A New Year, A Fresh Start

I mostly hate New Year’s Eve as a holiday. It’s doomed to fail from the start because it’s built up as the most epic party of all time, and it almost never is.

However, I believe pretty strongly in the importance of times of reflection, and the coming of a new calendar year is a pretty natural time to think back on everything that’s happened in the previous year and where you want the next year to go.

“My mom says it’s not 2008 that sucks, it’s growing up.” –Misha Heller, 12/30/2008

While I feel like it’s pretty self-evident that the past year has been the worst of all time, what with losing my husband to cancer and becoming a single mom to a toddler, there were some good things and I definitely learned a lot.

In the new year, here’s what I’m looking forward to:

  • Overdosing on positive things. This means being intentional about bringing in the most amount of good things in my life that I possibly can: positive, supportive people; fun activities; good music; and time for myself when I need it. Banishing guilt about being focused on this.
  • Downsizing. I have accumulated a lot of stuff over the past year(s), especially living in a large space. I’ve completely forgotten about a lot of the things tucked away in various closets I never visit! It’s starting to feel like it’s weighing me down, so I need to organize and purge what we don’t need. Baby stuff included.
  • Being healthy. I know this is everyone’s favorite New Year’s resolution. I used to be good with this one but have recently experienced the classic caretaker’s conundrum where your own health gets pushed to the bottom of the list. Time to reprioritize.
  • Practicing contentment. To me, this means appreciating what I have and not trying to compare my life to anyone else’s. I am super fortunate, especially in the number of great people I have in my life, and I don’t want for anything.

I used to think there’s an order that things are supposed to go in, and you need to be in a relationship, and then get married, then have kids, etc. This is obviously not invented, it’s a social/cultural script. Thankfully, we live in a time where there are many publicly-acknowledged examples of other models.

Maybe my story is be in a relationship, then get married, then have a kid, then be a single mom who lives a fulfilling life with amazing friends and family.

Who knows what the future will bring, but it feels like the only place to go from here is up.

The Death Certificate Saga [Updated]


This is a rant story about how it’s been more than four months since Allan died and I still don’t have his death certificate.

First, a quick explanation as to why this matters: the death certificate is the thing that you need before you can convince student loan companies that they won’t ever get their money, before you can turn your joint checking account into a single checking account, and before you can transfer the title of your husband’s car into your name, to name a few. It’s basically the key to making all the awful paperwork and administrative crap you need to do when your spouse dies go away for good.

So, the funeral home submitted all the paperwork (correctly) right after Allan passed away, and told me that it takes 4-6 weeks for them to get it back and then they send it to me. Cool. After six weeks had passed, I called them to follow up. They said they actually had it in the office, but they didn’t think they should send it to me because it has an error on it and they’re the ones who have to resubmit it for corrections.

What’s the error? Someone at the TN Department of Health had whited out my last name and typed Lutes (Allan’s last name) over it in the line for “informant.” I have no idea why. No one I’ve spoken to has any idea why. I’ve never been Jasmine Lutes, but maybe someone thought I should have been?

On September 2, the funeral home submits the form for what’s now called an Amendment to the death certificate. As I understand it, it goes from the funeral home to the county Dept. of Health, and then on to the state office in Nashville. However, it’s no longer handled by the same people who made the mistake: now it’s in the hands of Vital Records.

Since early October, I’ve called and left three or four voicemails for Vital Records that were never returned. I spoke to someone at the county health department twice, at which point they just confirmed that they had a record of the amendment being submitted and that’s about it.

The mayor and Senator Corker were both at Allan’s funeral and sincerely offered help if I needed it, so at the urging of friends, I called both offices (this is actually more of a constituent service than a personal favor, so anyone can call and ask for help). Tuesday, November 17th was the mayor, and and Friday was the senator. Staff members in both offices were super friendly and helpful, of course.

Magically, last week was the first time I ever got a call back from anyone at Vital Records. I spoke with someone named Pam, who, while nice, was also pretty much completely unhelpful. She couldn’t tell me what the delay was, where my amendment was in the queue, or when it was expected to be completed. When she suggested that I write a letter explaining the issue, get it notarized, and send it in with the copy of my birth certificate, I paused.

I said [paraphrasing], “Wait, why would I need a copy of my birth certificate?”She said, “To show your maiden name, since you weren’t born in Tennessee and we don’t have it on record.” I said, “Pam, there is no maiden name. Lutes is incorrect, and my last name is Zick. I’ve only had one name.” She said, “Your maiden name is the one you had before you were married.” I said, “Pam. PAM. I have only ever had one last name. I have never changed it. Zick was, is, and will always be my last name.”

WOW. She says, “Ohhhh. Well in that case, you don’t need to send in a copy of your birth certificate. A notarized letter should be fine. You can send it to my attention and I’ll get it taken care of.” While I appreciate the effort, in no other setting would it be acceptable to ask the customer/grieving widow to handle more paperwork and mail that in to resolve their issue. Normally, in basically any business, if you mess something up, you make it a priority to fix it and then let the customer know the status of the issue you’re trying to resolve. But this isn’t business. This is government.

Today, I spoke with the staff member from Senator Corker’s office who can help me and try to figure out what’s going on over there. I filled out another form, this one (pictured above) a privacy release form so they can get into the records if needed. Thank goodness they at least know about emailing and scanning things. Godspeed.

Unfortunately, this saga isn’t quite at an end. I’m just so freaking sick of having to deal with things like this. If I never had to call another stranger at a company or government office and tell them that my husband died, I’d be totally fine with that.

