Just Go Left

For Jake

On My Heart, PersonalAshtenComment

How do you begin to process the loss of a brother?

I’ve asked myself this every day since we lost Kyle’s brother Jake.

His death was sudden and unexpected, so unlike Warner’s passing, which, though tragic, was somewhat controlled. I was prepared when Warner died. I knew it was coming. Rather, I knew I would have to make that hard decision when the time came; when he stopped responding to the medication. I had time to get my mind around it.

I was unprepared to lose Jake.

I was unprepared for the call from Jake’s girlfriend that night. I was almost asleep when the phone rang. I was unprepared for her voice on the other end, “we lost Jake.”

My first reaction? “Well where is he? Go find him!”

Because you’re never prepared to get that call: the one where your future sister calls to tell you your brother is dead. You think he’s figuratively lost; like he’s playing a fucked up game of hide-and-seek.  You think it’s a joke so you wait for the punchline, because there’s no way your brother could be dead, right? That only happens to people on the news.

But the punchline never comes. Because we really did lose Jake. Literally. He was on his way home from a fire patrol, like he did every day….and the back, right tire on his fire engine popped. He tried to correct and the engine rolled. Jake was killed. An accident: something no one could control. A tire took Kyle’s brother. A tire took my brother.

And now we’re the people on the news.

How do you begin to process the way the love of your life crumbles to the floor upon hearing the news that his beloved younger brother is dead? How do you begin to explain the way your heart shatters to smithereens as you watch him, on the floor, immediately clasp his hands and start praying to God it isn’t true? How do you comfort the man you love with your entire being, knowing nothing you say or do will fix the fact that his brother is gone?

That scene has played over and over in my head since the night we got that call: Kyle, on the floor, praying through uncontrollable sobs. It haunts me. It sends me spinning into a part of grief I never felt with Warner: the part where I grieve for someone suffering the same loss I’m experiencing. I keep seeing Kyle’s face, tears catching in that ginger beard I love so much, looking up at me and asking “what are we going to do now? Jake is dead. What do I do, Ashten?” He looks to me for answers because I’m the planner, the logical one, the one who is steady when we are on shaky ground. I’m the one who makes sense of the chaos: and this time I don’t have the answers. I am completely helpless.

Because you don’t know what to do when you lose a loved one but you really don’t know what to do when your loved one, loses a loved one.

My grief with Warner was one-sided. It was mine. I owned it. Warner was MY baby, MY responsibility, it was MY decision to say goodbye when the time came. But this grief? It’s multi-faceted. It’s grief for Kyle who lost a brother; grief for Kyle’s parents who had to bury a son; grief for Jake’s girlfriend who lost the love of her life; grief for his friends who still have to go out and fight fires. I feel it all; all that pain, all that sorrow, all that loneliness. And then, there’s my grief: the grief of a sister who lost her brother. Because no matter what anyone says Jake was MY brother too. I had a precious, sisterly love for him. I looked up to him, even though he was 4 years younger than me. He protected me. He made me feel safe. And now, he’s gone.

I think about the memorial and I can’t breathe. The faces of 1,000 people watching Kyle walk to the stage, holding a box containing his brother’s ashes, escorted by two Honor Guard members: a forced look of bravery on his face and tears in his eyes. I can’t run to him and comfort him because he needs to do this, he wants to do this; he wants to carry his brother the rest of the way. I wanted nothing more that day than to absorb all the pain I saw in his face. How do you explain how proud you can be of someone, and how scared you are for them all at the same time? I have never loved Kyle more, nor been more scared for him than when I watched him give his tribute to his brother. I have never been more proud, or more scared for Jake’s girlfriend as she lovingly shared a quote from The Little Prince that was special to their relationship:

“To you I am nothing more than a fox like a hundred thousand other foxes. But if you tame me, then we shall need each other. To me, you will be unique in all the world. To you, I shall be unique in all the world....”

