Living Happily Ever After


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The Speech Concluded: ‘R’ is for Resilience

The original definition of resilience had to do with a material’s ability to resume its shape or position AFTER being bent, stretched and compressed: the ability to “bounce back.”

To help you bounce back, I recommend the following:

1. Reflect. Think about other challenges you’ve faced and how you successfully overcame them. Do those things.

2. Write about your feelings. Writing processes thoughts and feelings differently in the brain by putting words to them. Writing about something can change the way you view it. Interestingly, I heard about a 1994 study on job loss that found that participants who wrote about their loss 30 minutes each day for five consecutive days found work significantly faster than those who didn’t.

3. Find the lessons in your loss. Writing can help you do that, too. No matter how bad the circumstances ask, “What can I learn from this?” These lessons can help you avoid giving up despite setbacks, too.

4. Reinvent yourself. Sometimes, you have no other choice–you lose your entire life (like I did) and you’re forced to create a new one. If you aren’t forced to completely reinvent every aspect of a new life, learn a new skill, take up a new hobby, join a new group or meet some new people.

5. Move forward! The shortest way to the other side is through your challenge. Don’t be a pickle sucker. Get through your challenge and move on. And “suddenly” (no guarantee on how long it takes!) you’ll realize your smile is real–not something you’re faking for your children or the world. You’ll realize, with shock, you feel like your “old” self again. You’ll realize your new life is good, although not exactly the same, as the one you lost. And you’ll realize that you’re happy.

So…believe in wearing lipstick. Believe in pink.

Laugh, it’s the best calorie burner.

Be strong when everything seems to be going wrong.

Remember that happy girls are the prettiest ones.

Believe that tomorrow is another day. Believe in miracles.

And you’ll find yourself living your own personal one. Your “happily ever after.”

The Speech Continued: ‘Y’ is Your Kids

I was overwhelmed with all of the questions I faced that most terrible of days in my life. I had the world–government agents, U.S. attorneys, family, friends, my husband–asking me, “WHAT are you going to do?” And I didn’t have a clue. I had no idea WHAT I was going to do.

In a moment, every single part of my life, my present, my past, and my future, had become a disaster. I was alone, thrust into the most terrifying darkness, and I didn’t know anything. Except that I was going to do what was best for my children. No matter what that meant for me or anyone else.

A counselor friend called that first day to try to help me. He asked me the question of the day (“What are you going to do?”) and I told him my answer: I didn’t know what I was going to do but I did know I was going to do what was best for my children. And he said something like this. “That is brilliant. I wish everyone in crisis would do that and we’d have a lot less messed up kids who grow up to become adults who fail.”

So that’s what I did.

Every decision was made with them in mind. Right or wrong those choices may have been, I really tried to put my children first and to do what I thought was best for them.

The results? All four of my children are living life fully, they’re enjoying successes at their various ages, and are remarkably happy and well adjusted. You would NEVER know the horrors they’ve lived through or the challenges they’ve overcome. One example: During my daughter’s senior year of high school as she was walking down the hall between classes, she happened to overhear the conversation of some girls in front of her. (They didn’t know she was behind them.) The girls were complaining, “Sarah Merriman is SO LUCKY. Everything good always happens to Sarah Merriman. We wish we could be Sarah!” If those girls only knew.

My daughter and I had a good laugh over that one!

“I honestly think it’s the thing I like most, to laugh. It cures a multitude of ills. It’s probably the most important thing in a person.” (Audrey Hepburn)

The Speech Continued: ‘L’ is for Laugh

L: Laugh

In my opinion, if you’re going to survive any life, especially an unexpected one, a sense of humor is indispensable! There are certain shades of limelight that can wreck a girl’s complexion…I know! I lived them! National media attention, public speculation, criminal trials, hatred, vengeance, shock and grief and horror and betrayal can all take their terrible toll on your appearance!

Sometimes the only thing you CAN do is to laugh.

“No matter what your heartache may be, laughing helps you forget it for a few sounds.” (Red Skelton)

Studies show:

Laughter combats fear (it changes your perspective), laughter comforts, it’s a healthy reaction to stress (it reduces three stress hormones), it reduces pain (releases endorphins, it boosts the immune system and bodily functions (like exercise, it improves muscle capacity), and it makes you feel good–even if only for a few invaluable seconds.

