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Turning 40 After Losing Dad
Episode 163rd August 2022 • Forty Drinks: The Podcast About Turning 40 • Stephanie McLaughlin
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Turning 40 After Losing Dad

Ann Plucinak lost her dad suddenly when she was 38 just as she was leaving a job and she and her husband were relocating to a new city. The holidays came soon after her dad’s passing and the job she thought would be easy to find wasn’t. This bowlful of ick led to an 18-month period of grief, sadness and depression, which she climbed out of just in time for her 40th birthday, thanks to her work with a great therapist. Today, she’s loving that new city, found a great job and, if she wrote a memoir, it would be titled “She Thought She Was Being Funny.”

Guest Bio

Ann Plucinak grew up in Duluth, MN (about 150 miles north of Minneapolis). After college she moved to the northeast and hasn't looked back. Since then she has lived in CT, Long Island NY, NH and now Cleveland, OH. She’s been married for 11 years and her husband, James, is pretty awesome. She has two adult stepkids and one spoiled cat named Gary. She works in field Human Resources for a craft company and enjoys spending her free time knitting and making random things with her Cricut. “In most ways,” she says, “I'm pretty boring.”

Life Goes Sideways

Ann Plucinak had a really tough year the year she was 38. 

It began with her husband getting a new job, which, for them, usually entails a move since they both work in retail careers. Her husband was contacted by a prospective new boss in mid-October of that year. He had a conversation with them and said he wouldn’t move after November 1, since that’s going into the holiday season and it wouldn’t be fair to his current company. Instead of slowing the conversation down, it sped it up and they made him a verbal offer on October 31, which came with a move to Cleveland. 

The following weekend they went to Cleveland to look for an apartment. Ann remembers calling her dad from the airport to tell him they were moving. She had been on the East Coast for 15 years by then and Cleveland was within driving distance of her hometown. Her dad was excited that she would be so close. 

They found an apartment in Cleveland and flew home on Sunday. On Monday, Ann got a call from her dad’s live-in girlfriend that her dad had fallen and was unresponsive and she should come home. She booked plane tickets and told her husband she thought he should come. By the time she got home, the doctors said there was nothing they could do. They unplugged all his life support and spent the next week making plans and saying goodbye.  

They flew back to New Hampshire on a Sunday and her husband left the following Saturday to move to Cleveland and start his new job. He hadn’t started with a new company for about 15 years, so everything was new and his onboarding was going to be intense.  Ann had planned to stay behind for another six weeks, finish work and pack up their home. 

Ann checked out of everything other than work. Only her immediate coworkers knew what was going on, which was fine by her. She didn’t want to have to say the words “my dad died” so she stopped doing pretty much everything else. Her coworkers also knew that being alone wasn’t going to be good for her, so they rallied around and took care of her until she could get to Cleveland in December. 

Then came the “firsts,” starting with Christmas. 

Do You Want to See Someone? 

Ann thought finding a new job would be relatively easy when she got to Cleveland. She had a couple of career paths she could follow. She worked in retail for 20 years and she was getting her master’s degree in human resources. Plus, her most recent job was at a university. But nothing was panning out and Ann started breaking down. 

Her husband asked her, “Do you want to go see someone?” What he meant was, you’ve got friends all over the place, do you want to get out of here and go stay with a friend for a while. What Ann heard was, “Do you want to go to therapy?” Which turned out to be the right question. She realized that would be so helpful for her and, in fact, if she had a new job she wasn’t sure how productive or effective she’d be. 

The challenge with losing someone suddenly is that there are always things you wish you had said or done. Ann felt lucky that she moved away when she was 22 and she and her dad had figured out what a long-distance relationship looked like. He was her commute person. They talked most days. That meant that neither one of them had to guess how the other felt. There were no words left unsaid. There were no unresolved issues. She feels lucky that she didn’t have any regrets. 

Ann’s dad was a big celebrator of birthdays. He was also a big baseball fan. As Ann was trying to figure out how to celebrate his birthday, she realized that if he was still here, he would probably come to Cleveland for a baseball game. And, though Ann hates baseball, she knew she had to go to the game. 

She had gone to a Minnesota Twins game with her dad once. There was a ground-rule double, which Ann thought was pretty rare, so she stood up and cheered, much to her dad’s embarrassment. In the third inning of the Cleveland Indians game, there was another ground-rule double and Ann burst into hysterical laughter and hysterical tears at the same time. So much so that she had to leave, which was fine because she didn’t want to watch the whole game anyway. But she knew that her dad was with her. 

What’s Next? 

Ann says she didn’t know what “next” looked like. She was feeling a lot of the “unfair” stage of grief and didn’t know what the next step in her career should be. She finally found a job after six months of looking. It wasn’t the right job but it was something. She finished her master’s degree in December, which concluded all the “firsts,” his birthday, her birthday, holidays. She knew she would survive. She felt like she wanted to start enjoying those things again. 

At the urging of a very supportive friend, Ann applied for a job that she thought she was probably not quite qualified for, but could probably talk her way through the interview and make it make sense to someone outside her own brain. 

She got the job (which she’s still at) and it turns out she WAS qualified! Ann thinks of that as the turning point. The job combined a lot of things Ann loves and was at a higher professional level than she had been working in recent years. It combined her career paths in a way she hadn’t realized was possible. The company served a market that Ann was a part of. And the job included travel. If Ann had made a list of all the things she wanted in a job, this one would be it. 

