Nine months

Today I had the honor to write a guest post on Mohamad’s Around the World series. It was a lot of fun to write about New York’s Capital District.  You can check it out here.  

And if you are visiting here from Mohamad’s blog, I just want to say welcome and I hope you stay awhile!

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Bryon has been gone for nine months. The world is moving on without him and each day the world moves on, I feel a little bit more alone in my grief.  Widowhood is emotionally lonely even if you aren’t physically lonely.

I barely noticed Spring and Summer last year because I was sitting in the ICU with him. This year I am determined to enjoy Spring and Summer but when I sit on the front deck with our daughter, his absence is pronounced.

I miss him when I see other couples.  I am no longer whole. He was my other half and he has been ripped away along with my dreams and my future.  I don’t know why everyone else gets to be happy except me.

I work so hard at trying to stay positive and strong.  I know it’s what he would have wanted.  But sometimes I have to pretend I am positive and strong.  It’s what people have come to expect and I feel like they don’t want to know the truth.  And it can be exhausting.

No matter how much people try to understand, there is always some level of disconnect. People don’t understand how something as simple as a song can trigger sadness.

Sometimes I get tired of having to explain why certain things make me sad.

Sometimes I wish people would let me just be sad without making suggestions on how to fix my sad mood.  My husband is dead.  Why can’t I just be sad?  I’ve accepted that my sadness is now a part of who I am and why can’t people just accept that it is a part of me now?

I get tired of having to listen to platitudes and insensitive remarks.  I know people mean well but sometimes I get tired of the fact that it gets put on me that I have to accept that this is just how people are.  Why can’t it be other peoples responsibility to think before they speak and be a little bit more sensitive?  Is it really that hard?  Or am I really just expecting too much?

People seem to only like to hear about my grief when it’s empowering and inspiring.  The negative emotions of my grief make people uncomfortable and I get tired of feeling like I have to apologize for my emotions.  I envy those people because I wish I lived in a world where talk about grief makes me uncomfortable and I can avoid it.  I can’t avoid grief.  It’s my life.

I hate the fact that some days, I am almost used to Bryon being gone.  Each day that passes, he slips a little further away.   

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Margaritas, guacamole, money and a thunderstorm

Why am I writing about margaritas, guacamole, money and a thunderstorm? Because that is my present.  At least, it was 5 hours ago.  One of my best friends and I went to a favorite Mexican restaurant Ama Cocina tonight.  My daughter came too.  She was, as another friend would say, living her best life possible.  She was double-dipping those chips, grabbing items out of my taco (she prefers the deconstructed taco) and she was running around the table.  I did not approve of her acting like that in a restaurant and I had exhausted all the toys in my bag of tricks so I half jokingly told her I would give her a dollar if she sat still in her seat.  It worked.  I gave her the dollar which she happily took and said “It’s MY money.”  This must be how capitalists are born.

I have never been a person that has been good at being present.  I usually like to stress about the future or dwell on the past and constantly wonder what if.  I missed out on enjoying a lot of life’s precious moments because of this.  But no matter how bad things were, when I looked into the future, it was brighter.  Maybe that represented some sort of escapist hope.

When Bryon got sick, I had no choice but to live in the present.  I didn’t want to think about the future because when I did, I knew that there was a chance he wouldn’t be there or he would have lasting health problems if he was.  I remember stressing out one day because I was concerned that if he recovered, he might never regain his strength and what if he couldn’t storm into a court room?  He would be miserable.  He was such a strong person, mentally and physically.

During Bryon’s five months in the ICU, I didn’t spend much time looking ahead.  There were too many times that he went into shock and too many times where he came close to dying.  Obviously my end goal was for him to get out of the ICU, whether it was a step down unit (we were close a couple of times) or directly to rehab and then home.  But so much could go wrong and he was so sick that for the first time in my life, I had to live day by day.

I remember feeling so overwhelmed at this new reality.  Overnight I had gone from being part of a two person team who took care of a small child to be one person solely responsible for myself, a critically ill husband and a small child.  Bryon took care of so much.  He made sure the bills got paid and had spreadsheets that organized everything.  I knew he scheduled many payments in advance through our bank account but a few weeks into his illness, I finally had to face reality that I needed to figure out which bills had been paid.  Everything was now my responsibility.  I had to call the bank because I didn’t remember my password.  I couldn’t even remember the last time I logged into our bank account.  Then I had to figure out all the passwords.  I know I reset a bunch of them in the process.  I remember telling Bryon that I probably made a mess of the bills but they were paid and if I forgot one, then I am sure that they would find us.

