Dear 2020

Dear 2020,

I’m not ready for you. It’s not you, it’s me. Really.

The 2000s brought high school graduation, college graduation, my first “real” (salary) job, marriage to my best friend, and even my first child. Everything was going great. Right on schedule. Big things were happening and I was excited. December 31, 2006 was my first real glimpse at what it meant to dream BIG dreams – and I was hooked.

December 31, 2006 was the day Steve asked me to be his partner forever. I’ve never gone into a year like I did in 2007…so many hopes and dreams. Wide-eyed and in awe that a man like Steve would choose a girl like me. More, he thought he was the lucky one! I dreamed of the wedding we would have in 2007, the family we would make, the home we would create, a future with him by my side. There is no better way to start a new year than knowing you have so much to look forward to! Every New Years Day after that was a reminder of how much I was loved, how lucky I was, and a time for us to dream of more together.

Then…well, then the 2010s happened. I almost want to say “the end” right there.

The 2010s brought child number two into our lives and everything was still good. We both had jobs that we loved, hobbies, and good friends to enjoy it all with . Everything was on track.

Then, 2013 happened. We had some marriage challenges, but the coming together was pretty life changing in itself. It’s like we found our true rhythm in 2013. Then he died. All my dreams, hopes, and goals were gone in that same instant. I lost myself. Steve was as much a part of my identity as I was. We were two puzzle pieces that fit perfectly together in our differences. I didn’t want to go back to who I was before Steve – he had made me an exponentially better person, and I didn’t want to move forward without him. We were so much a part of each other I didn’t know if I could even do life without him. This was my rock bottom.

Like Anna sings in Frozen II, “You are lost, hope is gone. But you must go on and do the next right thing.” The one thing that got me through was a promise we made to each other to be happy and give our girls a good life. I didn’t know if I could do either on my own, but I was going to do everything in my power to give it everything I had. It was the last thing I could do for him.

A significant part of the 2010s are a blur. I literally picked myself up off the floor, tried to put whatever pieces I could find of “us” together into a new me knowing it would never, and could never be the same. I kept the little people alive and did the best I could to give them a happy life. We moved. Twice. Each time farther away from family that we love dearly. I traveled. A lot. I have loved seeing new cultures, trying new adventures, and finding joy in the world around us. Traveling gives me hope for the future and joy in the day – it gives me something to look forward to even if it is only a few months at a time. The 2010s also brought a “long-term” boyfriend which is something else I never thought I’d ever stand for in my life. So much for doing things the “right way” (I tried…and got it right, once!). We own a dream home together, enjoy the friendship we have, and have a solid relationship rooted in the present. Let’s just say there have been a lot of changes, learning, rebuilding, and adapting.

The 2010s included my lowest low, huge uncertainties and risk, but also some great highs with memories to treasure. I’d sum it up by saying this: I survived.

So, 2020…what could possibly be in store?

I know a few changes are coming this decade. By 2030 I will be an empty nester and my one final goal in life will be fulfilled – seeing our girls grow into young ladies. There may be a move (although we all hope not!). There will be new jobs. More travel, hopefully to some pretty amazing places starting with the Galapagos Islands in April.

One thing I hope for is to find my dreams again and have the courage to chase them. The 2010s paralyzed me with loss, then sapped all my strength just trying to keep everything together even if sometimes it was hanging by a thread. I went from knowing my place in this world and having big dreams well into the future to not being able to dream of the next year. There were glimmers of hope and new dreams, but eventually those seem to fade away too.

The new year celebration always brings a wave of sadness as I know I am moving into another year of so many unknowns and the contingency plans that make up a life on hold. I see my ring and remember the love that was given and shared on this same night so many years ago and I mourn the loss of the gift of a future. I miss the feeling of a new year, new dreams, new plans, and new beginnings. Tonight, New Years Eve, I will survive (again).

This will be my seventh New Year’s without Steve by my side and it is one of the hardest nights of the year for me. I’ve yet to be able to hold it together as midnight approaches – although I do the best I can to hide it. So, today, I will soak in the memories by myself, with the hope that I can step into 2020 determined to live a decade with dreams not only found, but achieved.

Dear 2020,

I may not be ready, but I’m thankful you are here. My word for you is determined and I am looking forward to all you have to offer this year. LETS DO THIS.

What is your word for 2020?  

With This Ring…

This year marks a milestone. Steve died 6 years ago today. We were married for 5 years and a_steve_erinb0005_DSC_0020f51 weeks. I’ve now been a widow longer than I’ve been a wife.

There are simply no words to express the pain that realization brings.

One question I see often in widow/widower Facebook groups is about when to take off a wedding ring. Its one of those things no one thinks about until you are in that position.

It’s been six years for me, and I still wear my ring, on my right hand.  In short, there isn’t a right or wrong time to do anything in widowhood – dating, removal of rings, packing up clothes, moving, [insert any other thing here]. It’s all about the moment and when it feels right to you. One thing about me –  I’m VERY sentimental.

My ring is a reminder – a much more beautiful version of that string you can tie around your finger or ink pen in the palm of your hand to remember something important.

This ring reminds me…

To listen. Steve and I had been dating for just a few weeks when a newly engaged couple came into the bar I was working at. He had given her a Tacori ring, a ring I had only seen in magazines. I never thought I would see one in person and I was excited to see one in real life. I’m not a brand girl and had never ventured into a jewelry store. The fact that I actually knew about a ring brand still blows my mind. Later that night, I was telling Steve about my day and mentioned the fact that I saw this ring. We had been dating less than a month and he wrote it down! How many guys would even listen to such a random story with interest, much less capture a note like that for a girl he barely knew? Steve always listened. Any random thing I had on my mind seemed to interest him as he always seemed to want to know me to the depths of my soul. He knew me better than anyone in this world. That type of commitment is so precious and is a loss I feel deeply. Listening with intent is something I strive to be better at, and this ring is a reminder to do better.

I’m loved. There is something indescribable when a person says “I choose you…forever.” When a person is willing to stand next to you and commit to the good times and the bad and truly mean it. My ring represents a love that many people will never know. Steve was my other half, and when he died, I lost myself. I lost my confidence, I lost my best friend, I lost the person that knew all of me and loved me anyway, I lost the person that fixed my problems and made my world right. I lost the person that loved me with his whole self from the very beginning because he saw more in me, in us, than I ever saw in myself. What this ring reminds me of is the fact that Steve lived his promise to love me every day. There are days I’ve felt completely alone, days when I would have given anything to just have my rock there in the battle with me. I look at my ring and remember the love that was shared and the fact that I know he is with me. He never once let me tackle a problem alone when he was alive, and when I need a boost, his love and advice still guides me.