Around 18 months after her dad died, things started to turn around. Ann started to see what the future looked like and got excited to step into it. 

She Thought She Was Just Being Funny

If Ann wrote a memoir, the title would be “She Thought She Was Just Being Funny.”

About a year and a half before Ann turned 40, she saw a friends’ post on Facebook with a picture of the friend’s one-year-old doing a cake smash. The baby had on a unicorn headband and Ann commented, “save the horn; I’ll do that for my 40th birthday.” Another friend saw Ann’s comment and commented back that she would go with Ann, who proceeded to forget all about it. 

A year later Ann found herself in Nashville for the second friend’s bachelorette party. The friend says to Ann, “tell everyone what we’re doing for your birthday!” And Ann, never a big birthday celebrator, says, “I don’t know. I’ll probably work.” The friend says, “No. We’re going to North Carolina and you’re doing that photo shoot!” 

Ann thought, you know what? I need a win. I need something ridiculous.  So she reached out to her friend - who is a photographer - reminded her of the silly idea and asked if she was interested. The photographer friend loved it and thought it would be amazing. 

Her photographer friend made a backdrop and a tutu for Ann to wear and got a cake from the one that usually does her baby cakes, along with a bottle of champagne. The group spent an entire morning doing the “princess 40th birthday photo shoot cake smash.” 

Ann says it ended up being the exact way she wanted to celebrate her 40th because she was really sad she wasn’t celebrating with her dad. She loved that her celebration was “unhinged” and special and included a wonderful weekend with friends. It was a nice way to say “this is the point where we move forward.” 

The Great Match Therapist

Ann feels lucky that she found the exact right therapist on the first try. Ann knew she was the right fit when the therapist did her own homework to meet Ann in the place where she processes thoughts and feelings: in characters going through things in movies and on television. 

This particular connection was from the movie Inside Out where the first 10 minutes is a montage of a little girl in Minnesota playing with her dad. The therapist had never seen the movie, but offered to and asked Ann to rewatch it and write down how she was feeling. When they came back together, they compared how Ann was feeling with the science behind it and connected the pieces. Ann realized what she was feeling was normal and felt really appreciative that her therapist had taken the time to meet her where she was and use the tool that Ann was comfortable using to process her emotions. 

Her therapist also taught Ann how to separate herself from those stories and not get caught up in them. She taught her how to differentiate between things that are actually happening and stories we tell ourselves.  

When she gets caught up with her emotions, Ann goes back to one of the tools her therapist gave her. She imagines the worst case scenario and then really thinks about whether that’s so bad. And if the worst outcome happens, will it still matter in a week or a month? Even if terrible things happen, how long will it really impact you?

Tell me a fantastic “forty story.”

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Stephanie: Hi, Ann, thank you so much for joining me today.

Ann: Absolutely. Thank you so much for the invitation. I'm so excited to get to talk to you again.

Stephanie: Me, too. My recollection of you and I is that we met in an aerial circus class.

Ann: We did.

Stephanie: Is that right?

Ann: Okay. So here's why I fell in love with this podcast: in the first episode you talked about how, when you met Patrick, you were like, "Don't be too aggressive." and that is how I was when I met you. Cause I went home and I was like, "Babe, we're like the olds in the class, we're normal looking people. I am going to calm down and I'm not going to text her every day of my life because I could absolutely go all in on this and be scary."

Stephanie: Oh, my God. I'm so sad that you didn't because you moved away a couple of years later. And I think I told you a couple of years ago, or at some point on Facebook I said, "If you hadn't moved away, you and I would be best friends." I think we have a lot of similarities, we are similar kinds of people. I'm sorry that you decided to turn off your "I want to be your friend aggression." Interestingly I found aerial right after my 40th birthday. I was already with Patrick and a girlfriend of mine was doing it and sort of created a "Hey, bring your friends" thing. And so a couple of girls I knew, we went over there and I absolutely fell in love with it. The very first time I could do nothing, but I fell in love with it and the thing that I remember trying to describe to people? When you put a silk around, you tie it in a knot, you put it around your waist and then you tip back just to sort of go upside down. All of your weight is being held on essentially your spare tire. I remember going home and telling Patrick, "My fat hurts." Well, how else do you describe it? At what point do you put all of your pounds on your spare tire. On purpose?

Ann: I remember the bruising was so bad on my inner thighs that I told my husband, I can't go to the gynecologist because they're going to ask me if I'm safe in my home. And I'm not prepared to go into all of, because it will sound like a lie and they will call the police.

Stephanie: Funny, I'm going to jump from there and go to my gynecologist and this is safe for work. Back in the day, I told my gynecologist because of course, you know, "Do you exercise?" And I was like, "Well, I do this aerial circus thing." And the location that we did it was on a street that she actually drives home on. To this day, 10 years later, once a year, when I go in and see her, she's like, "I always think about you when I go home 'cause I drive right down Lake Ave and I see that building, and I wonder if you're in there doing it." It's just hysterical. I did it for a long time and loved it and then had to give it up a couple of years ago, for health reasons, but one of these days, my goal is to get back there to get back on those silks. Um, we'll see.

