Monday, September 6, 2010

Hyla Molander's Drop Dead Life Births New Website

Thank you for visiting my blog, which will now continue on my new website.

Your encouragement continues to mean the world to me, so will you please follow along there?

If you are moved by anything you read, I'm always thrilled when you share my writing with your friends. 

Comments, connections, and subscribers fuel me along this journey.

Endless gratitude!

Sunday, June 20, 2010

The Father's Day Timepiece

On Father’s Day, I hold the wristwatch—a stainless steel Bell & Ross—and notice the delayed clicks of the white second hand. My thumb moves in circular motions across the waterproof glass. I’m surprised by its weight.

Erik, my 29-year-old husband, pleaded with me for this expensive watch, but I said, “You know we can’t afford that right now.” We were saving money to buy our first house in over-priced Marin County, California.

“Hyla, he’s going to give it to me for one-third the cost.”

Oh, Erik. “Why do I have to be the one who has to say no?”

Erik put me in charge of our finances after he’d accepted that his impetuous spending habits weren’t helping us save. We were newly pregnant with our second daughter, and moving from one rental house to the next was getting old.

Erik bought the watch anyway. Then he had the nerve to justify his purchase by telling me he’d sold some computer equipment. Why did he need that watch? I wasn’t toting around designer purses. The fight blew over quickly, as most of our disagreements did, and the watch became a playful joke between us.

He liked to spend money. But nobody could deny that Erik was a phenomenal father. Every day, when he came home from work, he’d swing our daughter, Tatiana, into the air and say, “You are the reason for my existence.” During my pregnancies, not an evening passed when Erik didn’t rub almond butter all over my ripe belly. “Sexy curves,” he’d say.

He was an exceptional husband, always helping me with my writing, my photography business, and doing more housework and errands than I ever did. Anyway, isn’t marriage just an exercise in seeing the perfection in each other’s imperfections?

Erik wore that watch when he ran, when he showered, and when he lugged computers around at work.

And, when he was only 29, my beloved Erik was still wearing that watch when Tatiana and I heard him take his last breath.

Heart attack.


The funeral passed, then Keira’s birth, and through layers of grief, I sobbed from a place I didn’t know existed.

Eventually Evan came along. Evan—the handsome, Stanford MBA, Ironman athlete—didn’t run out the door when he met Keira and Tatiana for the first time. He didn’t flee. One month after we met, Evan rode his mountain bike up Mt. Tamalpais and asked Erik’s permission to care for me and the girls.

Evan has taken over for Erik, but Evan makes sure we talk about “Daddy Erik” every day. “If I died, I’d be incredibly bummed if you didn’t keep my memory alive,” Evan says.

Through Erik, we remember life in greater detail. We remember the butterflies that flew over our heads as Evan and I exchanged wedding vows, we remember the excitement in the courtroom when Evan legally adopted the girls, and we remember, each day, how blessed we are to now have four magnificent children.

On Father’s Day, I squish my lips against the black face of Erik’s watch, tuck it in to an ivory-lined box, and tape the folded turquoise wrapping paper along the sides.

Erik wants Evan to have his watch.


Closing my eyes, I imagine what Erik would say, and I begin writing a letter from Erik to Evan, which finally reads:

“There are things I would have changed about my 29 years, and I know that you and Hyla will have your own bumps along the road. I also know there will be times that you struggle to navigate the path of raising girls. There is no doubt in my mind that you will do a phenomenal job. That, you have already proven.

What I really want to say is thank you. Thank you for taking over—for wanting to take over. I chose you to take care of my girls, and my wife, because what I saw in you was the ability to be the most nurturing father and loving, supportive husband. You are one stellar man—anyone who knows you will vouch for that.

Evan, what I am about to give you, I am not sure you will even want to wear. It’s cool with me if you choose to leave it in a drawer, to pull out only on the occasion that you feel the desire to look at it, to be reminded that the time is now—the time is always now.

Happy Father’s Day, from one father to another. You deserve the greatest life. Don’t forget to take it. Take life. Breathe it all in.”

Thursday, June 3, 2010

Embracing Children's Psychotherapy

Keira, my five-year-old daughter, whined, “I don’t want to talk to anyone,” from under her purple, fuzzy blanket. She did not want start going to therapy.

She had recently returned from school one too many times, saying “nobody likes me,” or “I’m not smart,” or “nobody wants to be my friend.”