I’m worth it. Yes, I know. Society says that you should find your worth on your own and not need anyone else to build you up. I tell my girls that while at the same time trying to be that person that helps them see their worth. In the past, I’ve made poor decisions simply because I wanted to be wanted by others. Steve taught me that not only was I wanted, I was worth the risk of committing to forever. Steve loved me at my worst, and made me into a better person than I could have ever been without him. This ring reminds me that I was enough for him when I literally had nothing but myself. He never, ever made me feel like I was less – he always argued that he was the lucky one (he was wrong)!  “Just” me was enough for him. Not only was I enough, I was worth the effort. He drove 10 hours round-trip twice to get me the perfect ring while hiding all of it from me. He paid more than he ever imagined, but as he told the story of ring shopping he shrugged his shoulders, laughed a little, and said that he wanted it perfect because he thought I deserved it. When someone believes in you, amazing things happen. When someone believes in the love you have together – enough to commit to a life together and live it every day – it is indescribable. This ring reminds me that I was enough for the best person I had ever known, and I need to believe in myself as much as he believed in me.

To be happy. This ring reminds me of a promise. Not just our wedding vows, but a promise we made to each other to find a way to be happy if one of us died. When I am struggling and can’t seem to climb out of a funk, I look at my ring. I know he is watching me, and the one thing he could never handle is me being upset or sad. The one thing I refuse to do with my life is let Steve down. This ring reminds me of the promise I made. The promise to persevere, the promise to stand back up, the promise to smile. My ring gives me the push I need to continue.

This ring is the most beautiful gift I’ve ever been given. It’s not about the diamonds or the design, it was the gift Steve gave when he gave himself to me.  It’s a gift of unconditional love, and I will forever cherish it.

Dirty, Tired, Challenged, Accomplished- How a Spartan Race is Life Summed Up

Last weekend I completedIMG_5902 my first Spartan Super Race – an 8 mile, 25 obstacle challenge.  Some people clearly trained for this event. Others, like me, did not.

The date snuck up on me. But, if I’m really honest, I just couldn’t think too much about it. The last time I did a similar race it was a four mile event in Fargo with my Mom, sister…and Steve.

The Backstory

June, 2013. I signed up to do a mud run with my mom and sister. The week before the event, Steve said he wanted to join. Honestly, I was concerned. He didn’t run. He didn’t work out other than fixing things around the house or helping crews occasionally at work. He had back issues. I wasn’t sure he could do it without holding us back. 

Fast forward to obstacle one – a mud pit. I will never forget carefully stepping into the mud only to realize Steve took a running start and flew by me on his stomach as if on a slip-n-slide laughing like a little kid. Hard Charge_Fargo 2013

Oh, how I miss that laugh! Shortly after that, there was a pit full of water and mud that you are supposed to wade through. As I’m getting ready, I hear “CANNONBALL!” and Steve splashes in…and came up with his trademark laugh again.

Steve helped us through every obstacle with a helping hand, a gentle shove up or by cheering us on (loudly). I think I fell in love with him a million different times for a million different things that day. He had always been my biggest fan, and that day it was just out in spades…and that laugh…oh my heart.

How could I possibly do this race without him? 

This question is exactly how I felt about life after he died. How could I do this without him?

Fast forward to the Spartan Race today. To be honest, I had signed up for 2 other similar runs while living in Iowa. There was always a conflict that made it easy not to go – maybe, it just wasn’t my time yet. Clearly, today was different as I was standing at the starting line with a team of people I barely knew – a team that decided to join me in this crazy adventure after I put up a Facebook post to see if anyone at my gym wanted to participate.  They had no idea what this race meant to me or that I needed someone to say “yes”.

The race was on!

The first challenge was a decent size pool of water (about 8″ deep plus mud and cow poop…) to walk through. From behind me I hear “Let’s do this!” and Sam (a teammate) jumps in with two feet, covering me in muddy water. And she laughed. That joyous kid laugh that reminded me so much of that first water obstacle 6 years prior. My shoulders relaxed, a smile crossed my face, and I knew. Today, my team looked different, but I was not in this alone.

How is life like a Spartan Race?

The Spartan Race is the toughest event I have done so far. Just like adapting to being a widowed mom has been the toughest transition of my life.

There are times you feel good and you jog, talk, and laugh with those around you. There are times you are exhausted, but know if you sit down it will be twice as hard to get back up. There are times you walk, and even though you are exhausted, you are enjoying the view around you.

Then there are the obstacles.

Some obstacles are relatively easy although inconvenient – like crawling under barbed wire.

Others are gross, like dipping your entire body into muddy/cow poop water to dive under a wall.  Not unlike cleaning up a child’s puke (which I never had to do when Steve was alive!) – YUCK. You are going to do it, but that does not mean you enjoy any part of it.

Then there are those that make you think, “Oh, Lord, how do I do that?”. I realized just how true that is in my life, especially after losing Steve. There have been so many obstacles. So many times I’ve felt very much alone and the only way I found a way through was belief in something much bigger than me. Hundreds if not thousands of prayers these last 5.5 years. This race was a fantastic reminder of the amazing people I have in my life whether it was giving me a leg up to get a good hand hold to literally riding someone’s shoulder (not gracefully…and full of laughter) across a wall with only hand grips.  In turn, our team pulled other women (and men) up and over walls, coached them through obstacles, lifted heavy items until they could get the grip they needed, and shouted encouragement to those we met along the way. We used our individual talents (and muscle!) to serve our teammates, but also to serve others in the race with us.  Isn’t that what life is really about?

I would be remiss in not mentioning those obstacles that we failed. Not almost succeeded. Totally failed. For every individual failure we had to do 30 burpees. Burpees suck. They suck even worse after 8 miles and 23 obstacles. For me, my arch nemesis is the rope climb. I knew I wouldn’t be able to do it – I can’t do it on my best day, I was tired, and the rope was slick with mud.  I tried once (miracles can happen, right?) and decided to just save my energy for the burpees. Life happens that way too. You don’t have to get through an obstacle by beating yourself up over something you just can’t overcome in that moment. The alternative may take longer, and you may not like it, but it can be done. Someday, I will get to the top of that darn rope…but for today, I accepted the burpees and moved on to the next challenge.