Ann: I miss it. It was fun.

Stephanie: Someday me too. But that's not what we're here to talk about today. You have a 40 story

Ann: I do.

Stephanie: You told me some really broad strokes of it and it sounds exceptionally harrowing to me. I'm so interested to hear you bring it to life. You said it started when you were 38, you had a really tough year.

e were in Spain in October of:

Ann: So it'd be going into the same kind of job saying, "Hey, we have a district manager position open, do you want to talk?" And so he said, "What should I do?" I said, " Well tell her you're in Spain. And you'd love to have a conversation when you get back home." So that following Monday, they did the exploratory conversation.

Ann: This was probably middle of October. We'll say like the 17th, if that's a Monday. And he said, "Just so you know, I won't leave after November 1st. I don't think it's right. We're going into holiday. I wouldn't want someone to do that to me. I'm not going to do that to somebody else. So if you want to pause, pick this conversation back up in January, like just know that that's where I am."

Stephanie: She went the other direction.

Ann: She railroaded him through. So that is, what I do for a living, interview and hire retail leaders. They flew him to Chicago. He met with the regional vice president. Two days later, they flew him to Texas. He had five, C-suite interviews in one day, on Halloween.

Ann: So they flew him there on the 30th. They did the interviews on Halloween. He was in the airport. He was in the airport, he had not left and they called him with a verbal offer.

Stephanie: That's fast.

Ann: Yes. And so we were like, "It's gotta be right, right?" For them to, to go through all of what they need. It takes me three days to just get an offer letter.

Ann: So for them to do it in 20 minutes after he had been at the airport, they were ready. We just had to agree that this was the right thing. So he gets home, he resigns on November 1st, the company he was with you know, it's like Mary Poppins: they like rip out your flower and punch through your hat and just send you on your way.

Ann: So there's no two weeks to work out. So he's great, he's super excited, he's going to have two weeks before he starts. So he's going to take a little bit of time and then pretty much start like the week of Thanksgiving. So this was the following Tuesday.

Ann: We now are relocating to Cleveland and we've had zero minutes to think about it. We're super excited. We go that weekend. We leave on Friday to go to Cleveland, and I remember I was in Logan at the Legal Sea Food, bar, and I remember calling my dad and saying, "We're moving to Cleveland, we're going there to find an apartment tomorrow.

Ann: We've made some appointments. We'll see how this goes." And my dad saying "Okay." This is not the first time that this has happened, but he's like, "Okay, Cleveland, good for you." My cousin had just moved from there and actually ended up really liking it. So I remember talking to him about it and he was super excited.

Ann: It was bringing me a lot closer.

Stephanie: Right. It's closer to home for you.

Ann: Yeah. So home was Minnesota. I had been out on the East Coast for 15 years at that point. And so I was coming to a place that was within driving distance for him. He will get in the car, he will drive for eight hours. It was going to be great.

Ann: He was over the moon that I was going to be so close. We go to Cleveland, we spend one day, we find an apartment, it's not even built yet.

Stephanie: That sounds about right.

Ann: Yep. So, and then we get home. We, fly home on Sunday. I go to work Monday and Monday morning, I get a phone call from my dad's live-in girlfriend that he had fallen, he was in the hospital, he's non-responsive, you need to come home. So I finished out my day of work 'cause I was like, there's nothing good is coming from me leaving right now, let me just figure this out. So called my husband, booked some flight arrangements. I was like, "I think you need to come with me." We didn't really know how it was going to go. So we flew out first thing in the morning, went to the hospital and there was, there was essentially at that point there was nothing they could do.

Ann: He had been having some health problems, but not anything that was immediately life-threatening. But he had a fall and that, that was it. I mean, none of us really kind of know. And so later that day we, you know, removed him from all of the equipment and then spent the next week making plans.

Ann: So, um, you know, contacting those who need to be contacted, making arrangements. My parents didn't live where I had grown up and my father was very connected to the town that I had grown up in, which is about 150 miles away from where he was living. We knew that that's where any sort of service or memorial needed to be.

Ann: So we make those plans. I call a friend like, "Can I say your house for a couple of days?" just kind of make all of those contacts and involve yourself in it, you just like get through it. So it's five days of there's so much work involved in questions and in different things.

Ann: So, we took care of all of that. Flew back to Cleveland that Sunday. So, the seventh was the day that he passed away and that was a Tuesday. We fly back home to New Hampshire on Sunday. Um, and have to pack cause my husband is leaving on Saturday for Cleveland, so he had to go. His new job was starting, if he pushed it back any further it was going to be Thanksgiving and there there's just no reason for him to start at that point.

Ann: So I'm now alone in an apartment that I have to pack up. I had figured out I could stay at work until December 15th so I had a month, uh, alone at home while he was in Cleveland busy training, learning a new company. He hadn't been with a new company in I don't know, 15 years, so everything was new. All the people were new, all of the processes. So I stayed back and packed up our apartment, continued working, finishing things out and, I just checked out of everything else. So I went to work and I went home. Outside of the people that I was immediately working with, nobody there had to know what was going on.

Ann: And so I didn't have to say it out loud again, because that to me was the worst part was to continue to have to say "My dad died." And so I didn't, I stopped doing everything. I stopped going to aerial, I went to work and I went home. By that point I was working at SNHU, and the friends that I had made there, they were unbelievable. They had a schedule of like, who was going to sleep over, 'cause they knew he was leaving and I was going to be alone and they knew that was just not going to be good for me.