I was overwhelmed.  I had no idea how long Bryon was going to be in the hospital.  Then there was talk that they would send him to Springfield, MA for rehab which is an hour and a half away and I panicked because I needed to be present to view all of his medical care and there would be no way I could do that and keep my daughter’s life as normal as possible here in Albany.  There would be no way I could afford all that gas.  But all that panicking was for nothing because Bryon never made it to rehab.

There were so many times during those months where I didn’t know how I was going to do it.  I couldn’t work so I wasn’t getting paid.   I had no idea how long my present was going to last.  And I had no idea what our future was going to look like.  I started thinking about what modifications that were going to be needed in our house and our lifestyle.  I started looking into specialists in Boston and New York for his conditions.  Not just specialists to get him well, but specialists who could manage any long term effects.  I started wondering if we should move closer to New York to be closer to better healthcare.  Boston would not be an option because Bryon was not admitted in the Massachusetts Bar.  The fact that this lifelong Red Sox fan was willing to move so close to the heart of the Evil Empire shows how dedicated I was to Bryon’s care.  But I spent a long time planning for a future that would never happen.

I somehow survived those months.  My family, friends and even some complete strangers made sure I survived.

Now I am in the future that I couldn’t think about.  My best friend in high school had a favorite quote that said “today is the tomorrow that you worried about yesterday.”  She had no idea who said it,  she saw it on a calendar somewhere.  A quick google search 20 years later tells me that Dale Carnegie once said that.  Frankly I don’t like thinking about the future because no matter what I envision, Bryon is not there.  Yes, I have my daughter but all I see are moments where Bryon should be there.  I have no long term plan and no long term goals.  I have an idea what I want to do with my life but no clear goals as to how to achieve it.   So when I am sad about the present, I can’t escape into the future.  I try to escape to the past but lately, the days in the hospital have been on the forefront my mind.

So now I live in the present even if it can be painful at times.  I drink a lot of iced coffee and read a lot of books to my daughter.  I spend times with my girls and my Albany family and I see my biological family as often as I can.  I write.  I cook.  I run.  I read.  I travel.  And I will continue to do so until the future I dread so much becomes my present.

Forgiveness

I used to always love to play the SIMS.  It was a computer game where you create simulated people (hence SIMS) and you lived their computer generated reality.  You would make them do different actions.  My favorite thing was created a SIM for various people I know and then laugh at their weird social awkwardness that only a computer simulated person would have and imaging the real human counterparts doing that.  (I.e. “There’s is no way So-and-So would have walked in on me in the bathroom, haha”)  When SIMS interact with each other, a green plus sign or a red negative sign is displayed above the SIMS head.  The green plus sign denotes a positive interaction between SIMS and the red negative sign denotes an interaction gone bad.  Sometimes interactions would be so good or so bad that double plus signs or negative signs show up.

Why am I talking about a silly computer game that I haven’t played in years?  It’s because I have been thinking a lot about human interactions and the positive and negative energy that surrounds those actions.

I like to spend time around people who provide me with warm and fuzzy feelings and lots of positive experiences.  Lots of green plus signs floating around.  Lots of laughter, support and happiness.  I like being around these people.  Usually the positive experiences multiply and the more positive experiences I have, the better I feel.

But what do you do when you have to be around people that are full of negative energy?

The people who shame others to make up for some insecurity that they are feelings?

The people who don’t respect your need for space?

The people who make backhanded compliments so they can insult someone but in a way that the person receiving that insult can’t fight back?

The people who can’t own it when they have wronged people and never apologizes for their wrongdoing?

The people who play victim when you call them out on their behavior?

The people who use you?

Negative energy has always affected me.  I seem to absorb it.  I always let negative comments bother me and then I obsess about them.  I begin to get anxious when anticipating the presence of these people.