Then, there were the “others”. Those that I tried and failed. Then, decided to try again…because, burpees suck. And, I made it. I don’t know how other than sheer determination and this voice in my head that told me not to let go, not to quit, no matter how much my muscles might want to. This is the gold in life. When you can get knocked down, stand back up, and say “give me one more shot”…and you prove yourself right. It’s something that builds your confidence for the next obstacle, the next challenge in life. It is a defining moment. Strength and achievement does not come through the easy stuff. It comes through the willingness to persevere when you really don’t know how you will succeed.

My hope for you is that reading this inspires you to try something new, something out of your comfort zone. Try something that challenges you. Not just the life challenges that so easily weigh us down, but try something that you can look back on with pride. Then, find your team.

Six years ago I had my number one fan right by my side – I literally knew I could not fail with him next to me. My team for this race was different. The obstacles looked different. The race was harder. BUT the feeling was the same. For this race, on this day, I knew I would not fail because the team I had with me was exactly what I needed to get through all the challenges. People are put in your life for a reason – sometimes it takes a challenge to build a friendship.

Sam, Alison, and Chad – thank you for being my teammates through this Spartan race. You filled a larger role than you ever realized and I am so thankful for all the memories we made together.


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How will you challenge yourself? What goals do you have?



Anniversary Identity Theft

IdentityToday is my anniversary, my 11th anniversary to be exact. It is my sixth time going through this date without my other half. My husband, Steve, died just more than five years ago.

Here’s the deal. Eleven years ago I became a wife. Around our town, I was “Steve’s wife” since he had grown up there and everyone knew him. I loved being Steve’s wife. I still remember his face and comment the first time someone introduced him as “Erin’s husband” at one of my work events. He looked at me and said, “I don’t think I’ve ever been introduced as your husband before. I kinda like it!”. That was Steve – he was just as proud to be my husband as I was to be his wife.

Have you ever thought about your identity?

It goes to the heart of who you believe you are.

My identity was stolen the day Steve died. Not only did I lose the person that made my world go round, but I lost who I was. I lost my future as Steve’s wife and instantly became Steve’s widow – an identity I never wanted.

Widowhood is full of identity crises. The start of my blog highlights just a small portion of the challenge.

  1. Should I celebrate my anniversary? Is it even an anniversary if only one person is still alive? Should I say this “would have been” my anniversary or “it is” my anniversary?
  2. Husband. Do I say late husband? Just husband? Just Steve? For those that are remarried these questions are even more complex. Is it “first husband”? How do I share these moments without being uncomfortable, or making others uncomfortable?

Widowhood is full of with questions without answers.

Have you noticed that virtually all information forms (doctor, credit cards, school, etc)ask if you are married? What do you choose if the options are single, divorced, married, or separated? I’ve had that issue – many times. I am just stubborn enough to write “widowed” on those forms – because I’m not any of those other things. Identity.

What about the boxes for Mrs., Ms., Miss, Dr. etc? What the heck am I? Can I be a Mrs. without a husband on Earth? Five years later and I still have no clue what box I fit in.

Then comes the big ones. School or medical forms that ask for the Father’s name. And if the father lives with you. I have cried over these forms so many times. I choose to write Steve’s name in those spaces. Death will never remove his identity as a Dad – an identity that he not only wanted, but loved to be every single day. I write “deceased” after his name to avoid questions. Address, heaven. It breaks my heart every single time.

Up next, single parenthood. Let me start by saying that I am not a single parent. There is no Dad that my children can visit. There is not a deadbeat Dad, or any other version you can think of that would make me a single mom – it wasn’t a choice either of us made. There are no automatic weekends off or anyone to call when a child is sick. No one to share in some of the scary challenges that come with raising a child. My kids have had some health issues (minor thankfully!) and there are days that I wished there was someone to validate my decisions or help make them. I am the only one left to do those things. It was’t a choice from either of us. I am a solo parent. I don’t know why it matters, but for some reason it does to me. Identity.


Yes. This minefield deserves it’s own line – and has a few other blog posts like here and here. Let me be clear. I grew up believing in fairy tales – Cinderella, Snow White, Sleeping Beauty, Dirty Dancing, and heck, even Pretty Woman. I believed that you would meet that one person and fall in love together, get married, have children, and do life (grow old) together. I truly believed that. Steve and I had a love like that. We “only” dated eight months before getting engaged. It seemed like we knew each other forever. He ordered the ring at month six. We had that crazy connection that you just knew you didn’t want to ever live without. We couldn’t wait to get married and start our life together – just like the fairytales.

Marrying someone is a recognition of love and commitment in the world. If you are with someone that doesn’t want to marry you and you’ve been together for awhile, well, they just aren’t that in to you. Harsh, I know. Yes, I eat crow.

Let me enlighten you to my today. Despite all of my fairytale ideas. Despite having that type of love and knowing exactly how it feels to be loved like that…here I am. I am “that girl” that owns a home with a boyfriend and has young kids (I mean, how good of an example is THAT?). I’m a “girlfriend” in my mid-thirties – something I never, ever imagined when I was younger. It sounds terrible. It goes against everything I believed in. I am living the life of the same people I mentally judged before. The shoe is on the other foot. I have struggled more with this identity than any other identity in my life because it goes against the very basics that I believed about a “good” life and being a “good” or “accomplished” person. Being a wife means that someone loved you enough to sign up to love you for the rest of your life – being a widow means they fulfilled their promise. “Girlfriend” does not have the same value. Today, I [honestly] hate introductions. I can laugh and say “I’m his better half” or some lame thing like that to avoid “girlfriend”. In reality, I am just trying to avoid letting other people know that we are not committed in the traditional way. In my head I am judging myself! To reduce potential judgements (or compensating for my own judgements/insecurities) I tend to ramble about the fact that I am a widow when I am introduced as a girlfriend. Like somehow that justifies my choices. Clearly, I have issues with this identity and have struggled with it for a few years…yes, years. Ladies, you are not alone if you are on this journey too.

With all that said, I have a great life. My boyfriend and I have a great life together. We have figured out how to pick up our pieces individually and make them into a pretty beautiful picture together. I doubt we will ever get married – lets be real, it would have happened already. I’m not sure how old we will grow together. But you know what? No one else knows how long they have together either – married or not. I just need to find the right box or identity to fit – consider it a work in progress!