In life, you can choose to laugh or cry–I choose to laugh!” (Marjorie Hinckley)


Sitting (or Standing, as the Case May Be!) Happy

“But I learned that there’s a certain character that can be built from embarrassing yourself endlessly. If you can sit happy with embarrassment, there’s not much else that can really get to ya.” (Christian Bale)

What happened next is kind of…perfect; completely fitting for a first return to the state I’d left four years ago in total shock, grief, fear (even though I tried my best not to fear) and yes, complete humiliation.

First stop after DIA was to a restaurant for dinner.

As we drove, I was surprised to feel so calm and normal. I must have expected to feel the last feelings I’d had in Colorado (shock, grief, devastation, horror) or even worse, at this stage of life, to feel homesick for the city, state and life I’d loved so much (knowing that chapter of my life has closed and a permanent return to Colorado will never be a possibility) or worst of all, to feel like I didn’t belong there any more. I mean, Colorado had been my home since 1974. I was terrified to feel out of place there because if I didn’t feel I belonged in my home state, where would I EVER belong?

We had a nice dinner and at the end of dinner, I stood up to leave and instantly felt a freezing cold blast across my…nether-regions, looked down to determine why I suddenly felt so cold, only to see my maxi skirt puddled on the floor!

There I stood in a restaurant, on a Friday night, wearing–from the waist down– only my underclothing! I quickly bent down, pulled my skirt on again, and exited the restaurant!

Believe it or not, I could not stop laughing.

Leave it to my unexpected life to come full circle in the most unexpected of ways: depart in embarrassment, humiliation and mortification and  the VERY FIRST THING that happens to me upon my return most would consider embarrassing. (Except, I realized, me. As I’ve said before, it’s pretty difficult to be too embarrassed about anything given the “embarrassment”–revelation of crime, loss of everything, demise of family, divorce, and all of it played out on a very public stage– I’ve lived through! Haha)

Consider me filled with character. And sitting happy with it all. In my unexpected life.

Who EVER could have imagined that?

Not even optimistic, filled-with-hope, determined-to-create-and-live-a-happily-ever-after, little old me!

The Honest Answer I Didn’t Expect

“I don’t believe in dressing up reality. I don’t believe in using makeup to make things look smoother.” (Lou Reed)

My husband called me back less than 20 minutes later and the issue was resolved.

My husband and his daughter arrived in Utah the following evening and we moved her in to our home. When the settling in was complete, we sat down with her and went over the house and family rules, what we expected from her and what she could expect from us. (I printed them out and gave her a copy so there could be no misunderstanding.)

One week later, one night when she came to say goodnight before going to bed, I took the opportunity to ask her in more detail how things were going and how she was feeling about her new life.

“Ok, you’ve been here a week,” I said. “Tell me, how are you doing? How are things going? How are you feeling?”

I don’t know what I expected to hear, or what I expected her to say, but I wasn’t expecting to be so entertained by her reply: “I’m not going to lie, it hasn’t been nearly as bad as I thought it would be!” she answered.

I kept a straight face and waited until she left the room…to laugh! I’ll never forget that (honest) answer.

And really, isn’t that pretty much life?   It rarely ends up as bad as we think it’ll be. And if it’s really that bad or worse, it doesn’t stay that way forever—I learned that myself from personal experience. Eventually, with enough faith, work and endurance, you’re on to a different happily ever after—if that’s what you choose.

“There are two primary choices in life: to accept conditions as they exist, or accept the responsibility for changing them.” (Denis Waitley)

Game Report

“Failure is simply the non-presence of success. But a fiasco is a disaster of mythic proportions.” (Orlando Bloom)

The second soccer game was…a bit of a fiasco.

I dashed from work directly to the playing field, got caught in horrendous traffic, and made it there just in time for the start of the game. Not a moment to spare—or to change out of my work clothes. So once again, I coached in a skirt. But this time, in high heels as well!

I’m not sure why, maybe I didn’t look serious enough about soccer or sporty enough in my skirt and heels, but I experienced some coaching difficulties. I had dads on the sidelines sending boys into the game on their own; I had little boys arguing with me when I tried to rotate them out to give every boy a chance to play; and then one of my players got ejected from the game for getting a little too rough, hitting and wrestling the other players!