I am not calling out specific people.  Even if those people are reading this, they will never own their behaviors or ever apologize.  But all this negative energy is affecting me and it has to go somewhere.  I don’t want it anymore.  It has to be someone else’s burden because I don’t want it to be my burden anymore.  I can’t let it be my burden anymore.   I have had enough happen to me and I still have enough to deal so I am giving the negative energy back.

I have always had a hard time forgiving people because I always equated forgiving with forgetting.  Also, many of the people who wronged me are narcissists who won’t ever own up to the fact that they wronged me and/or the people that I care about.  I always equated forgiving these people as giving them the free pass that they thought they deserved.  What I never understood is that even if they took my act of forgiveness as a free pass, it doesn’t mean that they didn’t do it.  They still did it and even though they may not own up to it, they win because they are living their oblivious false life and I am left wounded and hurt.  If anything, they are cowards because they can’t own up to their own actions.  They should be pitied.

So I am going to attempt to release the negative energy.  I am no longer going to own it.

I am going to forgive people who screwed me over in my political days.  I have faith you learned your lesson because I know I screwed over a few people in my day and I have learned my lesson.  If you haven’t learned your lesson, then I pity you for your lack of character and your lack of wisdom.

I forgive the people who cut me off in traffic and I hope you can forgive me for giving you a certain hand gesture.

I am going to forgive the person who acted like she was my best friend but would drop me whenever a guy came along.  I also forgive this person for not reaching out when Bryon died.  I pity you for your self-centeredness and lack of empathy.

I forgive the people who don’t apologize and try to wait out a person’s anger before finding a way to angle themselves back into my life.  I pity your cowardice.  And remember, forgiving doesn’t mean forgetting and I am not going to allow anyone to treat me this way again.  I may forgive you but I don’t have to you let back into my life.

I forgive anyone who has ever used me.  Overall, I do have had a good life so far but I worked hard and made good life choices and surrounded myself with other people who also worked hard and made good life choices.   I may have even given you advice as to how to attain those goals yourself but I guess it was just easier to use me.  I pity you for your laziness.

I forgive anyone who underestimated my intelligence and think they can wrong me without me knowing.  Surprise!  I am a lot smarter than most people know.  I pity your arrogance.

I forgive anyone who has ever bullied me through the years.  Luckily Bryon has taught me how to identify when it was happening to me.

I forgive the person who made rude comments about my daughter.  You must feel bad about yourself if you have to tear down a two-year-old.  It’s my goal to raise her to have compassion and to have enough confidence in herself that she doesn’t to tear people down, especially not those who are weaker than her.

I forgive the people who criticize my parenting.  I am sure you are the perfect parent but we can’t all parent like you.

I forgive anyone who has spread lies about me.  You spread lies about me because you need to blame someone for your own behavior.

I forgive anyone who has believed lies spread about me.  I forgive you for not asking me for my side of the story before making a judgement.  I forgive you for making me defend my character.  I forgive you for taking things at face value and not searching for the truth.

I forgive the people who weren’t there for Bryon that should have been there for Bryon.  I forgive the people who also weren’t there for our daughter who should have been there for our daughter.  He was fighting for his life and our daughter wasn’t even 2 yet, but I understand that your needs were more important than theirs.

I forgive those people who had no regard to what I was going through when Bryon has in the ICU. I forgive the people who thought their needs came above my own which were already pretty low on the list begin with.  After all, I was busy advocating for my critically ill husband in the ICU and making sure my toddler was taken care of and happy.  I pity you for thinking that the world revolves around you.

I forgive those people who not present when Bryon died that should have been.  I pity you that you put yourself above him and made excuses.  You are going to have to live with that choice for the rest of your life.

And lastly, I forgive myself.  I forgive myself for absorbing the negativity that wasn’t mine.  I forgive myself for not releasing that negativity and letting it affect the positive, supportive relationships that I have.  I forgive myself for letting people bully me, use me and treat me poorly.   From now on, I will remind myself that negative people are the ones with a problem, not me.

The negativity is no longer mine.  It’s not my problem anymore.  I refuse to own the negativity.  It needs to find a new home.  I am going to stick to the people who give me green plus signs.

Bryon is still dead

The leaves are starting to appear on the trees.  The tulips have been blooming.  The ice cream truck is starting to make its rounds.  Kay’s pizza is open but Bryon won’t be eating any sausage, pepperoni and onion pizza.  Because Bryon is dead.