UPDATE: The saga actually has come to an end, thank goodness. After a couple more frustrating calls with Vital Records, I finally received it in the beginning of December.

It’s still unclear what exactly happened, who was responsible for it, and what I could have done differently. There is apparently no accountability in the chain of custody from the funeral home to county to state offices.

I only really had the energy to fight this battle once I had gotten a few other stressful things off my plate, so I can’t imagine what it is like for others who are in worse situations than I am in. I also couldn’t have done it alone–so many people helped and encouraged me. I want to give a special shout-out to Kelly in Senator Corker’s office, who also followed up with me to make sure the situation had been resolved.

Reaching Out

A lot of people seem to minimize it when they contact someone after a loss. They say something like, “Just reaching out,” “There are no words, but…” or “I know everyone is asking you this, but how are you?”

If you sent me a Facebook message, text, email, or card, thank you. If you came to Allan’s funeral, visited me, gave me a hug, made me food, took me to lunch, offered to help, raised money, sent flowers or presents, thank you. I may not have responded, or if I did it sounded short or robotic, because I don’t really know what to say any more than you do. Sometimes you did know what to say because you had been through something similar, or you are just way more emotionally intelligent than I am.

Everything you did was right and amazing. I know why we say “reaching out” now. It really felt like you were extending a hand into the darkness to me. I’m still floundering and trying to figure out my new normal, but if I had any doubt before, now I know just how many truly wonderful people I have in my life. It’s a weird thing to be sad and at the same time overwhelmed with gratitude, awe, and love.

It also makes me realize that I’ve missed a lot of opportunities to reach out to people in tough circumstances. I chose not to because I didn’t feel like I knew how, or I figured they already had enough support from people closer to them and we haven’t talked in a while anyway. Man, how wrong I was. Better people than I am reached out to me after not talking to or seeing me in years. YEARS, like a decade. Wow.

I know I never thought about the possibility that I could be changed for the better after losing my husband, but I can tell you I will strive to err on the side of sending that message or card rather than not. It certainly doesn’t hurt, and you never know how much it could mean.

Alexandra’s Birth Story

Waiting, waiting, waiting. Alexandra’s birth story starts with a whole lot of waiting around as Allan, my parents (plus friends and family on Facebook) and I watched the days past my due date pass by. I was going to bed hopeful that each night would be the night contractions would start, and waking up disappointed every morning that nothing had changed. I was trying to do whatever I could to think about other happy things until Baby Bear decided to make an appearance, including a delightful pedicure date with my mom.

Thursday’s Doctor’s Appointment

As I mentioned in my 41 Weeks Pregnant post, I was supposed to go in to have an ultrasound to check amniotic fluid levels on Tuesday, but the tech was out sick so my appointment was rescheduled to Thursday, March 27. I was relieved to have the two extra days for labor to start on its own, but womp womp, I was still pregnant–12 days past my due date–when I went in that morning. Continue reading

Welcome to the World, Alexandra!

Baby Bear is a mystery no more…it’s a girl! Alexandra Zick Lutes was born Friday, March 28, at 7:20am. She weighed in at eight pounds, six ounces and measured 20 3/4″ long. Everyone is doing well, and she especially loves her dad and grandparents showering her with love.

holding hands with papa


Forty-one Weeks Pregnant

41 Weeks Pregnant
41 Weeks Pregnant

Holy cow. Forty-one weeks, one day pregnant. I really did not think I was going to be here, even though I know that most first babies are late.

At my last doctor’s appointment, I got hooked up to a couple of monitors for 20 minutes to listen to the baby’s heartbeat and check to see if I was having contractions.


It was pretty comfy in that giant recliner (with complimentary lap blanket) and the baby did great. This is part one of the increased testing that someone past their due date is in for, and the next step is an ultrasound on Tuesday to check my amniotic fluid levels.  Continue reading

Forty Weeks Pregnant, or Is This Baby Here Yet?

40 Weeks Pregnant
40 Weeks Pregnant

How far along: Forty weeks, two days STILL pregnant. But who’s counting, right?

Everything else is exactly the same as last week, so I’m just going to give a little update. At my doctor’s appointment on Thursday, I decided to let her check me again even though it’s really uncomfortable and doesn’t actually tell you anything about when you’ll have the baby. The results were: 2cm dilated, 80% effaced (she originally said 70%, but when I expressed surprise that the number had gone backward, she said it was just a guess and would just keep it at 80% on my chart), and the baby’s head (which she could feel) is at a -1.

My midwife seemed pretty confident that the baby would come at some point this week, so she recommended that I go ahead and take my maternity leave starting this week. She explained that exhaustion was the enemy of natural birth, so I was more likely to have the energy to labor for as long as I needed to if I took the time to rest and take as many naps as I wanted. It took me a while to think about it and be ok with scheduling my leave, but I decided it made sense and would make things easier on work if I could tell them exactly how long I’d be gone, too.

She told me and Allan that if we wanted to urge the baby along, I could chug 2oz of castor oil mixed with orange juice (chased with a Reese’s cup, or in my case, a little brownie) first thing in the morning, on an empty stomach. After about an hour, I could eat some toast, which I did. I felt fine for the first two hours or so, but then I proceeded to get sick as a dog for the rest of the day. Not. Fun. And, most importantly, still no baby! It just made me crampy and miserable.

I’m trying really hard to just relax and enjoy some time off before the baby comes, but our future pediatrician warned me that every day past the due date felt like three weeks, and he was totally right. Any day now, Baby Bear!