If dating again challenges everything you believed about the world – you are not alone. Dating after you have been married is different. It challenges your beliefs and any identity you have.

Finding a new identity

Eleven years ago today, I said “I do” to a new identity. Five years and seven days ago I was thrust into the widowed life and dropped into this new identity. Death changes who you are – there is a period of time you have no idea who you are. It steals your identity.

Here’s what I want you to know. You don’t have to be widowed to have an identity crisis. I had one after child number two was born. Luckily, I had a man that not only stood by me, but helped me discover how to become what I wanted. I use every bit of that learning today to keep me focused on the identities that are truly important to me.

If you are a widow and struggling to define this new life you were tossed into, you are not alone. If you feel like you’ve lost yourself, you have. My advice? Start at the end.

How do you want to be remembered when your time is up? What do you want your legacy to be?

To achieve that legacy, what type of person do you need to be? What needs to be important? Who needs to be important?

Let these questions be your guiding star. Put your time into building that legacy and you will find your identity again. It may not hit every aspect of your life, but you will be able to focus on the things that you want to define you.

What identity challenges have you faced in life?Identity Wisdom

Lemonade and Widowhood: Finding Good in the Journey

DSC_1518When life gives you lemons…we’ve all heard that we are supposed to make lemonade, right? But how do you do that when the lemons involve losing your hopes, dreams, and the person you planned your life with?

Five years ago today I lost the person that truly completed me. My heart was torn apart, my soul was crushed, and every piece of me felt broken. Steve knew how to read me and knew exactly how to give me what I needed emotionally – and he wasn’t there to help me anymore. He was my best friend, my coach, my mentor, and I was so lucky to be able to call him my husband.

As a widow, it is really easy to focus on the loss in your life because everything that you planned, everything you worked for, every dream you together had was lost. I’ve read hundreds of widow posts over the past few years and I’ve realized that there is an opportunity to focus on the good.

All of us have the opportunity to write our own stories based on the events that happen in our lives. There are times that we have no control over the events that happen to us. Giving yourself the option to shape the perspective on the event is one of the most empowering decisions you can make.

I want to honor Steve today – his angelversary – by sharing some of the good I have found in this journey.

Here are the top six things that come to mind when I think about the positive impact of the worst event in my life.

Confidence. For those that know me you probably thought I had a good amount of confidence 5 years ago. Prior to Steve, a lack of confidence led me to be untrue to myself and to try to make myself someone that would be accepted by others. Once I met Steve, my confidence grew because he loved me for exactly the person I was – flaws and all. With him, I grew. My confidence grew because I knew that he wouldn’t let me fail – we won and lost together. He constantly lifted me up. He believed in me more than I ever believed in myself and he was really good at knowing exactly when I needed a boost. When Steve died, I lost it. I lost every bit of confidence I had. I didn’t even know if I could do my job without having him to talk to. He was part of everything that I did. This was the hardest piece to get back after loss. I’ve spent a lot of time with a lot of anxiety doubting every decision I made. BUT, here’s the deal. Over the last 5 years I have proven to myself that I can do all the things. I can do so much more than I ever thought possible. I’ve looked back at his texts and letters and he still gives me a boost from beyond the grave whenever I need it (and I still need it 5 years later!). I’ve had to figure out how to take care of a house, buy a car, move, manage finances and investments, and raise two well rounded kids. Standing on my own two feet without someone in the firefight with me has shown me that I can do life – and I can do it well.

Prioritization. You have never realized what prioritization even means until your life falls apart and you have to do it all on your own. Today I am a master at logistics, work-life balance, and have gained clarity on what is truly important. In the past, prioritization was strongly linked to organization which meant being “good enough” to find a way to fit everything in. That is not possible anymore, nor do I want it to be. Today, my ultimate mission/purpose in life guides the actions I take (yes, you should have one too!). My ultimate mission involves engaging and inspiring others to do/be more than they ever thought possible while being a strong role model for my daughters. To me, this means balancing motherhood with a career and health while still finding time to give back through my foundation. Its been 5 years, and I am just now feeling like I’ve hit my stride. There are still plenty of challenges, but if you understand what your true priorities are it is easy to make sacrifices in certain areas to stay true to you.

Resilience. In today’s world of “safe spaces” and participation ribbons we have lost the ability as a society to be resilient. Let me be the first one to say that every single person in life will have challenges. Every. Single. Person. Everyone will fail at something or face an outcome that they don’t like. Resilience is one area I’ve become extremely passionate about. There are certain things in life that are completely out of your control, but what is 100% in your control is how you deal with it. I cannot even count how many times I have literally sat in a closet or on the floor in my room and just cried. I’ve cried until I cannot breathe. And yes, even at 5 years out, this still happen occasionally. I give myself grace to be imperfect and have the time to feel the loss. And then, I get back up. Every time. I get back up. If I can’t let it go, I write it out. Do you know what also helps? Gratitude. In those moments when I feel at my lowest, the one thing I do to bring my life into perspective is find something to be grateful for. I have experienced loss, but I have so much to be thankful for in life. Remembering those things makes me realize that life could be much worse. There are people that have been through worse. Gratitude gives me the clarity I need to stand up and get back to living this life I was given – and live it to the best of my ability.

Health. I’ve always been fairly active and healthy. The year prior to Steve passing I had started running and realized how good it was for me mentally. The pride I felt in running an entire mile without feeling like death is something I still remember! When he died, I felt like I would never have that freedom again. One, I couldn’t even breathe normally. Two, I barely had enough energy to shower and feed my kids. Three, I had a two and four-year-old that obviously could not be left alone. There were a lot of headwinds. When someone was at the house to watch the kids, I tried to take advantage and go for a run. Part of it was to have alone time (being honest – hello, introvert), but the other part was the fact that I knew mentally it would help. And it did. Running is still my outlet and one of the first things I turn to when I am not in a positive place. In the last 5 years I’ve even run two half marathons just to prove to myself that I could! Widowhood is not for the faint of heart and when you have young kids around you need to have both energy and mental positivity just to get through the day. A healthy mind and a healthy body are strongly linked. I want to be a picture of true health for my kids – someone they see that is committed to working out a few times a week, eating healthy in general, but still willing to bake cookies and eat cookie dough when we just need to have it!