Ann: Dad was like that's five years and I still like, I still miss him every day. So they knew that it was just, it was going to be so hard to be alone. So they, they really took care of me for that month and made sure that I was at least going to be able to get to Cleveland and get home and get home and get to my husband.

Ann: And at this point, so now I'm working and I'm also in grad school. And that was, yeah, that was the other thing. So I was like also in grad school.

Stephanie: One more thing.

Ann: Right, right. Yes. So I left New Hampshire, December 15th, I think, or 16 drove to Cleveland. Our truck came December 23rd.

Stephanie: Like, yeah.

Ann: Right, so now, and then that's when you like start all those firsts. So now this is the first Christmas that I'm going to do without my dad. My mom came to Cleveland to help me unpack because my husband was working. He couldn't take December 23rd off to meet the truck and help unpack, it's one of the busiest days of the year.

Ann: So my mom came out to Cleveland to help me unpack and meet the truck and do all of what we needed to do for those couple of days. And so she stayed, I think she left Christmas morning to go back to my brother and his family 'cause there's some little kids and Christmas is way more fun with short people than it is with somebody who's just been crying for six weeks.

Ann: Don't recommend that. So now I don't have a job. I was in school, so I did have something to do, but so much of my being at that point was work. I loved it. I focused on it. It was who I was and I was like, okay, like, I'll give it until the new year.

Ann: Let me take a couple of weeks. It's not imperative that I start working right away. I'll start looking in January and then nothin'. Nobody's answering. I'm applying to all these jobs, I'm not even getting interviews. I'm like, "I know if you interview me, you'll hire me. I promise, I'm really engaging."

Ann: Nothing was happening and I started to just absolutely break down. I remember the moment: it was at some point in January, cause I thought, you know, it would be a couple of weeks. Yeah.

Stephanie: You thought it'd be easy.

Ann: I thought it absolutely would be easy. At that point I had a couple of different career paths.

Ann: I had worked in retail for 20 years. I was getting my master's degree in human resources and I had spent a year working at a university. So I can go a couple of different directions. There's two colleges I can walk to. There's so many options, and none of them were panning out. In the, like the one day timeline that I'd given myself to find a job, once I started looking. I remember at one point, I was in the middle of whatever was going on in my brain and I remember my husband said to me, "Well, do you want to like, go see someone?" And what he meant was "You have friends all over, do you want to go stay with a friend for a while, and just get out of here?" What I heard is, "Do you want to go to therapy?"

Stephanie: I heard it exactly the same way you heard it.

Ann: And that was the right question.

Ann: Cause I was like, yes, I, yes, that's exactly where I need to be right now. Like, I don't know, if I did have a job, I also don't think I would be any good to anybody right now in this current state. I can't even think.

e have? My dad died summer of:

Ann: Yeah. And I was lucky. Cause I think the challenge with the suddenly is that there are things you wish you said, things you wish you did, which when you get an extended timeline, you know we don't have any time to waste, let's get it all out. I was lucky that I had moved away when I was 22.

Ann: And so we had to figure out what that relationship looked like. And so he was my commute person.

Ann: I used to

Ann: joke that talking to him on the phone was a part-time job because he would get me from point A to point B most days on my way home from work or whatever that was.

Ann: We love to travel, so any driving trips, anything I was doing. So there was not a single word that was left unsaid. Neither one of us has to wonder how we felt about the other one. I feel like everything was resolved, that there's nothing that's open.

Stephanie: yeah,

Ann: So

Stephanie: No regrets.

Ann: I have none, zero.

Ann: Yeah, no zero. So I think that makes it easier, if it can easier. He took every part of me with him and I have every part of him still here and we both feel comfortable with that.

Stephanie: I feel the same way. My dad and I were super close and the 15 years I lived downtown, I was a mile from my parents' house. Pat and I would be sitting out on our patio having dinner and my parents would be out for a walk and they'd just wander through our courtyard and sit down and have a glass of wine, or we'd go over for dinner or we'd sit on their porch for a glass of wine.

Stephanie: We just were close. We vacationed together for five or six years before he died. We'd rent the lake house together for a week and and spend that time together. So I, agree sort of no regrets around having spent the time, having had the relationship, having no regrets about having missed out on on things. So you're right. I suppose, regardless of whether it's short or long, that's probably the better, uh, qualifier of how difficult the loss is.

Ann: Yeah. Then it came down to the things that we would miss out on together. His birthday is in April, so, I started to think and talk about with my therapist, "How do I kinda..."? he was always real big on birthdays. He was the only person I knew who rounded up.

Ann: He turned 60 and then was "Oh, I'm almost 61." Like from that next day, and my birthday was important to him too, I'm the youngest kid. My oldest brothers is meaningful. Mine is meaningful.

Ann: Cause it's the last one to do all these things. Every year he was the first person to call. He would call me at five o'clock in the morning, east coast time. I'm like, "Dad it's four in the morning." He wanted to be first, even though I lived with my husband, he wanted to be the first person to wish me happy birthday.

Ann: So he loves baseball. We had done a couple of trips, so he was not a big traveler, but a couple of times he came out we went to Boston and he got to go to Fenway and go to a baseball game. We went to New York, we went to Baltimore.