But that was as far as the conversation ever went. She really didn’t want to talk to anyone. Not even me.

I pulled the covers back, exposing her angry, brown eyes. “That’s just it, honey. It isn’t good if you don’t talk about your feelings.”

She wrapped her front teeth around the base of her thumb’s cuticle and chewed on the skin. “I don’t have any feelings.”

“Honey, you’ll be going to see Steve. Remember the man Tatiana went to talk to for a while?” My older daughter, Tatiana, had also seen Steve for about six months, when she was five.

Keira wiped her now-bleeding finger on her pink pillowcase. “With the dog?”

“Yes, the man with the dog. And the toys. A whole room full of toys.”

“I’ll play there one time, but I’m not going to talk.”

The great thing about play-based children’s psychotherapy is that the therapist is trained to figure out what is going on with kids all through interactive play.

The first time I took Keira to visit Steve, there was nothing wrong with the fact that she hardly looked at him. It was perfectly acceptable for Keira to squat down and line up a miniature family of horse figurines while Steve and I chatted.

“Keira,” Steve finally said, “whenever you’re fine with your mom leaving the room, just let me know. She’ll be right outside the door, waiting for you.”

Keira remained silent, but brought one of the green horses over to a table full of sand. She dug the horse’s hooves deep into a mound, then began sprinkling dirt particles over its head.

My late husband—Keira’s birth father—died when I was seven months pregnant with Keira. And now, here she was, five years later, acting out the burial of this horse.

I’d heard of grieving children using sand tables to bury inch-sized coffins and urns, but I’d never seen it before.

Steve sat on the floor, next to Keira, and handed her a shovel and a sifter. “Your mom is going to wait outside the door now. Is that alright with you?”

“Yeah,” she whispered, scooping more sand.

Unlike Tatiana, Keira did not watch Erik slide down the kitchen counter and stop breathing on our white-tiled floor. Keira did not call out in the middle of the night for “Da-Da” for several years after his death. But Keira did experience every ounce of pain that went through my womb those last two months of her gestation.

Keira took her first breaths as Erik’s miniature twin. Black hair. Upturned nose.

It was a bittersweet birth. Life and death, sleeping side by side.

An easy baby from the start, I wondered if Keira sensed her mommy’s distress. Was she taking care of me? Leaving extra room for me to console Tatiana’s nightmares?

Then, at two-years-old, right around the time when I started feeling some happiness again, Keira changed. She often woke from her afternoon naps, kicking and hitting me.

Some would have described her moods as “the terrible twos,” but I knew that Keira had not been born into ordinary circumstances, so I kept a careful watch over her.

Unfortunately, the amount of care I took in watching over both Tatiana and Keira depended on how stable I actually felt. I had also thrown myself into every type of therapy, but there were still days in which I walked close to the edge.

When Keira entered Kindergarten, my new husband, Evan, adopted both her and Tatiana. On our wedding day, as a part of his vows, Evan said, “We will never… ever… forget Erik …nor the irony of his tragic loss providing so much beauty and happiness in my life.”

Keira adored Evan, but every time one of us mentioned “Daddy Erik,” she said, “Don’t talk about him. It makes me too sad.”

Tatiana tried to make her little sister feel better. “Keira, we’re lucky we have two daddies.”

Keira cried, “You got to meet him, Tat. You don’t understand.”

Scattered throughout our house are many photographs of Tatiana and Erik, but Keira never got her photo opportunity. Keira was born fatherless. Worse yet, Keira was born to a mother who could hardly take care of herself, let alone two babies.

But now, after a year of meeting with Steve for therapy, Keira actually looks forward to her appointments. She is less reactive, more open, and usually willing to talk things through until we uncover the real problem.

Keira doesn’t come home from school with the complaint of having no friends anymore. In fact, these days when I volunteer in her class, the girls all swarm me with enthusiastic requests for play-dates with Keira.

This is what I want for each of my children. I want them to feel good about themselves. I want them to feel confident expressing their emotions. I want them to know that they can talk to me about anything.

No matter what.

Monday, May 17, 2010

Order Up! Single-Parents Dating Online E-Harmony. Yahoo Personals. J-Date.

Yup, I signed up for them all. I was a mama on a mission to find love online.

More sites, more options.

I had tried the club scene. Blaring music. Dim lights. Too much booze.

“Nice toes,” one guy had said, looking first at my feet and then straight at my chest.