Adventure. These past 5 years I have gone on more adventures than I ever thought possible. Even thinking about it leaves me in awe of life. Steve and I took at least one trip a year and had a goal of taking one trip as a couple and one trip as a family annually. Travel is not new to me. What is new is the deep desire to truly experience different cultures. I want to connect with people and truly take in the places I visit. In the past, vacation had been about relaxing with a little exploring thrown in. Now, it is more about exploring with a little relaxation thrown in. I’ve realized that adventures help me feel alive again and continually gives me the perspective I need to make the most out of the life I’ve been given.

I can. Death gives you a whole new perspective on life. One thing that has always drove me crazy is when I hear “I can’t” – whether from myself or from others. After Steve died, my list of “I can’ts” running through my head grew exponentially. One day, I was lying in the ditch in the spot where Steve died. I laid there in a ball of tears thinking that I couldn’t be a good mom without Steve, my kids would suffer, I couldn’t handle everything on my own, I wouldn’t be able to give my kids the life we dreamed of…you name it. And then, a song came into my head that became my battle cry against the “can’ts”. Steve had played it for me just a few weeks prior and I will never forget the feeling of dancing with him as it played in the background. The chorus goes like this “Give me strength when I’m standing, and faith when I fall”. In that moment, in that ditch, I realized that I was never truly alone. Steve was still with me (and playing that song) and I needed to trust in the Lord when I couldn’t shoulder it all. In fact, in order to see Steve again, I needed to grow my faith. Fast forward 5 years and I’ve been able to piece together a pretty good life. Every time I hear an “I can’t” running through my head I take it as a challenge that I need to overcome. Proving that little voice in my head wrong gives me immense satisfaction and continues to push me forward.

Five years.

I wish Steve would have known me as the person I am today. He certainly deserved this version of Erin more than the one he had. I’m closer to the person he believed I was. This change is largely driven from the desire to fulfill my promises to him – to be happy and ensure our kids had a good life. That promise has been my lighthouse at times – it’s guided me through the storms. I feel him watching over us, and know he is always there. Someday, I will see him again and I want him to be proud. We will have so much to talk about.

Every day I live to be the best person possible – in his honor.

Grief, Schools and Poverty – The Invisible Children

Have you ever lost someone close to you? Someone who was an integral part of your life, maybe a parent, grandparent, spouse or sibling?

How did that feel? How long did it take you to find a new “normal”? When did your concentration on your daily activities, such as work, return?

Every day I think about children who have lost a parent and wonder how they can possibly manage school. Recently, my daughters had a chance to attend Comfort Zone Camp which was an amazing opportunity for them to meet other kids like them. At the end of the weekend, we had the opportunity to hear from the social workers regarding the unique challenges students in each age group were facing. One key takeaway for me was the need to normalize loss within our school system. Our schools don’t know how to help grieving children. Many times the policies do not allow kids the time or space to grieve.

Death is a consequence of living, but that doesn’t mean it is easy for those left behind. Many students at the camp were struggling in school – either academically, behaviorally, or both. I cannot imagine being in their shoes. I know how hard it was for me to focus at work – for months – after Steve died. I didn’t have tests, I didn’t have other kids asking me questions or trying to be “normal” at the most awkward time in life. I wasn’t trying to make or keep friendships that can come and go so fast as personalities change. I wasn’t dealing with the overwhelming pressure of social media and the access to instantaneous information.

I have started talking more about grief and helping kids manage through grief while still achieving what they need to in school. Often, I am met with denial that a real problem exists or empathy but no understanding of why action is required. Why add grief to the mix when we already talk about poverty, race, and family structure?  Heck, even gender issues get more press than grief – and there are a lot more students struggling with grief than are struggling with gender identity.

Here is why it matters– and it should matter to every single community in the US. The loss of a parent means that these kids now fit the more common focus demographics of single parent households and poverty. Schools and communities focus on these two items when they talk about community support and improvement, but I have not heard one school talk about death as one of the key causes. The last census showed that 27% of widows ages 18-44 live in poverty – this is the prime age for widows to also have dependent children. That is almost double the rate of poverty in the county where I live – which is one of the higher counties in the nation. Widows were 65% more likely to live in poverty than their divorced peers. The problem goes beyond the notion of a single parent household.

I challenge everyone to think about poverty and single parent households, then add in the complete loss of security when a parent is no longer there, grief (remember the feelings you had from the opening questions?), and the loss of income which often results in the loss of the home – their safe place in a world full of change.  Can you imagine being the parent whose income is cut it half (or worse)?

Can you imagine being these children?

Poverty and single parent households are not hidden problems in the community. Compounding grief is that hidden x-factor that no one wants to talk about. Because it is hard. And we can’t fix it. But we can do things to help these kids. We can do things to help these parents in an extremely scary and uncertain part of their life.

What can we (every single one of us) do?

Last night at a community talk they highlighted “mobile vaccination units” to make sure kids are able to attend school on the first day because some parents are not capable of making the required appointments for their children. Many groups talk about the need to bring services to the people because they have no vehicle or transportation and that is a significant barrier to get basic life activities accomplished. These services are available to bridge the gap for kids that don’t have parents or caregivers that are responsible enough to complete required tasks for their children. That is a harsh statement, but true. I support these efforts because the kids cannot do it on their own and they deserve the opportunity to have an education. But, what about the kids and parents that have tried to do everything to the best of their ability and had tragedy impact their ability to be successful? What are we doing for them? In almost all cases, we as a society are doing nothing. Because we literally do not see or understand the problem. Or, they are lumped in with traditional single parent, poverty stereotypes with no understanding of the compounding loss that truly shapes their life.

What if we mobilized for children after loss? What if we meet them where they are? How much more could they learn with a focused tutor versus being thrust back in a classroom where everything is the same, yet nothing is the same for them? How do we give these kids the time and space they need throughout the day in school? I know there were times I needed to race to the bathroom or my car just to have a few moments to manage a breakdown – and I am an adult with years of experiencing managing my emotions. How do we allow the same space for kids? What “bereavement time” or bereavement options can we give to kids that have to meet requirements for state mandated days in school each year? What do kids at different age levels need so they still have the opportunity to still be successful after the loss of a parent or caregiver?

How can we support these kids in our communities? It is more than food and gift cards. It is time spent reading. Time spent helping with math. Time given to the remaining parent so they don’t have the stress of ensuring their kids don’t fall behind with their education when they can barely find the energy to take a shower. Time allowed for grief and the frustration that comes with it. There may be extra time needed on tests, and potentially a prioritization of work knowing that the focus just won’t be there to get everything done. I know I accomplished much less for months. I can only imagine the challenges these children feel as they try to keep up and even make up assignments and tests that were missed while they were out for a funeral.