Summer will come.  Bryon won’t be going to any baseball games.  Bryon won’t be watching any  fireworks.  Because Bryon is dead.

Our birthdays will come and go.  But Bryon won’t be here to celebrate.  He won’t be buying a ridiculous toy for our daughter and he will not be here to scheme on how to bring a three-year-old’s birthday party to the next level.  Because Bryon is dead.

Our anniversary will pass and Bryon and I won’t celebrate.  Because Bryon is dead.

Fall will come.  My favorite season.  Leaves will change color.  But Bryon won’t eat any apple cider donuts or take our daughter trick or treating.  Bryon won’t be here to cheer for his Buffalo Bills.  Because Bryon is dead.

The air will get colder and snow will fall.  Christmas cards will be sent.  But Bryon won’t be attending any Christmas parties or watching our daughter open any Christmas presents.  Because Bryon is dead.

Our daughter is talking up a storm.  She has graduated from the “No” stage into the “Why?” stage.  “I do myself” has been appearing in her vocabulary and it should be no surprise that it takes five times as long to leave the house.  And Bryon isn’t here to talk to her because he is dead.

Three weddings are coming up.  And Bryon won’t be here to celebrate them.  He won’t be making friends with bartender and he won’t be grumbling as I drag him out for a slow dance. He won’t be ranting to me if 1 Corinthians is read.  Because Bryon is dead.

All of our TV shows are in the next season and are sitting on our DVR unwatched because Bryon is dead.

Friends continue to get together.  But Bryon isn’t there to tell funny stories and make us laugh.  Because Bryon is dead.

My clothes have taken over the closet.  Bryon’s clothes are no longer hanging up.  They sit in garbage bags in the garage waiting to be brought to Goodwill.  Because Bryon is dead.

The world will continue to go on without Bryon.  People will get married.  Babies will be born.  People will fall in love.  People will fall out of love.  Houses will be bought and sold.  People will get promoted and switch jobs.  People will travel to far off places.  Sports teams will win and lose.  Elections will happen.  And Bryon will still be dead.

Our daughter will start school.  She will become who she is going to be and hopefully be ready for adulthood.  She will find out what interests her.  She will fall in love.  She will travel to far off places.  She will hopefully attain a higher level of education.   Hopefully she will become a productive member of society.  And Bryon will still be dead.

The world goes on and Bryon is still dead.

Mother’s Day Weekend

I had a good weekend.  My parents and my friends spoiled me.  However, like all the other “firsts” I am feeling lots of emotions, of which I am still sorting out in my head.  I am mentally too exhausted to write about them at the moment.  I might need to take a day or two to decompress.

However, I would be remiss if I didn’t share photos from our trip to Indian Ladder Farms for Baby Animal Days.  The goats, the bunnies and the 4 day old chicks were my daughters favorite.

 

My friend Stephanie

I have never met Stephanie in person but we both belong to a Facebook group which was formed in 2011.  It consisted of a bunch of ladies planning their September 2012 weddings.  We discussed many things in that group such as floral arrangements, wedding hairstyles and seating charts.  After our wedding, many of us stayed in that group and since then we have bought houses, gotten job promotions and welcomed babies into the world.  We also give each other fashion advice, share recipes and we talk about a LOT of things that, like Vegas, will stay in that group.

I am the first widow of the group.

Well, sort of.

My friend Stephanie really is the first widow of our group.

Stephanie and I had a lot in common.  We are both New England girls and we love the ocean.  We both root for the Boston Red Sox and the New England Patriots.  We have both run for public office.  Despite the fact that she is a Democrat and I was a Republican, we understood each other and we always refer to each other as our “sister from another party.”  However, I never thought we would share the bond of being widows.  At least not this soon.

While the members of our online group come from a variety of backgrounds and each had our own love story, Stephanie’s story was a bit different.  Like the rest of us, Stephanie was marrying her soulmate, Chris.  But unlike the rest of us, Stephanie had a heart breaking story that preceded her happily ever after.  Chris is Stephanie’s second soul-mate.  Her first soul mate was her fiancé Stephen and he drowned in a lake in New Hampshire in 2010.