How do you begin to explain to people how it feels to exist in grief? How something as small as one of his flat billed hats can send you into uncontrollable sobs or how one false move by someone you barely know can make you want to strike, to spit venom, to wound them so they understand maybe ⅛ of your pain? How can you tell people what it feels like to walk into the room your brother slept in and have to pack up his things, asking his grieving brother what items hold special meaning to him so you can make sure those items come home with you? How do you explain how hard it is to be strong as you hug your future sister because she’s packing up the room of the love of her life who she will never get to live with, never get to marry, and never get to have babies with. How do you live with yourself, knowing you someday get the last name she too wanted so badly but can’t have now?

All because of a tire.

When you ask me how I’m doing, this is my answer: I want to be hugged but not touched. I want to be left alone but I want people near me. I want to be consoled but not babied. I want people to understand my pain but if they try I say “you will never understand”. I need grace but I can’t ask for it.

Because grief is a moving target. One minute it’s sobbing over losing Jake; the next minute it’s nostalgia as a precious memory of him is shared. One minute it’s anger because that’s the only emotion that makes sense; the next minute its joy because of a random act of kindness bestowed on you by someone you barely know. Grief is pain in your fingernails and hair follicles. It’s sadness so great it’s unexplainable. It’s an ache so deep in your chest you feel like someone is scooping out your sternum. (Jake’s girlfriend explained her pain to me this way shortly after Jake passed, and it hits the nail on the head.)

How do you begin to process the loss of a brother?

I don’t have the answer yet. Ask me again next month.

Our Trip to Tahoe....I Mean Kirkwood


Things you do not tell a Tahoe local:

"We're going to Tahoe!"

When you're going to Kirkwood.

They are different, no matter how much you protest that "it's the mountains, so it's basically the same thing." Kirkwood, as it turns out, is an hour outside Tahoe but it's just as beautiful. We drove up early Friday morning (with a quick stop to our favorite bakery, Schat's), spent the evening with Kyle's family and celebrated his cousin's wedding on Saturday. It was such a fun-filled trip with lots of quality time and lots of meeting extended family members (I was exhausted by the time we got home from the wedding).

We put together a little video of our trip, which provides a better recap than I ever could. I hope you enjoy it!

Happy Hour Hangout vol 1


We are on our way to Tahoe today…..well not Tahoe exactly…technically we’re going to a town called called Kirkwood, which 1 hour outside Tahoe so I’m rounding up and saying we’re going to Tahoe. It’s a 6 hour drive (we are waking up at 5 a.m. to hit the road early) which initially I was not excited about until I remembered that we just drove across the effing country and 6 hours is NOTHING compared to the 19 HOURS OF DRIVING we did from Oxford, Mississippi to Amarillo, Texas while lugging a trailer filled with our belongings. 6 hours is an effing cake walk. Plus, Kyle is driving so……

Follow our weekend on Snapchat (username: ashtengoesleft) and Instagram (username: justgoleft_).

Before we dive into today’s post, you simply must know that this topic was approved (and encouraged) by the delightful Amber of Mr. Thomas and Me. We spend most of our days chatting bouncing different blog ideas back and forth, brainstorming and when Friday seemed particularly blank in Just Go Left Land (it’s a place, just like the Wizarding World of Harry Potter), she suggested I invite you all to Happy Hour…..and I loved it so much I decided to do it.

(You’ll quickly realize this post looks similar to her Coffee Dates, hence my desire to note her approval and encouragement of the topic.)

So, let’s pretend it’s 5 p.m. (it is, somewhere after all) and we’re sitting at a little beach side bar sipping cocktails and basking in the sun…..Gatsby can be there too, if you want. Let’s pretend it’s one of those perfectly sunny Fridays where the temp is about 70-75 degrees and the only thing we have planned is to enjoy each other’s company. Maybe we would be here, which ironically is where Amber and I had our first blogger date.

Oh and in this scenario we also have a sober driver…..I voted and Kyle lost so he’s driving so feel free to indulge. Safety First!

If we were at Happy Hour…...I would be drinking a Moscow Mule, but only if it comes in a copper mug. Is there even a point to drinking a Moscow Mule if it’s not in a copper mug? My answer is no. In fact, Nicole and Hayley of Local Love 805 just gave me two brand new copper mugs for my birthday and now I can’t stop making Moscow Mules…..so if I turn into an alcoholic, blame them. If the mule isn’t served in a copper mug? Well, then I guess I would be drinking a mojito because I love them, but only second to mules.