Every age is different. For elementary school kids it is likely help with reading, math, and possibly some fun STEM projects to help them learn. Middle school may be focused help with core subjects, likely STEM, and possibly writing or drawing as that can be an outlet for grief. Identifying solid friends as well as individuals that can be consistent support network also benefits these kids. High school students may need more time with trusted friends – time just to be themselves. Identifying those friends or peers that can understand what they are going through as well as being a positive role model is critical. These students also need help setting goals as many feel they don’t have the same opportunities they may have had before. A consistent mentor helping with career planning and support in meeting their educational requirements would increase their chances of success exponentially.

This is a post full of questions and only a few ideas for answers. It’s a complex and hidden problem that has no single solution. The first step is awareness…then comes action. I’d love to hear your thoughts and opinions. If you have lost a parent or a spouse and would like to share your experience I’d love to read what worked or didn’t work for you and your family.

The Journey…Chapter 2

I was talking to a widow earlier this week and she asked about my [Chapter 2] relationship. I spent some time explaining how it came to be – that we really came together under a cloud of grief. We started as semi-anonymous people who would text pastureour grief journey to each other into the night until one or both of us were exhausted enough to sleep for a few hours before waking to our nightmares again. We became friends, and eventually started dating. That was four years ago.

She informed me that she feels ready to start dating as it has been four years for her as well. I encouraged her and promised I would pray for her to find a person to enjoy her time with. At the same time, I couldn’t help but think about this journey I’ve been on. It’s been hard and wonderful all at the same time. Here’s the deal – it is different.

No one can love you like your spouse did. That doesn’t mean it is bad, or less, it just means it is different. You have to learn to recognize love differently. You have to learn to accept love differently.

If your potential Chapter 2 has had a less-than-stellar relationship history they will need to do the same. Oh, and love you knowing a chunk of your heart will always love another person. It’s not easy for either person and it takes a certain level of commitment to even have a chance to make it work.

The other thing I’ve learned? Even the journey will be different. Steve fell in love with me quickly and completely. He saw more in me than I could ever imagine and it took me quite awhile to have that belief in myself. We dated for 8 months, then got engaged (he ordered the ring at month #6). Eight months after that we were married, and 14 months later we welcomed our first daughter into the world. He was so excited to build a life with me and was truly all-in and committed from the start. It is a wonderful feeling to be loved like that.

My chapter 2? Well, as I mentioned, we’ve been dating for four years. No engagement and no marriage in sight. I would be dishonest to say this has been easy – because it hasn’t. When you are used to being loved in a big, committed way almost from the start, it is extremely hard to adjust to someone that does not do that. You can feel undervalued, unloved, and even have your self-esteem drop as you wonder if your late-spouse was the only person that believed you were amazing (so amazing that they wanted to spend their life with you!). Then add in grief…and well, its difficult! My head knows the truth, but there are days when the heart longs for the type of love and stability that was lost. For me, this was another grief journey – one that required me to grow and adjust. I had to stand on my own two feet, make two major life decisions (moves) that impacted my daughters, and grow my faith in God. I had to find my own confidence.

I don’t write any of this to say that one relationship is better – they are so different there simply isn’t a comparison to be had. Steve was amazing. Jon is amazing. I am blessed to have two amazing men to love – and I love each one differently just as they each love me differently.

Jon and I have been able to piece together a great life through our mutual grief. We both went through some dramatic grief, so the fact that we can celebrate life together is a blessing. We purchased a home this past year, and have continued to build an amazing life together. We have a passion for adventure, careers that we can support each other in, and time to enjoy life together as a blended family.

Finding that Chapter 2 is hard…all the lessons that come with it are harder…but I wouldn’t change the journey.

An Angel and an Elf

rocking horseThe holidays. The good. The bad. The downright ugly. The holidays have been tough these past few years. This year, maybe, just maybe I’m starting to come out of the fog.

The feeling of having a real home again definitely helps. Family visiting near the holidays resulted in the enjoyment of decorating our new space to welcome them. The ornaments went on the tree with less tears than years before.

I’ve been reading quite a few posts over the past few weeks from widows and widowers experiencing the numbness, dread, and sadness that I’ve felt the past few years. There have also been occasional notes about how to help someone’s friend or family member that recently went through the loss of a spouse.  Everyone is different, but I wanted to share my story with the hope that it may bring to some ideas to others.

My husband passed away when I was 29 with 2 and 4 year old daughters. That first Christmas was a blur – mainly because my eyes couldn’t quit crying. I couldn’t imagine going through the holidays without Steve, not sharing the joy of watching our daughters open gifts with him, or even not buying someone so special a gift at Christmas. Shopping was painful. When Steve was alive I struggled to find the “perfect” gift each year. When he died I saw so many things that would have been “perfect” that year, if only I had one more year.  I rarely made it out of store without tears flowing. There were tissues in every coat pocket and throughout my purse. Our Christmas tree that year was one of the table top fake trees that we set out at his headstone. I just couldn’t do Christmas without him.

If this is you this year, I’m sorry. The holidays can suck. They will never be the same and no amount of time will ever replace the person that you lost. This year will be my 5th Christmas without Steve – I’m not even sure how that is possible. The loss hasn’t lessened, but I have learned how to find more joy in the season than years before.

This story doesn’t end there. That same Christmas my sister asked if they could provide the Santa gifts for my daughters. I gratefully said yes – it was one less thing for me to think about. What they did for my daughters is something I will likely never be able to repay.  And honestly, it was the best Christmas gift I have ever gotten.

Steve loved to woodwork. He had made other children chairs and rocking horses for Christmas and was looking forward to making our daughters the same gifts.  He was just finishing up his shop so he could get it done. Little did I know that an elf would land in his shop and find the plans for the rocking horses just laying out on a bench.  Plans that I had never seen in all my trips out there. Fate? Maybe.

You see, this elf had a little nudge from an angel, my angel, and just knew he had to help make Steve’s dream a reality. This elf was my brother-in-law. He took the plans without my knowledge (I didn’t even know they existed in printed form) and crafted the most beautiful rocking horses for our girls. He wood burned an angel on one side of the saddle – the exact angel from a necklace Steve had given me. He also took samples of handwriting from Steve and combined it to wood burn the girls’ names on the horses in their Dad’s writing.