At the end of the quarter when the ejected boy was allowed to play in the game again, my son ran and welcomed him back with a quick wrestle—so the boy told the referee on MY SON! (Thankfully, the referee continued the game and I gave my son a quick reminder about not wrestling during soccer games, explaining AGAIN that we don’t wrestle during soccer games or we don’t get to play, as the playing continued on around us.)

The other coach/referee interacted with me so much during the game one woman on the sidelines approached and asked, “It that man your husband?”

As I walked to the sideline after that one, all I could do was shake my head and ask myself with a laugh, “HOW did THIS become MY life?”

I remembered, again, how far I’ve come in an unexpected life: divorced, traumatized financial disaster to remarried, at peace, first-time soccer coach in just two years! I recall shaking my head but not laughing, asking myself that very question in 2009 and having a very different answer. Proof again, and I can’t say it enough, that it IS possible to rise from the ashes of whatever misery you’re handed, to create a new life of happiness, to laugh and to eventually “win” again.

Yes it’s possible.

My son even scored four goals.

“We all have possibilities we don’t know about. We can do things we don’t even dream we can do.” (Dale Carnegie)

Officially A Stepmother

Prior to my unexpected life, most of my embarrassing moments involved…underwear.

Like the day in second grade I went to the restroom, accidentally and unknowingly tucked the back of my dress into my underwear, and returned to class where Kevin Wanebo (you never forget some moments, some people, do you?) pointed my mistake out to me and the rest of the class. White panties with pink rosebuds. That’s what I was wearing that day in my most embarrassing moment.

Until 2005. I was nine months pregnant with my fourth child, talking to a very nice, younger married man from my church congregation when suddenly I noticed he was looking anywhere and everywhere but at ME while we talked. Right about the moment I noticed that, I also happened to notice a cool breeze blowing in the vicinity of my “nether regions.” I looked down and was horrified to see…my skirt puddled on the floor around my ankles—leaving me standing there, once again (you guessed it!) in my underwear.

From that moment on, and thanks to a few other memorable moments, I was pretty sure I had the market cornered on embarrassment. And then in 2009, thanks to the actions of another, I’m pretty sure I proved it.

Ironic that second marriage moment #21 also involved underwear. Or as I like to call it, the moment I officially became my stepson’s stepmother.

It was accidental (as are many pivotal moments, I’m convinced.) I was getting ready for the day and hadn’t dressed yet, my stepson walked into my room to ask me a question and caught me without my clothes on. I wasn’t sure what to do; I didn’t want to embarrass him or me further, so I tried to ignore the fact I was standing there in my underwear, finished the conversation with him and tried to act like it was no big deal.

I sent a text at the conversation’s conclusion after my stepson left. To his dad, my husband. I texted: “It’s official. I am officially your son’s stepmother.”

He texted me RIGHT back for more details. I think my husband was probably panicked our relationship was “official” because I had disciplined his son or some dreaded event like that that my husband would need to get in the middle of and help smooth things over about. But I told him it was nothing like that.

It was much bigger. Underwear. Mine. So I guess it’s official. We’re family now. Water (or unmentionables) under the bridge.

“This morning when I put on my underwear I could hear the fruit-of-the-loom guys laughing at me.” (Rodney Dangerfield)

Two Worlds

“Culture is roughly anything we do and the monkeys don’t.” (Lord Raglan)

Remarriage means attempting, and learning how, to blend two completely different worlds. Two different lives. Two different families. And as #5 wisely observed, basically, “two completely different cultures.”

Second marriage moment #19? The reality and sum of the remarriage equation in my world: ex-wife/mother of stepchildren plus wife/mother of other children equals two completely different, opposite, family worlds. And its ramifications confront you, literally, every single day to those who live together. As optimistic as I prefer to be, I confess, it is not always an easy reality. Mark that second marriage moment #19a. (A difficult pill to swallow, at times, for the overly optimistic me.)

So how do you deal with it? I believe you handle it  like any other challenge in life, expected or otherwise: laugh. Because family, blended or otherwise, and “Rastafari not a culture, it’s a reality.” (Bob Marley) There are some pretty crazy, and darn funny, moments, aren’t there? Sometimes all you can do is shake your head and laugh.

Lastly, never forget that challenges are meant to be overcome; that they CAN be overcome. Second marriage moment #19b: the day my youngest sister, remarried and a stepmother for almost a decade now, told me: “Hang in there. EIGHT YEARS LATER, it’s a LOT better!” Oh, good. Only seven years, 7 months to go! Lol.