Tall, dressed in black slacks, button-down blue shirt, full head of blonde hair. He certainly was attractive.

But way too young and way too interested in my breasts.

“Nice toes?” The white tips of my toenails peeked out from my three-inch-high red, strappy shoes. “You came over here to talk to me about my toes?”

I knew his type.

He swigged from his Corona bottle, laughing. “What’s your name?”

“I’m a widow.”

He leaned in closer, placing his hand on the hip of my jeans. “Willow?”

Clearly, he couldn’t hear me.

“No,” I shouted. “I’m a WIDOW.”

“Man, really?”

Did he just call me man?

I scanned the crowded room for my girlfriend and spoke with emphasis. “A widow with two babies.”

He smiled, but took a step back. No response.

That’s what I thought.

Pointing at the bright orange EXIT sign, I said, “You may want to run. Run as fast as you can.”

“I just wanted to talk.”

No doubt his idea of talking was much different than mine.

Before I had kids, it might have been fun to flirt with him, maybe even go out on a few dates.

Honestly, I was flattered. He couldn’t have been more than 22, and at a time when I felt like damaged goods, the attention reassured me at some level. Being a 29-year-old widow made me feel old. Undesirable.

But I needed a man who could handle my situation. And I wasn’t willing to settle for anything less than I had before.

So, I wrote, then rewrote my profile, which read, in part:

“There is a place where happiness overwhelms you, where you feel you might burst because it feels so good. I have been to that place. I have been there and tasted its richness and I know that I will return there once more. I have to believe that those capable of loving with such intensity, of living each moment completely, must deserve to love again.”

At night, I put my daughters, then 2-months-old and 21-months-old, in their cribs.

I didn’t have to deal with the bar scene. A few clicks on the computer and I could order up exactly what I wanted.

Religious preferences. Politics. Height. Wants kids. Willing to adopt. Willing to embrace a widow still snotting and crying from watching her 29-year-old husband drop dead of a heart attack on the kitchen floor. (Alright, there wasn’t a “still in grief” box to check, but my profile was very specific, so they knew what they were getting into when they contacted me.)

The best thing about online dating is that you have to force yourself to actually define what you want in a partner. That, to me, is the first step in getting everything you want out of a relationship.

If I liked their profile and had a good feeling about their photo, I’d get in touch via email. Then, after a few written exchanges, we’d talk on the phone. If I didn’t like the sound of a man’s voice, I knew I couldn’t spend the rest of my life with him.

I did meet someone right away, and although that didn't work out, we’re still friends.

There were many more lunches, dates for coffee, drinks, and through each of them, I learned more about myself. Never did I once have a bad experience.

In fact, I’d say online-dating for this single-mama worked out pretty well.

Two years after the death of my late husband, I met my new husband on

He’s exactly what I ordered up . . . and more.

Monday, May 10, 2010

Defibrillator, Death, and Denial

For three hours, the grasshopper-like chirps call out from the defibrillator. Three hours.

This entire time, I continue to write sections of my memoir, Drop Dead Life, trying to pretend the beeping isn’t there.

If the beeping is there, that means we really own a defibrillator. That means I actually need to be ready to pull out the child-sized paddles and jump-start my daughters’ hearts.

It’s been a rough few weeks. We just visited the pediatric cardiologist at the Oakland Children’s Hospital and this was the first year in which my new husband, Evan, and I were completely honest with Tatiana, 8, and Keira, 6, about their chances of inheriting their birth daddy’s genetic heart condition.

Fifty percent. Each of the girls has a fifty percent chance of getting Brugada’s Syndrome.

“Mommy,” Tatiana said, as she wiggled on the crinkly exam table paper, “So, basically, we’re doing all these tests to make sure we don’t die?”

My late husband, Erik, died at 29 from a problem with the electrophysiology in his heart. I was seven months pregnant with Keira on that Easter Sunday when Erik’s heart flicked off like a switch.

It was unimaginable. All of it.

I did every type of therapy possible: Endless hours of Post Traumatic Stress therapy. Journaling. Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing. Vigorous exercise. Hypnotherapy. Chakra work.

I figured the only way to get over Erik's death was to go straight through it, as painful as every step would be, and that the more time I spent healing, the sooner I would feel capable of being a good mother again, and eventually, a good partner to someone else.

And now, I do feel like I’m finally a good mother again. And a good wife. My life is happy, full.