On Christmas morning the girls received a note from Santa explaining why they were given the horses.  The note stated that their Dad had asked Santa and his elves for help this Christmas.  He wanted to give the girls these horses, but couldn’t do it alone.  Santa and his elves delivered gifts that I will never forget.

If you are reading this post and know someone that needs some help – be Santa’s elf. You don’t have to handcraft something for it to be special. A small gift with a heartfelt note means so much – it means that person is not forgotten this holiday season.

Widowhood is hard, and during the holidays it seems to be even more difficult. Widows are at risk for being forgotten – after all, their spouse may have been the only person to do something special for them on the holiday. If there are children, a story of their angel parent or sharing something their mom/dad loved can mean a lot.

Pick up the phone. Send a note. Make a meal. It doesn’t matter how long it has been since you have connected or how many years it has been since death forever changed their world. They will never forget the fact that this year you remembered.

A Widow and a Half

Today I ran my second half marathon.  My first half marathon was more than two years ago.  This was my 14th run in 5 months and the first run longer than seven miles since my last half marathon.  Craziness.

What goes through a widow’s head while running 13.1 miles?  Do you really want to know??  It’s not that scary…I promise.  Maybe, just maybe there is something here for you too!

1. Nudge…and get nudged (or in my case, elbowed!)

Jon mentioned this half marathon on five separate occasions.  Each time I looked at him like he had 10 heads.  “A half??  Hello…you know how much I have been able to run recently!”  There was not a 10k option which would have been my go-to challenge in this situation.  On Monday I finally took a look at the run.  Then, thought I couldn’t do it because [insert 100 good reasons here].  Tuesday, I looked at it again and just decided to sign up.  That’s the crazy girl coming out.  I felt the challenge, and honestly, the nudge that I needed to do this for some reason.

The last (and only other time) I ran a half marathon I signed up the week before, and like today, with virtually no training.  My nudge for that one was reading about a man who had been training for the marathon with his wife when she was hit by a driver on one of their final training runs.  He was still going to run. I had no excuse. This woman I had never known had become my nudge. I showed up because I could, and for some reason I felt like I was supporting a fellow widower on his run.

Who have you nudged lately? Have you challenged another person to push their boundaries?

2. List the reasons why you can’t, then do it anyway.

I didn’t write my list this time, but I assure you there was a long one in my head. There were two reasons why I thought I could – one, I had done it before. Two, I know I am healthy enough to walk to the finish line if needed.  I’m one of the lucky ones in life – I don’t have a terminal disease and I’m not disabled. There are no barriers other than the belief in myself.

When I thought about all the reasons why I “should not”, there was this quiet little thought in the corner of my mind that said “I can”. I rarely hear that quiet voice, and yet, it seems to be the one that controls what I actually do – I just need to get to the “do” tipping point.

Once I get to the “do”, that voice that loves to make lists transitions to a list of what I need to do to be successful.  I’m always planning, and planning alternate options. Trust me, my mind is never quiet!  Now, my voice that was negative has turned to an asset – this is why I LOVE the “do”.

3. Set a Goal, then Set a BIGGER one.

This morning I checked all the things off my “do” list then tentatively walked to the start.  With each step I took my mind was virtually screaming “What are we doing?? This is crazy! OMG, this is happening!”

Then I saw the pacers.  “Oh, jeez…there they are. Do I join a group? What group?” I couldn’t remember what I ran last time, but I believe it was right around a 10:35 pace.

I saw the 2:20 group and did the math and figured this would be a stretch goal.  Then I saw the 2:10 group – those that run a 10 minute mile pace.  I’ve run one 10k at a [slightly] less than 10 minute mile pace – not my comfort zone.  BUT for some unknown reason, I kept taking baby steps toward that group.  Then the gun went off – the race was on. I was running with the 2:10 group…what??  I figured I could start there and hope to finish between them and the 2:30 group.  Best case, I could end up with the 2:20 group.

Fast forward to mile 2.  This is when things really got crazy. I saw the mile 2 sign and decided right then that I was not only going to finish with the 2:10 group, I was going to run past them in the last mile. What the…?? Where did this thought come from??  I have no idea, but in that moment I believed I could and I spent the rest of the race staring at their pace sign and seeing it as a big goal bullseye.

I started thinking about all the times I achieved more than I set out to do.  All those times I stretched myself – or others stretched me – and how much more I achieved when I believed in more than I ever thought possible.

When was the last time you set a goal that was so far out there you couldn’t possibly believe you would achieve it? One where you set your sights on the moon, but knew you’d be happy landing among the stars?

My take away from today – set a goal, then set a bigger one.

4. Hills and Butts

I’m not writing this to tell you life was perfect this morning. Some of the hills were killer. What do I do when I have to run hills?  I grab onto a fact – the fact that hills work your butt muscles – and who doesn’t love a nice butt?  That may be too much information, but for me, I have always loved having strong legs.  It may come from my days as a skier, who knows?

In any case, every time I internally groan about a hill my mind is conditioned to think about the benefits of hills – benefits you cannot get from running on flat ground.

Changing my mindset to find the positive in every challenge has helped me immensely in all areas of my life. As a widow, there were (and still are) times where it was hard to just breathe. Then I focus on being thankful that I can breathe, I’m here, and I can breathe, which means I still have time to make a difference in this world.

While I don’t love hills, I do love what they can do for my butt!

5. One foot, and then the other.

There were also times during this run that my mind said that “I couldn’t”. At 0.1 miles I got a side ache.  Really?  I wasn’t even out of the parking lot!  Then I remembered that I just needed to breathe correctly with my steps – and keep taking those steps.

At mile 5 my hip flexors tightened up and my knee started to hurt. I could have stopped to stretch, but I knew if I stopped I would struggle to start again – I’m just not that type of runner.  If I allow myself to give up even a little bit, then I would struggle not to give up more. So I kept going, one step at a time. My music cycled and I focused on the scenery and the beat and kept moving. It worked!

When you don’t know if you can – just keep moving. You will get where you are going faster and be glad you didn’t allow yourself to do less than you were capable of.

6. Be Your Own Biggest Fan.

If you’ve read other blog posts of mine you will know that Steve (my late husband) was my biggest fan. He saw and believed in me more than I ever believed in myself. These last 4 years I’ve had to carry that forward. I fail more than I succeed as a cheerleader, and yet, I still hear him cheering me on. I still see that smile.

