requires three powerful vasopressors to sustain a blood pressure, that it’s NOT a good sign. I know that abnormal ABGs and a low oxygen saturation levels means that my mother is going into respiratory failure. She can’t breathe on her own. She can’t provide oxygen to her most vital organs.  She can’t talk to me. She can’t fight off whatever infection is ravaging her body.  And the worst part about it is that I know ALL of this and there isn’t a damn thing I can do about it. I’m completely powerless. I don’t sleep at night, because I know a phone call in the middle of the night means the worst.  I sleep with my lights on holding my phone.  I don’t drink alcohol at night or go to social events, in anticipation of having to rush to the hospital at any given moment.  I exchange the same looks of worry and despair with other families when I visit every day. My heart drops in the pit of my stomach when the ICU attending wants to call a family meeting to discuss palliative care and hospice options.  Nursing school prepares you how to meet the needs for other families during a time of crisis, but it never prepares you how to keep it together when it’s your own loved one. This isn’t my patient or a case study. This is my mother. It’s a devastating place to be…a hell I wouldn’t wish on anyone.

So, what could I do?  What do you do when your the woman that gave you life is dying and there is nothing you can do it about it?  What do you do when you pray, but the answer is no?  The only remedy I could provide was to ensure my mom was comfortable as possible. I could accept her fate and make decisions the way she would want me to on her behalf. We didn’t have much time left.  So, I could make those last moments count.  I could spend as much time with her as possible.  I could talk to her and speak from my heart even though she couldn’t hear me. I could massage her feet even though she had no idea I was there.  I could thank her for being an amazing parent to me and my brother, wife to my father, and grandparent to my nephew. I could thank her for the many life lessons and wisdom she has passed down to me.  I could tell her that if she was tired, it was okay to go, even though it hurt like hell for me to let her go. I could reassure her that we would all be okay and I would carry the baton if she wanted to pass it to me. And on November 10th, 2016 at 11:10 pm, my beautiful mother did just that.  Her last vital organ shut down and she took her last breath.

It’s only been two weeks since she’s been gone and it still hurts as if it were that fateful day. But I still find gratitude in having my mother, a pretty AWESOME mother might I add, for my 43 years of life.  Many people don’t have that.  I’m grateful that we had a great relationship at the time of her passing. She was there for every important milestone in my life that mattered: my graduations, my nursing pinning ceremony, my sorority induction, and my wedding. Some people can’t say the same about their mother and daughter relationship.  I find gratitude in being there with her every step of her death journey, from the time she lost consciousness until she took her last breath. I advocated for her and carried out her wishes the way she would want, at least I hope I did. I find comfort in learning how many people loved my mother as much as I did, and hearing how amazing she was from the perspective from other people. I find solace in those that have reached out to me during my bereavement and encouraged me to remain strong and live the life my mom would have wanted me to live, even though at times I feel like dying. I find gratitude in my parents’ example of undying love. My father, husband of 43 years never left my mother’s side.  He never gave up on her, even when the doctors had given up…even when I had given up.  I am a product of their love and I am grateful. In the midst of my gratitude, I would be a liar if I said I didn’t feel angry, hurt, or cheated.  I feel all of these things… to my core.  We had so many plans that will never materialize. But gratitude was the greatest lesson in this journey. I would be doing my mother’s memory a disservice if I didn’t focus on the gift she passed down to me: GRATITUDE.

 

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Thanks for everything Mom, Rest in Power ❤

@urbantravelista