Just Go Left

Grief and Harry Potter

On My Heart, PersonalAshtenComment

I recently finished listening to Harry Potter on Audible. If you haven’t done this yet I highly recommend that you do: listening to them brings a whole new appreciation and love for them, which I never thought possible. I can confidently say one of my favorite books in the series is book three: Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban. I love it for so many reasons but it's really the first time we realize things aren’t always as they seem, and gives us some background into Harry’s parent’s lives.

I also love book 3 because it taught me something about grief.

Don’t worry, I won’t be giving away any major plot lines or spoilers here.

There’s a creature introduced to in book three called a boggart. A boggart is “an amortal shape-shifting non-being that takes on the form of the viewer's worst fear. Because of their shape-shifting ability, no one knows what a boggart looks like when it is alone, as it instantly changes into one's worst fears when one first see it.”

So, for example, my boggart would be a needle because I’m deathly afraid of them.

Boggarts like shadowy corners and dark places. They make themselves small and keep themselves hidden until discovered out of nowhere and then, they terrorize the person who found them.

I’m going full nerd here, aren’t I? I promise I have a point. Stick with me.

To rid yourself of a boggart you cast the spell “Riddikulus!”, which “causes the creature to assume a form that is humorous to the caster, along with a whip-crack noise, thereby counteracting the Boggart's ability to terrorize.”


You already knew all this, don’t you? Of course you did, you beautiful tropical fish.

What I’ve learned? Grief is like a boggart.

Grief hides in shadowy corners and dark places: hard to find and harder to identify. No one knows what grief truly looks like until it pops out of nowhere and scares the shit ouf of you.

And it terrorizes you.

When Kyle’s brother passed away I watched as a boggart took over his parent’s home: everyone was grieving but no one was experiencing grief the same way. We all miss Jake, but the way we missed him was different and the way we were communicating it was different. The boggart was shifting from anger to sadness to hope and it was hard to figure out how to keep up with it all, let alone tackle it.

We’ve spent the last few months trying to juggle the way each person has been grieving. We have reacted to this loss in very different ways, we’re all coping in different ways. We all have different boggarts and that’s what makes grief so hard to understand and so hard to relate to sometimes: we don’t understand how it looks for someone else because we’ve only experienced it in our own way. There’s no manual for grief, no way to explain how it looks or the forms it takes. No one does it the same.

But another thing I’ve learned?

You cope with grief the same way you get rid of a boggart: you turn it into something you can manage and you keep moving forward. Because you have to. Because grief, just like the things we fear, will always be lurking in shadows and dark corners but we all carry within us the power to turn it into something we can handle. We might always have that boggart hiding in the darkest corner of our closet, but whenever it rears its ugly head and tries to take us down, we have the power to turn it into something less scary and grow.

After Jake passed I was scared we would be consumed by grief. I feared time would stand still and we would forever be terrorized by the boggart in the house. But, as time has gone on, we’ve learned new ways to make our grief manageable. We’ve worked on ways to move forward, to shout “RIDDIKULUS!”, wave our metaphorical wands and change our sadness into hope and for a while the boggart is at bay. And we keep moving forward. Because we have to. Because we have to, for Jake.

I’m telling you: for every life lesson, there is a Harry Potter reference.

Happy Hour Hangout vol 2


So here’s the thing: I’ve missed you guys. I’ve missed you in the way you miss friends when you’ve been too busy to catch up with them….which is funny because THAT’S EXACTLY WHAT’S HAPPENED HERE. So, HELLO FROM THE OTHER SIDE…..I TRIED TO WRITE A DOZEN TIMES…….AND LIFE KEPT GETTING IN THE WAY.

(Those are the lyrics Adele wanted to write, but didn’t.)

I feel bad, and I want to catch-up. It’s been too long. So, let’s pretend it’s about 5 pm and we’re meeting up here for drinks. I’ve never been, but I hear they have a pretty good Happy Hour and I’ve been itching to try it out. Let’s pretend we’re sitting in a nice corner booth, where we can hide from the general public (kinda my thing these days) and have a good conversation. We have too much to talk about to be interrupted.

**I’m only going to have one cocktail today, please don’t judge me...I’m easing back into this.**

If we were at Happy Hour….I would be drinking something that’s easy to sip on over time. Perhaps wine. As I sipped my wine I would tell you I prefer white wine over red wine and then I would pause for you to judge me. Red wine is not my favorite thing, and yes I’ve tried several types of red wine and I still strongly dislike it. Give me a Pinot Grigiot or a Sav Blanc over a Merlot anyday. Or give me Rose. I can handle a Rose. Ohh let’s go wine tasting! My sister works at a winery!

If we were at Happy Hour…...I would admit that things have been hard lately and choosing joy has been even harder. I would tell you how hard Kyle and I are working to deal with the grief of losing his brother everyday but how deep-rooted that grief feels, especially for him. I would tell you we’re doing better, that we are trying to be strong for his parents and for each other. I would tell you Kyle got laid off right after Labor Day and we struggled for awhile, financially. We’re okay now though, because he started a new job last week and he loves it. He also started his own videography business, O’Malley Reels and I’ve never seen him more passionate or focused. He’s working so hard and I’m so proud. I would tell you I’ve learned a lot about resilience since we’ve last chatted, and tell you that means I don’t always choose joy…..but I’m trying. And then I would probably apologize for being a bit of a Debbie Downer.

If we were at Happy Hour….I would tell you I’m borderline obsessed with a gym in Ventura called The Studio. I joined about a month ago, and I never thought I would enjoy getting my ass kicked so much. In fact, I love it so much I’ve started personal training with the owner, Helya, once or twice a week. It’s been good for my soul, and not just because it leaves me so tired I can’t think. I can already feel myself getting stronger, and I’m pretty proud of it. I would tell you if you ever want to take a class with me to let me know and then I would ask what your favorite work-outs are. Oh, and where I can get cute workout clothes because my priorities are straight.

If we were at Happy Hour….I would ask what you think about the blog world these days. I would admit I haven’t wanted to come back for awhile because of the way things have changed. Blogging, to me, has become less about connection and more about the sale in the last few years. I’ve always enjoyed real-life more than staged photos and I crave connection over “ten ways to get more followers”...but blogging doesn’t feel as genuine anymore. I would tell you it’s a double edged sword of sorts because the more our readership grows, the more people we are connecting with. I would ask who some of your favorite bloggers are and why, and I would tell you some of mine. I would ask if you think there can be value in blogging without a sales pitch and how to be okay if your blog doesn’t stand out among the others.

If we were at Happy Hour…..I would tell you I miss one thing about Atlanta and one thing only: FALL. It was 102 in Ventura last week. TRIPLE FREAKING DIGITS IN SEPTEMBER?! SHUT UP. I miss the leaves changing and that crispness in the air. I miss breaking out my blanket scarves and boots. I would ask if you have a favorite season and if you can believe this heat because it’s unreal and I need some fall weather STAT.

If we were at Happy Hour….I would ask if we could do this again, soon. I would say that one of the big reasons we’ve been able to get through the last few months is because of our friends and loved ones. Friends organized meals when we couldn’t think about cooking, they sent cards with words of encouragement, they called to check on us. I would thank you for taking the time to meet up with me, to have a drink with me and listen to me and for being part of my community. 

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?