If we were at Happy Hour…..I would confess that I have joined the FitBit cult. I bought myself this one for my birthday and I now check my step count consistently. I. AM. ADDICTED.  I would defend myself by telling you there are worse things one can be addicted to and that I never realized how important movement is until I got this thing. And truthfully? My FitBit has put the fun back in movement for me…mostly because I’m in like 3 different challenges and we all know competition motivates me like none other.

I just realized all we’ve talked about are my potential addictions…..does this mean I have an actual problem?

Never mind, let’s keep drinking.

If we were at Happy Hour…...I would share this post by Jillian Harris with you because I have a total girl crush on her and this post is just too cute not to share. I would casually say “I know I’m not engaged yet but when I am? This is the kind of bachelorette party I would want” because just seems like the most fun combination of party and pampering. Also BRUNCH. I would then go on about all the reasons why I love Jillian: she’s hilarious, she’s got great style and the best part? She has a boxer. His name is Nacho Cilantro (if you click that it will take you to his Instagram and you might never return). And I love him. I would ask who your girl crush(es) is (are) and why. I mean, we all need a girl crush….or at least someone we admire for one reason or another.

If we were at Happy Hour…....I would ask you how you handle writer’s block. I would confess that it happens to me more often than not these days; with work, commuting and my feeble attempts to have a social life, sometimes writing just doesn’t come as easily as it used to. I would ask what you do to inspire and motivate yourself when the words don’t come out right and the thoughts in your noggin get all backed up? If you have tips I would probably ask if I could pull out my giant planner and write some of them down…because that’s the only way I will remember them…if they’re written in my planner.

If we were at Happy Hour…..I would definitely pay for the first round. I’m learning that I find a lot of joy in doing nice things for others. It makes me happy to see the smile on someone’s face when a random act of kindness is bestowed on them, big or small. It literally makes my heart swell up with happiness to do something kind for someone else. And I would insist, no matter how much you tried to convince me otherwise.

If we were at Happy Hour…..I would ask what your top 5 TV shows are. This might make or break our friendship, but it’s okay to share anyway. TV shows somehow always come up in conversation with me; maybe because that’s all we do at my house, especially at night. Here are my top 5 (of all time) in case you were wondering: Sopranos, The Office, Parks and Recreation, Friday Night Lights, Sex and the City. Can we still be friends?

Lessons from Under the Microscope


A note before we begin:

Today I'm being featured on one of my favorite blogs: Ember Grey! Emily is one of my favorite ladies in blogland: she's inspiring, she's funny and she doesn't take herself too seriously. Click here to read my post. If you're joining me from Emily's blog today, WELCOME!! I'm so glad you're here!

I've found one bad thing about moving home: having to get a new doctor. Specifically, having to get a new "lady doctor".

Yeah, we're going there today. But not in the way you might think....so please bear with me.

I'm sure there are way more vulnerable situations one can find themselves in on a Wednesday afternoon, but for me, going to the "lady doctor" was it. I realize I'm 32 years old but yes the "lady doctor" still makes me nervous, anxious really. Having to divulge all that personal information to someone I don't know, answer ALL the uncomfortable questions....among other things......ugh, it's so awkward.

I had a knot in my stomach all morning leading up to my appointment. I walked slowly into the office and reluctantly stepped on the scale (did not like what it said, in case you were wondering)....and then I waited. And waited. And waited.

......and then I waited.....again.


By the time the doctor walked in I had worked myself up into a full-blown tizzy. I hate this part, the "hi my name is Ashten here are all the personal things that only like 2 people know about me" part. She pulled out my folder and started "getting to know me". Nervously I played with the gown, quietly answering each of her uncomfortable questions to the best of my ability. With each answer I felt myself getting smaller and smaller on the table, my legs swinging nervously back and fourth, my eyes darting back and fourth. It's an uncomfortable thing; being so vulnerable with someone you don't know. You find yourself wondering what the other person thinks about you; whether their opinion of you changes the more questions you answer. Being vulnerable makes you feel "oily"; like you want to slide out of your own skin....like it's not yours and it doesn't fit all of a sudden.