But the beeping continues.

Tatiana and Keira’s cardiologist said, “In case there’s an episode, I’d keep the defibrillator in the house. Take it on vacations.”

So Evan ordered it immediately.  

Then, as soon as the box arrived, he read the manual, inspected each part, and said, “You ready to learn how this things works?”

“No.” I continued changing our new baby’s diaper.

“Does this mean you’re not ready now, or that you’re never going to be ready for me to show you?”

“I’m never going to be ready, but I know I have to be. It’s just that I can’t do it right now.”

“Alright, well we have to do it soon.”

I know I have to face it.

The defibrillator is the only thing that could have saved Erik, if we had been aware of his heart condition. If we had known that he would slide down our kitchen counter and drop dead on the cold, white-tiled floor, we would have owned one.

“I can’t explain this,” I said to Evan, “but every time we talk about the defibrillator, it’s like I can’t even breathe. I can’t go there.”

Evan gets it. He knows me.

He knows that I will always be affected by Erik’s death. He knows I will constantly fear the same thing happening to one of our kids, or even him.

What Evan doesn’t know is that he left the defibrillator on when he took everyone else out to breakfast so I could have some time to write.

And now, I must force myself to go downstairs and figure out how to stop the beeping.

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Grieving Daddy's Death

Tatiana, my eight-year-old daughter, begins to cry. “Mom-my! I’m not talking to you. You are making me so sad.”

Her curly blonde hair flies everywhere, as if being blown by a fan. She stomps into the bathroom, slams the door, and locks herself in.

All morning, Tatiana has not been listening, and I’m fed up with having to repeat my words six times just to be heard.

Deep breath, I tell myself.

I call through the bathroom door, “Honey, come out here.”

To my surprise, she twists the knob right away, but her sobs continue rising like a helicopter.

“Come sit here.”

Tatiana curls in my lap, making her lanky body compact. She blows her nose on her orange sunflower dress.

“I know we’ve all had colds and that you’ve been worried about Daddy being sick, and Mommy being sick, and I know it’s been a big change for you having another baby and Mommy working more.”

Tatiana inhales deeply, trying to talk. “That would be, um, three things, but there are really four, and not really four, cause the fourth thing is like one million things—Daddy Erik dying—that is like one million things, so it’s like there are one million and three things to be sad about.”

“You’re right, Daddy Erik dying is like one million things all in one.”

She cries even more.

I feel awful. My irritation over her not listening completely disappears.

It’s been almost seven years since Erik’s death, and Tatiana’s grief over her deceased father catches me completely off guard.

“It’s good to cry about it,” I say. “It’s good to let out all of the sad so it doesn’t stay in you forever.”

I just want to hold her, protect her, to ward off anything bad from ever happening.

“But, uh, Mommy? When will I see Daddy Erik again?”

“Not until we die, sweetheart. But we can look at him in pictures, and you can dream about him.”

“But it’s not good when I dream about him, cause it feels like he is there, in my dream, and then I wake up even more sad, cause he’s not there.”

“I know that is hard. I know. Do you want me to put up some bigger pictures of him so we can look at them more?”

“No, I want to take all of the other pictures down. They just remind me that he died.”

“I wish there was something I could do to make you feel better, honey. I really do.”

But the truth is that I am not really sure what to say. I’ve been so busy writing my memoir, running my photography business, trying to successfully raise four children, and be a good wife that I don’t even know how to make myself feel better about Erik’s death most of the time.

“I know what to do,” Tatiana says. She jumps up from my lap and runs into the dining room, grabbing a piece of paper and a red marker out of the art drawer.

I follow behind her and sit next to her at our round marble table.

She writes in thick red with her most focused intention: "I MISS YOU SO . . ."

“How do you spell ‘much’, Mommy?”

I say, “M.U.C.H.”

What I notice while I watch her form her letters is that my stare is blank. I am there, but not really there. I am back at that Easter Sunday dinner, seven months pregnant and watching my 29-year-old husband, Erik, his back against the kitchen cabinets, sliding down to the white, tiled floor. He lets out a choking sound. Tatiana, only 17-months-old, cries, "Uh, uh," pointing at her motionless daddy, next to her high chair.

Thirty-five minutes later, Erik is proclaimed dead. Sudden death. Suddenly widowed. A widow with two babies. I have no idea how I will tell Tatiana that her daddy will never hold her again.