Now, I am just going to stop here and state that just because Stephanie and Stephen were engaged and not married does not disqualify Stephanie from widow status.  As far as I am concerned, she lost the man she was planning to spend the rest of her life with and it doesn’t  matter if they had made it legal yet.  If anything, engaged widows have to deal with some major challenges, especially if they did not legally have their affairs sorted out beforehand.  And to be clear, I have no idea if Stephanie had those challenges.  I didn’t ask her because it is none of my (or your) business.

Stephanie was about my age when Stephen died.  And she had to face the dilemma that every widow must face- do you move forward or do you let this destroy you?

Stephanie chose to move forward.  She met her next soul mate Chris shortly thereafter.  Stephanie says that falling in love again was scary because you know that love can be ripped away.  Stephanie was so happy with Stephen and she never thought she would experience that kind of love again.  When she started to have those feelings again, she realized that she could let this new love pass her by or she can see where it goes.  I am sure Stephanie is glad that she decided to see where this love would go.

Chris was extremely supportive of Stephanie during her time of grief.  Chris also let her incorporate Stephen’s memory into their life.  Stephanie states that she and Chris were comfortable creating a bridge between the relationships.  It makes sense since there was not breakup.  It was more like a transition.  When Chris and Stephanie got engaged, the center stone of her engagement ring came from the solitaire from her engagement ring from Stephen.  And on their wedding day, Stephen’s dad walked Stephanie down the aisle.

If I ever fall in love again, I hope my man would be as understanding and supportive as Chris.

I did ask Stephanie if she had any advice for other widows.  Here is what she had to say-

  • Don’t live according to anyone else’s timeline.
  • Everyone grieves differently and no one has the right to judge any of your decisions
  • Lean on people.  Friends and family genuinely want to help you.  Take them up on offers, but don’t be afraid to say no as well.  If you are not ready to go to a movie, have girls night, etc., it’s okay not to force it.
  • People will surprise you.  You will definitely find out who your real friends are.
  • It’s okay to seek professional help.
  • There is also an opportunity to do things you might not have otherwise done that you’ve always wanted to do.  Once the “widow fog” lifts, do what you have always wanted to do whether it is learn to paint, take piano lessons or go to law school.
  • You will be caught off guard by PTSD even years later.  Stephanie states that she was watching a movie a few months ago where the husband died and the wife was in his closet, crying in his clothes.  Stephanie says she lost it.

Whether my great love story has a chapter 2 or not, I will continue to look up to Stephanie.  As I said, she was my age when she lost Stephen and she chose to be resilient.  She went on to finish her bachelors degree and she just completed her first year of law school proving that you can always follow your dreams.  I hope I can be like Stephanie.  Today she and Chris are going on a well-deserved vacation to somewhere that requires passports.  Let’s all wish for them to have a great time.

If you want to read more about Stephanie and Chris’s love story, click here.

If you want to read more about Stephen, you can view his obituary here.

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Stephanie and Stephen
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Stephanie and Chris

My dirty little secret

Being a widow is hard.  We have to navigate a world that is not designed for us.  One of my online widow friends, Michelle, wrote a blog post about being Wonder Widow and Widow Super Powers.  (Check out her blog, she doesn’t bite).  Michelle writes about her experience when she was newly widowed and she was at a party and once people learned that she was a widow, they ignored her.  She says that a widow may feel invisible when around the NORMS. The NORMS being “Normal people living normal, non-traumatized lives.”  She and I had an exchange on Facebook where I may have ranted a little bit about the course of events in my life.  I apologized and she said not to apologize because ranting is good for the soul and I should just let it out.

So I am going to let it all out.

I will let you in on a dirty little secret of mine.  I am jealous of the NORMS.

I am jealous of people who have their spouses and are living a normal life.  I am jealous when I see anniversary posts on social media, especially for any anniversary after the 3 year mark because Bryon and I never got to celebrate our fourth anniversary.  I am jealous that happily married couples who get have the support of their best friends because my best friend is gone.  I am jealous of their intimacy.  I am not talking about sex though I am jealous of that too.  I am referring to the day to day comfortable intimacy that happily married couples have.