Ann: So I knew that if he was here for his birthday, he would come, we would go to a baseball game in Cleveland. We live within walking distance of the stadium. At that point we lived right downtown. And I knew that this is what we'd do. So I was like, okay, this is the thing that we have to do. I personally hate baseball.

Ann: I only went because it was a thing that we could do together. There's snacks, which I'm a huge fan of especially like ballparks snacks that they're all so good. And I could do things that would intentionally annoy him, which was the, like the absolute reason for my existence was to just like needle him and poke at him and try to make him laugh.

Ann: We had gone to a Twins game once and there was a ground rule double, and I got very excited cause I'm like, "Oh, I feel like this is super rare," like I stood up and cheered and I'm like, "Yes! This is happening." And he was super embarrassed and looked at my husband, like, "What is she doing? Oh my God, this is ridiculous."

Ann: So we go to this baseball game, my husband and I go to an April baseball game, which is very chilly in Cleveland because the stadium is right on Lake Erie. And in the middle of the third inning there is a ground rule double. I immediately burst into hysterical laughter and hysterical tears at the same time. And I cannot pull myself together.

Ann: I'm like, "Okay, you're here, you're in this stadium and we need to go because I cannot pull it together." I don't know how all of this is going to get fixed.

Stephanie: Regaining composure is not going to happen

Ann: We, just need to leave, which is fine because I didn't want to watch a whole game anyway. But yeah, I knew that he was there. I knew that he was sitting next to me at that game. And that was enough. That was what I had gone there to see.

Stephanie: yep. That's that's amazing.

Ann: so funny.

Stephanie: I love that.

Stephanie: So tell me about the year after. You said you had a hard time finding a job, you were grieving for your dad. You said you were pretty depressed around this whole thing.

Ann: I did. It was just, I didn't know what "next" looked like. You know, I had two different career paths I could take. I was just finishing school. I didn't know what anything else outside of right now looked like, and I couldn't get out of it. And there was part of me who didn't want to know, like, I don't want to know what this looks like, because I shouldn't have to this young or this, you know, like it's not fair.

Ann: It was a lot of "None of this is fair" and "I shouldn't have to go through this." I don't know why I thought that I should be immune, but I definitely did. I finally got a job in June, it was fine for what it was. It wasn't the right job for me but I was like, "Okay, I have something, I have this thing."

ster's program in December of:

Ann: So like now I'm ready to know like, what's next. Cause I've, I've done all of this and I want to start enjoying some of those things again. And so I, yeah, so I, I got to a point. I have a great friend of mine. Her name is Sunita. Who, who is somebody, if you need someone to believe in you and believe that you can do a thing, like regardless of if you're qualified or if you should, she's she will tell you that you, you should like, absolutely you can do this thing. And so she convinced me that I should apply for this job that I felt I was completely under-qualified for. But I could make it make sense. Like I could turn it into an interview to like convince somebody who wasn't me, because I definitely couldn't convince myself that I was capable of doing it.

eah, so this is like April of:

Ann: So it's like, I'm peeking out of this, I see the future, I have this job that's combining a lot of things that I'm really into right now. It's at a higher professional level than I had been working for the last couple of years.

Stephanie: If I remember, it also combines both of your career paths,

Ann: oh, a little

Stephanie: Retail and HR,

Ann: Oh, yeah a hundred percent. It combines so many things, I'm a regional HR business partner for craft company. When I was finishing grad school, I was like, "I need something to do. I need something where I'm using my hands, so I'm not on the internet all the time, but I still need to finish things."

Ann: I'd been writing papers for two years. So I took a knitting class and was really into it at that time. So I was like, "Wait, there's this job where it's in retail, so I know that. It's in human resources, so I know that. I'm all about knitting today and it had a lot of travel in it."

Ann: So the territory at that time went from part of Michigan, like Indiana, Michigan all the way out to Idaho. And so I would have the opportunity to go and see all of those places and meet people there and explore there and do work there and do work remotely and, and have so many different varied experiences.

Ann: It was absolutely like if I made a list of all of the things I wanted in a job, it was this job. It was about 18 months that things started to turn around and I could see what I wanted the future to look like and was excited to move into it.

Stephanie: And then for your 40th birthday, tell me what you did.

Ann: So if I wrote a memoir the title would be, "She thought she was just being funny"

Ann: Yes. A friend of mine I went to high school with she had a first birthday cake smash for her daughter. It probably was like 18 months before my birthday. It was at least a year, I know that for sure. And her sister is a photographer. Her sister was actually my wedding photographer, but she specializes in like babies and newborns and infants and maternity. So I had worked with her in that capacity and we kind of remained friends. I'd gone to visit them. They live in North Carolina, so I'd seen them a couple of times since then.

Ann: And so she posts this picture of her daughter's cake smash and she's wearing like a little unicorn horn. And so I, thinking I'm funny, comment on the picture, "Save the horn, I'll do that for my 40th birthday" and then think nothing of it. So somebody I know, actually from New Hampshire, sees that comment and screenshots it, circles it, and is like, "Oh my God, I'll come with you. This is so funny." And then I like fully dump it out of my head and I never think about it again. So that March, my birthday's in June, so that March, I was actually in Nashville with that third party friend for her bachelorette party.