And now, that same Tatiana is in second grade and writing a note to her dead father.

She squeezes the last few letters into the right lower corner of the paper. It reads: "DADDY ERIK, I MISS YOU SO MUCH. PLEASE CAN I SEE YOU AGAIN?"

“There,” she declares. “I’m all done. Now I want to make sure he gets this.”

She pushes her chair in and walks toward the sliding glass door. She yanks on the handle, but the door is jammed.

I help her unlock it. “What are you doing?”

“I’m going to let this letter blow off of the balcony and fly up to Daddy Erik in heaven.”

I think about not wanting to litter, but then figure it’s much more important, in this case, to let Tatiana feel she is sending a message to Erik, so I open the sliding glass door.

She lets the white paper slip from her hands, over the gray wooden railing. Tatiana’s letter lands, beneath us, on the shingles of the lower level of our house.

Her big brown eyes connect with mine. Will she be disappointed when the paper doesn’t magically lift to the sky?

Tatiana shrugs her shoulders, “You know, mommy, it might just fall in our backyard.”

I reassure her. “Oh, no, look! It’s blowing again.” I imagine a celestial hand parting the clouds, its long fingers reaching down to bring her words to Erik.

The paper sails down the side of our house, out of our sight.

Tatiana smiles a little. “It still might just end up in the backyard, but it doesn’t matter. As long as Daddy Erik sees it, so, you know, he can write me back.”

I give her a big hug, wishing, more than anything, that he could write her back.

This is our life now. It is wonderfully rich and full of love with my new husband and our baby’s slobbery, open-mouthed kisses, and then, wham, there are these reminders that, yes, Erik really did die, and yes, it is something that will keep affecting our lives during unexpected moments—hopefully shaping us into better people.

Sunday, April 4, 2010

Easter's Death Springs Renewal

My dad is Lutheran, my mom is Jewish. My childhood exposed me to traditions from both denominations, but I certainly wouldn’t describe myself as religious.

Spiritual, yes.

Religious, no.

In fact, if there is a god, I’m still pretty pissed off at him.

Today, though, I can’t help but contemplate the religious meaning in both Easter and Passover.

Seven years ago, on Easter Sunday, my husband, Erik, and I admired our 17-month-old daughter, Tatiana, as she carefully grasped purple and pink polka-dotted eggs in the grass.

“Do you think about how lucky we are,” I said to Erik.

He rubbed my ripe, pregnant belly. “Yeah, I think about it at least five times a day.”

Erik was a rising-star manager for Lucas Digital and I had photographed over two-thousand Northern California families through my children’s photography business. We were both 29, both excited to be only two months away from the birth of our second daughter, Keira.

Fortunately, our marriage had reached the point in which laughter, or the playful flick of a middle finger, could end most conflicts.

That Easter Sunday, right after our casual family dinner, Erik kissed all over Tatiana's round, olive cheeks. "Who's my itty bitty ditty bug?"

She kicked her legs, in her lime-green high-chair, squealing with delight, “Da-Da!”

And then the delight vanished. Laughter silenced itself, as we watched Erik slide down the kitchen counter. 

Are you kidding me?

He lay motionless on the cold, white-tiled kitchen floor.

“Erik, get up.”

Then I noticed the blood. A line of blood trickling down his mouth.

This can’t be happening.

“Don’t worry, Tatiana. Da-da’s going to be okay.”

But he wasn’t okay.

No, Erik did not rise like the stories of Jesus. Nor did Erik’s blood mark him to be passed over.

Erik was dead.

Just like that.

So, here it is, seven years later, and this scene has hammered my mind like an incessant woodpecker. Again and again, I have let grief’s beak rip open my forehead, in order to make sense of things.

But this Easter morning is different.

This Easter, Tatiana and Keira, now 8 and 6, have an older brother and a new baby brother. This year, we are all blessed by Evan, my new husband, who adopted the girls two years ago.

And this year, Easter just so happens to be April 4th, the day before Evan's April 5th birthday. 

What does this mean?

I used to think that Erik’s death on Easter Sunday simply packed my anger with more ammunition, but now I have deeper understanding.

Like these two dates, death and life sleep side by side.

Because of my sadness, my joy is now amplified. Because I have witnessed death, I know to celebrate life.

Now, as Evan and I help our four children decorate their Easter eggs, I feel the renewal in Spring.