Today, I realized that I was truly running for myself. I was the only one with a goal. No one was watching. I could quit and it would mean nothing – other than to me.

Today, I was my own cheerleader. I persevered. I believed. I set big goals. And I reminded myself constantly of what I had accomplished in the run while I was running it. Every hill I ran up I celebrated mentally. Every mile I finished with that 2:10 pace group I considered a win.

I also had this crazy thought at mile 8 – “there’s only 5 miles left!  I can run 5 miles.  I got this!” Never mind that I had already run 8 miles (for only the second time in my life). I was focused on the fact that I knew I could run 5 miles and I wasn’t going to let the past hold me back. When I was finished, I’d appreciate the the entire journey, but in that moment I was laser focused on the belief that I had been here before, and I could do it.

As a widow, there have been times when the “wins” were much smaller. Some days the celebration was the fact that I showered AND put on real clothes (not sweats). Or, I made it through work without crying. Or, I cooked dinner for my daughters. Its all about finding the win.

There are moments in every day for positive self talk. Have you been your biggest fan today?

7. Let the world motivate you

One of the reasons I decided to do this run was to see Winston Salem in a new way. We moved here a few months ago and I know there are so many things that I have not seen. There were beautiful buildings, families cheering each other on, and lets not even talk about running in 50 degree weather in December – pure heaven for someone from North Dakota/Minnesota.

I saw a man that was likely 60+ running in the top 20 of all runners. There was a few obese ladies that were on a journey to get healthy and they were running the half – so cool!  Then there was the person with cerebral palsy going through the course on a hand bike with a person who is obviously one of her biggest fans.

I thought about my friend Anna who loved the YMCA and had lost her very short battle with leukemia earlier this year. This was a YMCA fundraiser to end childhood obesity – maybe she was nudging me as well.

As I ran I was able to appreciate all the beauty that surrounded me in life. It gave me a chance to reflect on just how much good there is in the world if we just choose to look for it.

Life is not easy as a widow, but it wasn’t easy before widowhood either.  There are different challenges (hills) to climb, but those challenges can also be the driving force to do more in life.

This post isn’t written to say that everyone should run a half marathon – and I would certainly NOT recommend trying it without training appropriately.  I do hope this article is a little nudge for you to look at your life a little differently today. Find a challenge, find the beauty, nudge someone. You never know what you can do…until you do.


The Power of Your Story – Part 1

Ultimate MissionA few weeks ago I was asked to “tell my story” to a broad group of individuals at work. The objective was to share the power of storytelling. This was a fantastic opportunity for me to do some self-checking on the stories I tell myself to make sure I’m writing my book the way I want. The process and impact of storytelling (to yourself, not an audience) is life changing. It’s been awhile (too long!) since I really sat down to reflect. I realized that I need to make the time to do this AND I really need to share this process with those I care about.  I cannot wait to share it with you!

The first part of storytelling is to understand what story you want to tell. Our lives unfold through the stories we tell ourselves – consciously or unconsciously. These stories add context to the events in our lives. Stories turn events into positive or negative memories, successes or failures, or makes us the hero or the victim. Stories form our reality. Forgetting where we left our keys is an event – telling ourselves that we are stupid and forgetful because we lost our keys becomes the story we tell ourselves. Stories have power.

What story do you want to tell?

Your story is your story. There is no right or wrong, good or bad, or any other crazy comparison you are thinking of. Just like a great novel that we hate to finish, our stories need to be grounded. Stories need to have a purpose.

Step 1: Your Ultimate Mission

Mission:Possible. Yes, you. You are going to write your ultimate mission in life. Not sure where to start? I’ve found that just like every good story you need to start with the end in mind.  Here are a series of questions to get you started.

  1. Picture yourself being eulogized. What would you want to hear?
  2. What is the legacy you want to leave?
  3. Who or what matters most to you in life?
  4. How do you define success?

Step 2: Write It Out

There is power in writing, walking away, then coming back again. Writing your ultimate mission is not easy – and it is a big deal. I went through about 10 iterations before I was able to put together a personal mission statement that just felt right. And it shocked me. I don’t want to skew your work, so I’ll wait until part 2 or 3 to share my mission with you.

So, why do this work?

Your ultimate mission becomes your true North in life. I cannot tell you how many decisions I’ve made simply because the situation either aligned or did not align with my ultimate purpose. Knowing exactly what you want out of life helps liberate you from unnecessary distractions. Your ultimate mission creates boundaries. These boundaries can release you from guilt, focus your energies, and give you a sense of accomplishment in the ordinary.

Your ultimate mission forms the framework for the story of your life. We don’t always get to write the events that happen to us or the situations we are put in, but we always have a choice in how we respond.

The toughest decision I have ever made in my life is to keep living without Steve. I wanted nothing more than to just fall into a black hole or join him in heaven. I wanted to stay on my bedroom floor crying to the point that I couldn’t breathe – simply because the act of moving was overwhelming.

I had a choice – I stay stuck in grief and loss, or I could continue to write my story. Hearing Steve eulogized was the moment I knew I had to live. Steve fulfilled his ultimate mission in life – and I needed to fulfill mine.

I started journaling and I found that my writing would start with raw suffering, but end grounded in my mission. My mind was able to come full circle through a blank page and a pen.  My mission grounded me – even as every other piece of me was shattered. I’ll liken it to an eskimo – you are lost in a blinding blizzard and all you can see is the North star. You know that is the way home, but you are scared, cold, hungry, and have no idea how far it is. You aren’t sure you are going to make it. It’s hard to breathe and every breath shoots icicles into your lungs. Everything hurts or is numb. Your only goal is to keep putting one foot in front of the other and trust that you will get to your destination even though you can’t see anything around you. That North star will guide you – as long as you keep moving forward. Your ultimate mission is that North star in the toughest moments of your life.

Take a couple days and work on your mission – you will be amazed at what you find out about yourself. Try to write it with “empowering” words – something that truly motivates you. Keep it short – no more than 3 sentences. Can you do it?

Want to know more?

Check out the book The Power of Story by Jim Loehr. He has done a lot of work with a broad group of people – from athletes to CEOs and his message never wavers. You need an ultimate mission to succeed in life.

What is your ultimate mission? If you don’t want to share, can you guess what my mission might be?