Ann: And we're at this big house in Nashville. She's like, "Tell everybody what we're doing for your birthday." I was like, what are we

Stephanie: And you have no

Ann: I have no idea, no idea what she's talking about. Literally no idea what she's talking about, because I've never really celebrated my birthday.

Ann: I'm like, "I don't know. I'm probably going to go to work." I was interviewing for this job at that point, I was in the middle of the process. I was like, "I have no idea what we're doing." She's like, "No, we're going to go to North Carolina and you're going to do that photo shoot." I was like, "Oh, we're doing this?"

Ann: And then by that point, I was like, you know what? I need to win. Like, I need something ridiculous. I need to just like, let go. Like, I'm never gonna look any better. I had been married for eight years at that point. So I had wedding photos, we're never going to have a renewal ceremony. We're never going to do that. We're just not those people. So I was like, okay, like, I'm never going to look better. I might as well. You know what? Let's just see. So I sent an email to my friend and I was. Okay. So remember I made this joke, is this something you'd be interested in? What would this look like?

Ann: And she was all in. As a photographer, she is all in she's this is going to be amazing. Yes. Like let's figure this out. And so we ended up scheduling a trip down to North Carolina for the weekend. so I don't remember which picture I sent you, but she made this tutu, and she made the backdrop. She made all of this stuff. She has a bakery that she goes through for one-year-olds, so she orders a cake, she gets a bottle of champagne. We spend the whole morning doing an absolute princess 40th birthday photo shoot cake smash.

Stephanie: When I saw the pictures, first and foremost, I was exceptionally jealous. Because had I had enough forethought, that is exactly what I would have done. And this is no surprise. Right? I think you and I are definitely like just peas in a pod. I want the outfit that you wore

Ann: She made it!

Stephanie: For your photos. See?

Stephanie: I would wear that. When we promote this episode, I will post some of your 40th birthday pictures so people can see just how spectacular it was. But yeah, I was pretty envious, that was spectacular.

Ann: Yeah, it ended up being the exact way that I wanted to celebrate 40, because I was really sad that I wasn't celebrating it with my dad. To celebrate it in a way that was completely unhinged but that was special. I had a really nice weekend with my friend that went down there with me and with my friend from high school and her family I had been very close to her entire family all through high school and some of college.

Ann: It was a really nice way to just kind of say okay, this is the point where we move forward.

Stephanie: And you also used my number one guiding principle when you described this: you said it was ridiculous.

Ann: completely ridiculous.

Stephanie: I can't love anything more than I do something that's ridiculous.

Ann: I'm a big fan. I'm a big fan of it.

Stephanie: As a matter of fact the way I described the 40 Drinks Project, when coming up with that idea, I specifically say I chose it because at that point in time, I wasn't in a place where I wanted to have a big party and have everybody, coming there to sort of celebrate me. I was a 40 year old woman who was single and never had great luck with relationships.

Stephanie: And it, felt like, and obviously this is all in my own head, but it felt like the wedding that I hadn't had; it just felt icky to me. So I was like, I don't want to have a party, which is bizarre because I am as, as Leo, as you can get, the spotlight adores me and I adore it. Okay. So people were like, "You don't want to party?" And I was like, no. So when I came up with this crazy idea, I thought, now that is ridiculous. And that's a great way to just extend your birthday out for as long as it takes. I can just keep saying we're celebrating my birthday until I hit 40.

Ann: Yeah. And I've never been a big like birthday or like this, cause I've lived in a bunch of different places. So it's hard to have one party. Like my wedding was amazing because people will come out for a wedding. So I was living in New York at the time. It's where my husband is from. People will travel for that, but I'm not going to ask people to come and see me wherever I'm living, none of them have ever been easy places to get to and say

Stephanie: And Manchester NH, not that glam.

Ann: No. Cleveland OH people are like, "You live where?" I'm like, "No, we actually kind of love it."

Ann: It's a really good balance between Midwestern and Northeast.

Stephanie: I spent a bunch of time in Cleveland for a while. I dated a guy who was originally from Oberlin and went to college in Cleveland and had family in Cleveland. So for about five years, I was back and forth from, from Manchester to Cleveland. So I am familiar with what you're saying.

Stephanie: I mean, Cleveland, as Drew Carey will tell you, Cleveland rocks.

Ann: Yeah. People, people laugh at us, but it's funny to think that we settled someplace. We actually bought a house in October, which we had never thought that we would do, and we didn't know if we would settle anywhere long enough for it to be worth it. But yeah, we bought a house in October and plan on being here for at least the foreseeable future.

Ann: I don't know about forever because it's cold, but for right now, it's really, working for us here.

Stephanie: Oh, that's so wonderful. I'm glad to hear that you came out of that. That you were able to find your way out of the forest there. That's a tough year to have. As a matter of fact, this person that I dated for several years had some significant loss and trauma in his life and he would refuse, not actively, but he couldn't process the feeling. He just couldn't get through it. So it was emotional whack-a-mole, whenever a feeling came up he'd, he'd drown it in booze. So, some people don't come out of the forest, unfortunately.

Ann: I luckily found the exact right therapist for what I needed on the first shot. I just went into what is available in our medical benefits that's close. I just needed someone soon and ended up really finding the right person.