I think the doctor must have sensed my nervousness (it was incredibly obvious) because suddenly she asked: "so, do you have any pets?"

"Yes ma'am," I said, glad we had something else to talk about, "his name is Gatsby and he's a Lab/Great Pyrenees Mix."

Want to make things less awkward? Ask me about me dog.

And then she started telling me about her pets: two cats and three dogs, to be specific. We started talking about my cross-country move, how she's moving into a new home after a break-up and how stressful moves and break-ups are. Suddenly, I wasn't the only one being vulnerable. Suddenly, the appointment wasn't as nerve-wracking and awkward anymore because I wasn't the only one sharing uncomfortable, personal things. 

No one ever wants to walk into a "lady doctor" appointment (if you're me) or an uncomfortable situation feeling alone. No one wants to feel like they're the only one going through something or the only one who is scared. Sometimes, having someone there to say "here's what I'm going through, and sometimes I'm scared too" can make all the difference or bring some light to someone in darkness. I've learned that not everyone can relate to my struggles, and sometimes I can't relate to theirs, but I can be the kind of person who listens and empathizes, just like my new doctor did for me. I've learned that sometimes, just having another person say "me too" is all the help I need.

Vulnerability is best met with kindness, understanding and a whole lot of empathy. It thrives in "me too", it grows in love and thrives in whole-heartedness.

So, when someone gets vulnerable or shares something hard with you, be kind.

Or, if you're me, just ask me about my dog.

I guess I could have called this post "Gatsby Saves the Day". Damn it, another missed opportunity.

Celebrate Anyway

Ashten Loves Local, Adventures, Choosing JoyAshtenComment

A note before we begin: 

I just want to say something to everyone who wished me a happy birthday on Thursday. Whether you texted, called, Tweeted, Facebooked or Instagramed you made me feel really, really special. From the bottom of my heart, thank you: you all made my day.

We were supposed to go to Yosemite over the weekend to celebrate my birthday. The plans came up last minute, but I jumped in to them with zealous enthusiasm. It was going to a short trip: drive up Friday night, spend all day Saturday, drive back Sunday but it might as well have been the vacation of the year as far as I was concerned; partially because it was my birthday (and I LOVE birthdays), partially because I have been itching for a camping trip for awhile and partially because S'MORES. Kyle and I started pulling out all our camping gear, making a shopping list for a CostCo run and planning which trails we were going to hike. We were so, so, so excited.  

On Friday morning our plans got cancelled. 

It was something out of our control; something we couldn't have planned for or seen coming but I was super bummed. Not only was it supposed to be my birthday celebration but it was going to be such a fun adventure. Our cancelled plans put me in a funk, I'm not gonna lie. I had worked myself into a little tizzy over taking this trip that not being able to go totally ruined my weekend.

I hate when things go wrong. I absolutely hate it, especially when things go wrong at the last minute. It infuriates me when I have to sit out because of something entirely out of my control when it's something I've been looking forward to (albeit for 24 hours). By now you know I'm super Type A, super organized and when it comes to plans I like them to be well thought out with several back-ups in case something goes wrong. My initial reaction when things don't go right is to regress into a negative way of thinking; to pout, to fuss, to shut down and accept my fate. I am preconditioned to think of the negative before anything else; I am preconditioned to think the sky is falling the second something doesn't go right. Sometimes I even take these things personally; like I'm not good enough or worthy of good things happening to me.

After letting our cancelled plans ruin my Friday, I woke up Saturday morning, pulled out our camping chairs and drank my coffee in the sunshine and read on our porch. I made my favorite breakfast, took Gatsby for a long walk and forced myself to make the best of it. There will always be other birthdays, other camping trips but nothing is worth ruining a perfectly good weekend of gorgeous weather. My birthday was still celebrated and joy was still chosen. We spent Sunday in Carpinteria, 20 minutes from our house, splashing in the waves, eating burgers and walking around the little town. We clinked our post-beach ice cream cones together and toasted to another year of choosing joy and celebrating even when things don't go right.

Life doesn't always give us a perfect 10. Sometimes we're dealt a 3 or a 5, but even though it sucks, there are always reasons to celebrate and always, always something to be thankful for: it's our job to find it and celebrate accordingly.