I am jealous of the families at my daughter’s daycare who are able to (or are planning on) giving their kids a little sibling. My daughter will never become an older sister.  We will never be the perfect family with a mom and a dad and 2.5 kids and a dog.  I am jealous that there are so many other families where the kids will grow up with their fathers because my daughter won’t have that.

I am jealous of new couples who get to embark on their life together, full of hope.  Jealous because I am not sure I will ever be healed enough to love again. I am jealous of the innocence other couples can have.  Maybe someday I will find a man that can look past my wounded heart and deal with all the complications that come with loving someone who has been through this kind of trauma.  But even if I let another man into my heart, I am always going live with the fear of him dying too.  The constant fear of “what if it happens again”?

I am jealous of older widows.  I am jealous that they got to spend decades with their spouses.  And I am jealous that all the widow resources in the community are geared towards them and not to young widows.  Older widows had decades to prepare for this, young widows have not.  And young widows oftentimes have small children to take care of on top of dealing with their grief but so much emphasis seems to be on older widows.

I even find myself jealous of other widows at times.  Sometimes I look at widows who lost their spouses suddenly and I am jealous because they didn’t have to watch their spouse suffer for five months like I did.  Sometimes I look at widows who lost their spouse after a long illness and I am jealous because they were able to talk to their spouses about dying.  Bryon was on a ventilator for the five months he was in the ICU and we weren’t able to discuss any of this.  We had so many things that went unsaid.  But I know deep down there is no good way to watch your spouse die.  It’s horrible no matter how it happens.

I am jealous of the NORMS who leave those comments on social media statuses.  The comments that are benign on the surface but stab a widow in the heart.  I am jealous that they get to live in a life where they don’t feel the need exercise that extra level of empathy.  I am jealous that they live in a world where they can be clueless to those suffering grief and heartbreak. Though part of me is glad that they can be clueless because it means they don’t know this pain.  And if someone is a repeat offender, I actually begin to feel sorry for them they can live their lives being oblivious to the feelings of other people.

I am jealous of people who have their faith.  I am jealous because my Catholic faith was a big part of my life and I lost that too when Bryon died.  I am jealous of those who have never had to have their faith tested.  And I am jealous of the people who have experienced trauma like I have and still have their faith.  Because right now I relate to C.S. Lewis in A Grief Observed where he asks where God is and why did God slam the door on him?  I am jealous of all the people that God did not slam the door on.  I am also jealous of the naivete of people who think I can just turn my faith back on, like it’s a simple light switch.

Why am I sharing this dirty little secret?  It’s human nature to want to put your best foot forward but my desire to be honest is stronger than my desire to put my best foot forward.  I need to be honest for everyone who thinks I am strong even if that means sharing feelings that portray myself in a less positive light.  I need to share my story as authentically as possible because other widows may be reading this and I want them to know that it is okay to feel this way.

But despite all these pangs of jealousy I feel, the happiness I feel is ten times as strong.  The joys greatly outweighs my jealous feelings.  Yes I have these jealous feelings but they  subside very quickly.  And my feelings of jealousy are not because I don’t want others to be happy.  I want everyone to be happy.  I don’t wish my situation or the feelings that come with being in my situation on even my worst enemy.  My feelings of jealousy are about the reality of what I have lost, mostly my lost dreams.  For the most part, my anger seems to have subsided so I will think occasional bouts of jealousy are an improvement to being full of anger as long as the bouts of jealousy don’t get out of hand.

My life didn’t turn out the way I wanted it to but I do have reasons to be grateful.  I have an amazing daughter.  I have friends and family who aren’t freaked out by my widow status and include me in their lives.  I have friends who aren’t going to be put off that I might be jealous of them because they are patient and understanding of my grief and stick by me as I weather all the ups and downs. At least the ones who really love me do.

I can’t complain because even nine months later, my core group of friends are still supportive of me.  They spent 5 months helping me survive when Bryon was in the ICU and they have spent the past 9 months holding me up.  I hope I am healed enough and can give back before the next big crisis in our group happens.

But until then, whether you are a NORM or not, please just remember to be kind and understanding.  It’s okay to talk to us.  Widows don’t bite.  We just might be sad.  We are dealing with some major emotions.  But we’d probably be the first one to be there to help you if something bad happens.