Stephanie: Tell me a little bit about how you knew this person was the right person, because that's something you read in advice columns and, finding a therapist is difficult. I mean, forget the fact that there aren't enough of them right now, but how do you know you had the right fit?

Ann: The defining moment: so I process a lot of things through making connections for things. And a lot of the ways that I make connections and it sounds really stupid is through like movies and television and these fictional people going through a thing. And I'm like, "Oh, okay. I just need to write the rest of the story."

Ann: I just make a lot of connections. I do that a lot and it's how I kind of make things make sense for myself. I don't know what I was thinking. I don't remember where we were going. My husband and I were flying somewhere, this was maybe, maybe three months after I had started seeing her.

Ann: So let's say it's six months after I lost my dad. I'm on a plane. And I see in the available movies Inside Out, which I've seen it a number of times, I've seen this movie many, many, many times. What I forgot is that the first 10 minutes is a montage of a little girl in Minnesota playing with her dad.

Stephanie: Oh,

Ann: So I completely melt down on this airplane, in public. Terrible, terrible. Worst decision I ever made. And I go to my next session and I say this is what I did. And she's like, I've never seen it. I'll go home before we see each other again, I'll watch it. She took notes of the science part and she's like, go home and rewatch it and then write down like what you're feeling.

Ann: So as you're seeing this thing, what are you feeling? What is it bringing up for you? What is it challenging? Then we came back together and I kind of went through this part wrecked me and she's like, yeah, that totally makes sense. And went through the science of that.

Ann: So it's the young girl is 12 and that's when your adult emotions cement. So she was connecting all of those pieces from that. She's like, there's, she's like the science is really good here. But helping me like take the emotions and just say "Oh, I'm supposed to feel that way."

Ann: Oh, supposed to, oh, this is normal. Okay. The whole theme of the movie, spoiler alert, is you need the sad times. You need the sad times. You need to sit in it. You need to feel it to really appreciate all of the other things. And so her taking the time to do that was so meaningful to me. To help those like brain synapses say "Oh, that's that's normal."

Stephanie: Yeah. She was really willing to meet you with the tool you were using to relate to.

Ann: Yeah. Cause I would come in and I would watch a movie where a husband and wife breakdown cause the wife is sad and I'm like, well, that's it like, he's going to go because I cried on the couch again, you know? And she's like, no, that's a movie, but, you know, and so she was really good about saying like, okay, how can you then not do that?

Ann: How can you take that story and make that, not your story? What do you need to do? What do you need to work through? and I still have, I'm sitting at my home office and they have a little like worksheet actually, I still have the notes that she gave me from, lookit they're right here. These are her notes about the movie and my worksheet on how we work through anxious thoughts and the questions we need to ask ourselves to see if we're really being realistic, if this is really happening, or if we're just telling ourselves a story.

Ann: That piece of paper has been sitting in that tray for five years and I use it all the time. And her metaphor was just like, if you go through this list and it's not true, if you're lying to yourself, you just take the thought and put it on a log and float it down the river.

Ann: And so then I know like, Nope, I'm, I'm doing this to myself again. Okay.

Stephanie: Which of those questions has, been really helpful for you? Share one or two of them with me.

Ann: So you just kind of go through, it's really kind of imagining the worst case scenario. And so, and then is that really bad? So imagine the worst outcome comes true. Would it still matter a week from now, a month from now, a year from now? Even if all those terrible things happen, how long is that really going to impact you?

Stephanie: Right. Is it going to ruin your life?

Ann: Yeah. Yeah. And cause I had so much coming from not working

Stephanie: Yup.

Ann: and I didn't need to, we were fine.

Stephanie: Right,

Ann: But I had convinced myself that we were going to lose our apartment and then he wouldn't be able to stay in this job that he was really starting to love and I was going to, yeah, I was going to be the thing that ruined everything.

Stephanie: Oh, wow. That's a spiral. Wow. My dad used to say and this isn't even something he said all the time, but that's one of the pearls that has stuck in my brain is consider the very best thing that could happen and the very worst thing that could happen and then throw them both away, cause it's unlikely that either of those is going to come true. So you're not going to win the lottery and you're not going to be homeless. So let's get ourselves in, the middle somewhere.

Ann: Yeah. Oh, that's so true. going to take that one.

So my dad passed in August of:

Ann: Yeah, you just don't even realize that this is going to be the thing that sets you off.

Stephanie: I I'm not even sure if I had been sitting with a therapist and like working through what could happen that day, if I would have even thought, "Oh, I'll have a problem with that." Cause it had nothing to do with me. This, wasn't even like my cousin was the girl or the dad was one of my uncles.

Stephanie: Do you know what I mean? It was, it was, it was an in-law. I mean, she's lovely. She's absolutely lovely. And I adore her, but

Ann: Yeah. And your dad got to be at your wedding, so you got to have that moment. It wasn't a missed moment.

Stephanie: Right. Yeah. I always like to say, and I don't know if anybody else in my family thinks this, but my wedding, our wedding, sorry, Pat, our wedding was, was my dad's last best day. He was, from nine in the morning till two the next morning, was just on. And he was, oh, actually, this is a great little story. Seven days before my wedding, my dad comes to me and says, I think we should take dance lessons. And I

Ann: This would've been a great idea, like six months ago.