But I believe it can be done. And I’m going to be one of many who successfully does it. Anyone can, even if they don’t always think they can, like those moments of, “WHAT have I gotten myself into?” I imagine even original, biologically-related parents of families might wonder that on occasion, as well, huh?

Those moments are when we listen to Oprah. “Do the one thing you think you cannot do. Fail at it. Try again. Do better the second time. The only people who never tumble are those who never mount the high wire. This is your moment. Own it.” (Oprah Winfrey)

That’s what I’m doing. I’ve mounted the high wire of remarriage and blending families; there have been some great moments. In fact, “I’ve had quite a few moments I’ve liked, so it’s good enough.” (Bryan Ferry)

And I’m looking forward to many more.

Even On July 13

“If you wish to forget anything on the spot, make a note that this thing is to be remembered.” (Edgar Allan Poe)

Two years ago today, July 13, 2009, I thought my world had ended.

As I drove from Colorado to begin a new life in Utah (crying as discreetly as possible so my children wouldn’t realize tears were uncontrollably rolling down my cheeks), I could not comprehend ever healing or feeling whole again. I anticipated that date, July 13, would be burned in my memory forever and would always haunt me, as a day of personal infamy, never to be forgotten.

Cut to 2011.

A few days ago I realized (only because my middle child reminded me) that July 13 was approaching. I marveled at the healing that has taken place in just two years. I can’t believe all that has transpired in my life and in the lives of my children since 2009. We’re living a completely different, yet still unexpected, life. And honestly, this isn’t a painful date any more.

But I decided I needed to at least attempt to give it the respect I had once thought it deserved, to remember it and to mark the occasion by doing SOMETHING, so I made a plan to dispose of the dead hanging basket of flowers previously mentioned today—July 13.

This morning I got up, went to work, had a lunch meeting, worked all day, came home, did some work from home, enjoyed my children, made dinner, ate dinner with my family, sent #5 off to rehearsal for Sundance Resort’s summer theater production of “The Sound of Music,” and on my way back into the house happened to notice the basket of dead flowers hanging on the front porch. It brought me to a screeching halt. July 13!

Today was once THE day! I was supposed to have remembered it, wasn’t I? I had a plan to carry out! And here it was, almost 6 p.m., before I even remembered today. Just two years from the day I thought my world had ended, and already, I have completely forgotten July 13!

But never let it be said I don’t follow through with my plans. I asked my oldest son to throw the basket in the outside trashcan, he grabbed it and went to toss it out, and I turned around and went back into the house without a second glance or another thought.

How did it happen? How is it possible to have suffered such tremendous loss, to have endured such devastation and grief, only to forget such a landmark date just two years later?

I think it’s one bonus of not just living the unexpected life, but choosing to embrace your unexpected life.

Accept what you’ve been dealt. Take stock of what you’re left with. Use it to rebuild. Count your blessings. Laugh. Choose to find happiness and joy in your new realm. And guess what? You will. Each and every time. If it happened to me, it can happen to you. I know it. And then at some point, you realize the pain is gone. If you hang on long enough, choose to let go of it and focus on your new blessings, at some point, the pain is gone.

“My focus is to forget the pain of life. Forget the pain, mock the pain, reduce it. And laugh.” (Jim Carrey)

Even on July 13.

Second Marriage Moment #16

“Who dares to teach must never cease to learn.” (John Cotton Dana)

Second marriage moment #16? Teaching a marriage and family relations class together.

I had to laugh when our pastor asked #5 and me to teach the course. Yes, we do have 40 years of marriage experience between us but… we also have two divorces.

We’re halfway through our assignment now and I recommend it to everyone, regardless of how long you’ve been married. What a great way to begin a marriage: with a marriage relations class!

We’ve been reminded of a lot, we’ve learned some new things and as it turns out, it has also been a fabulous way to fix “little things.” For example, rather than telling your partner about a potential issue, you can just have them teach the part of the lesson about it and it’s taken care of without you ever having to say a word!

“Learn everything you can, any time you can, from anyone you can; there will always come a time when you will be grateful you did.” (Sarah Caldwell)

Learning is how we grow. I’m so grateful that life (and marriage) is a continual process of learning; it keeps things interesting AND fun.