Stephanie: Well, I, but here's the thing three weeks before he couldn't get out of bed. We weren't sure what shape he was going to be in for the wedding. Cause you know, some of these treatments it was like, oh, this month you're, you're a wreck,

Stephanie: and then that month you're stabilized. And we had no idea. So seven days before the wedding, he says, I think we should take dance lessons. And I said, oh, okay, whatever you want. So in that week, I think we got over to Arthur Murray, like three or four times and it was a hundred percent a secret.

Stephanie: My mom knew, my husband knew, and one of his sisters knew. The dance instructor choreographed for us a Fox trot to a Frank Sinatra song. And so everybody who's at my wedding, we didn't make it any smaller, still like 150 people, they know they'd gotten the save the date for May, and then a week later they had gotten,

Ann: go ahead and

Stephanie: come in

Ann: for that day.

Stephanie: Come in March. And so they all sort of knew that, you know, my dad looked, you know, he didn't have any hair and he looked, he looked a little gray. So my dad gets up and he makes his toast and then he says, you know, now I'd like to dance with my daughter and I walk over and we bust out with this Foxtrot and we brought the house down.

Stephanie: I mean, people were going nuts because they expected him to be sick. And as a matter of fact, before the reception, he had been mostly sitting down cause he wanted to make sure he had his legs for the dance. So if you had been sort of watching my dad, you would have seen that he was there, but he was seated.

Stephanie: He was pretty subdued. He was just saving himself, he danced the rest of the night,

Ann: Oh,

Stephanie: but.

Ann: good.

Stephanie: Brought the house down with this Foxtrot. And of course my mom and there were plenty of others, but like, you know, sobbing, you know, there was, there were, there was not a dry eye in the house. But you're right, it's not like we missed that opportunity.

Stephanie: It's not like when I sat down at my cousin's wedding, that was like a, oh God, I didn't get that. In fact it was a hundred percent the opposite. It was not only did I get that, I got it spectacular. And we made it happen in 30 days. So, there's a lot to be grateful for there, but I understand where it sort of sneaks up on you and, and it just

Ann: Yeah, weird. Like your body remembers the trauma and it's like, why do I feel off? And then it's like, oh, right, okay. Got it.

Stephanie: right? Yeah.

Ann: Yeah. Like those anniversaries.

Stephanie: Yup. You said you still feel your dad with you though?

Ann: Oh yeah. Oh yeah. Yes.

Stephanie: That's awesome. How does he come to you?

Ann: A lot of time when I'm in the car. Because that's when we would talk on the phone. You know, if I have anything really good to share, he would be the first person that I would want to tell. So when he's like, always around when things are good and then, you know, he'll just like randomly pop over.

Ann: So I was sitting in a friend's backyard waiting for her, she was at work, a little Cardinal just like comes and sit on the fence and it's like, "Oh, hey buddy. Yeah,, like things are really good." A friend of mine, we were friends from college and have kind of both bounced around the country a little bit, now lives like 90 minutes away in Pennsylvania, so we get to see each other really regularly. And he was really glad that I was able to pop over and see her because she's in my territory for work. So I can, have dinner with her on my way. And so he just showed up to say, "How nice. Enjoy your dinner." It's those little things that I would have called him on my way and said "Oh, I'm going to have dinner with Ellen because I'm going to work in Pennsylvania tomorrow."

Stephanie: That's funny. Cause my dad shows up as a bird too, so I don't know if birds are a universal symbol or if it's

Ann: Well, Cardinals are. That's that symbol. And I just, I never, I don't know if I'd ever noticed one before.

Stephanie: ah,

Ann: And then now it's like, Ooh, look at that cardinal.

Stephanie: Right? Yeah. Nice. I'm so happy to talk to you mostly. And I'm going to say this, that I'm going to email you my phone number and you're just going to not resist texting me from now on.

Ann: Absolutely. And I'm actually going to be in New Hampshire in like a month. So I will, yeah, I will send you that information. Yeah. And a trip. I'm abusing a week of being virtual to do a new England tour of babies. So I have a bunch of people that I need to see. Cause their tiny humans are either fresh and new and I've never met them or haven't seen them in two years cause nobody's seen anybody in two years. So.

Stephanie: Wonderful. And it's funny too. my husband's one of his childhood best friends, he was in our wedding, is in Cincinnati. And we always talk about getting out to Cincinnati to, to visit him. But he always comes home once or twice a year. So we see him here, but he's a big sports fan. And so he was saying to Pat recently, he's talked about this before.

Stephanie: "Oh, we should meet in Cleveland for a football game for a baseball game." And Pat was just saying recently "Eddie's always coming out here. I got to get out to Ohio. I think I should meet him in Cleveland." And I'm sitting here for the last half an hour going, "I think I'm going to Cleveland with Pat." I don't even need to go to the game with them. Cause you know, I'll just hang out in Cleveland, find a way to see you.

Ann: Yes, please.

Stephanie: Okay. We'll make that happen. Thank you so much for joining me on the podcast. This has been wonderful. And again, so much parallel experience between you and I and I've really enjoyed this conversation.

Ann: Yes, me too. Good luck with it.

Stephanie: Thank you.

Ann: All right, I'll talk to you soon. I promise.

Stephanie: Okay, bye.




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