Weekly Gratitude #5: When grief turns into joy

The holidays are in full swing around here.

Last week we attended the Christmas Tree lighting in the next town over.  We had missed our towns tree lighting due to it being on the same night as gymnastics and swim.

There were crafts and treats and even a visit with Santa.

 

We saw the Grinch as performed by the Frogtown Puppeteers at our local (and historic) theater.

My daughter was in our local holiday parade with her Girl Scout Troop.

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We went to the Downeast Festival of Trees.  I had never been before.  I learned that the trees all have prizes and you put raffle tickets in the buckets of the trees you wanted.  My daughter took my tickets and put them into the buckets of all the trees with toys.

She also saw Santa again and told him she wanted a Barbie.  Because the 30ish she has now isn’t enough.

On Sunday my daughter’s Girl Scout Troop took part in the Wreaths Across America Ceremony.  My father, Local and District VFW Commander was a part of the ceremony.

This week we also had my daughter’s first school Holiday concert.  I am bummed out the Prime Minister didn’t attend but I guess he’s busy with the elections in UK that are wrapping up as I am typing this.  I am also disappointed that I didn’t get to dress her up as a Christmas Lobster.

(Bonus points if you got the Love Actually Reference)

The excitement isn’t ending any time soon.

But this week it dawned on me.

I spend so much time thinking about Bryon isn’t here to see our daughter grow up.

I don’t think about what a blessing it is that I get to our daughter grow up.

It doesn’t mean that it isn’t sad that Bryon isn’t here.

We will never forget him.  Never.

I will always think about the fact that he is missing whatever milestone we are celebrating or what fun event we are doing.

But maybe it’s okay to stop dwelling on it so much.

My daughter and I have many years ahead of us.  Years filled with busy, hectic weekends.

My daughter’s joy has always been my biggest priority.

My second priority has been thinking about Bryon, being sad and dwelling on his death and absence.

And my happiness comes last.

But maybe it’s time to swap the second and third.  It’s a hard thing to admit but being sad all the time is exhausting.

And I can’t believe that Bryon would want that.

My daughter and I are still living on this Earth and it is time to embrace life for what it is and enjoy it.

You deserve credit for your healing

I saw the following meme on Facebook.

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It resonated with me.

Like, really resonated.

Not on the “Yeah, I really like tacos too” kind of way.

Though tacos are awesome.  I am not trying to downplay tacos.  But almost everyone loves tacos.  And if you don’t, you need to re-examine your priorities.

No, this meme resonated with me with my very inner core.

Because I have had people try to take credit for my healing.

The worst thing is that I let them.

I was too afraid to speak up.

So many people helped me.  While I appreciated all the help I received, the truth is that in the whole scope of “healing”, each task someone helped me immensely but my healing was and is a completely separate process.

Though looking back I should have seen the fact that the friendship was so transactional from one side as a red flag.  But that is another blog post for another time.  Maybe in 2020 or something.

2020

When you have been through a traumatic event, you will likely struggle.  And the struggle is ongoing.  I felt stuck for a long time.  Somewhere between “Ugh” and completely wallowing in the depths of despair.

I have come far and today I am saying that I am the reason that I have come far.  #sorrynotsorry

And while I mean no disrespect for those who helped me along the way, it was me.  You may have nudge me along, day to day but the credit for healing goes to me.

I have survived because of me.

I was the one who chose to keep living.

I was the one who had to get out of bed each morning even though I didn’t want to.  And if anyone gets credit, it’s my daughter for being my reason to get out of bed in those early days.

I was the one who trudged forward, going through the motions.  Fake it till you make it was my mantra for awhile.

(Not to be confused with being fake.  No one of substance likes fake people.  Don’t do it.)

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I was the one who spent hours pondering my life and my existence and made changes accordingly.  The vast majority of people are blind to that kind of despair (which is a blessing) and have no idea how empty one’s life feels after a loss of this emotional magnitude.

There is no words in the English language to describe how empty my life felt after Bryon died. Lots of dark thoughts from a dark place.  It was me who had to process those thoughts.

I was the one who cried and cried and cried and cried.

I was the one who had to go through all this items.

I was the one who had to remove him from my bank account and realize that it was another example of erasing his presence on Earth.

I was the one who has to look at my child at every major milestone and think about the fact that the man who loves her the most doesn’t even live in this dimension and won’t get to see her grow up.

Sadly, there are people who glom onto my grief.  Some of them thrive on drama.  Some of them hope to get attention for themselves.  Some of them hope that by downplaying my healing will keep them in a spot of importance.

Whatever the reason, just stop it.

I am the one who gets credit for my healing.  I did (and still am doing) the work, not you.

And if you find yourself in a similar position, don’t be afraid to tell people to stop it.

You were the one who did the work towards your healing.

You made the choice to continue living.

You are the reason for your healing.  Own it.  Take the credit.

You deserve credit for your healing.

No one else.

You, you and only you.

Weekly Gratitude #4: Luckiest Girl in the World

This morning I looked out at the ocean and I felt like luckiest girl in the world.

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I can think of a million reasons why I am not the luckiest girl in the world.  I have definitely had my share of bad luck.

But this morning as I looked out at the ocean, drinking my peppermint bark iced coffee, I feel like the luckiest girl in the world.

Maybe it is because I am still here.   I survived.

Maybe it is because I have an awesome daughter and I enjoy all the time I spend with here.  Even if she does try to push my buttons sometimes.

Maybe it is because I live in such a beautiful place with four very distinct seasons.  I see the cycle of life every year.

Maybe it’s because of the peppermint bark iced coffee.  It is the Christmas Season after all.

For ever reason I can think of that I am unlucky, I can think of another reason for which I am lucky.  It is just about what perspective you choose to take.

 

Survivor’s guilt and forgiveness

I have been on this planet for 41 and a quarter years.

I have had lots of experiences throughout my life.  I have had the opportunity of education in two very different areas of study.  If you told 18-year-old Kerry that she would go back to school in her thirties and take classes such as “Anatomy and Physiology,” “Pharmacology”  and “Pathophysiology”, she probably would have laughed at you.

Though truthfully, 18-year-old Kerry did not know what pathophysiology was, so she would not have had any business laughing at you.

(Pathophysiology is basically the functional changes a body has to an illness.)

I have been lucky to have had met some great people and have traveled to some great places.

I ate some fancy dinners and listened to some very important people talk.

The dinners themselves were not that interesting.  It was almost always some form of chicken.

I have been lucky to have a career and own a home.

And most importantly, I have experienced love within marriage and motherhood.

I know I often lament about how I did not realize how great my life was during those years.

My life was great during those years.  And I should cut myself slack for not appreciating it.

Because that was Before.

Before IT all happened.

Before my life changed forever.

That version of myself stopped existing on March 23, 2016.

But after I lost everything- after I hit my rock bottom- it was impossible not to think about my years with Bryon and regret that I did not make the most of those years.

I took him, our marriage and our love for granted.

And I took our future for granted.  We were supposed to grow old together.

But we all know that life had other plans.  The proverbial curve ball.

True to my Boston-Irish-Catholic upbringing, guilt is one of the few emotions that my upbringing taught me that it was okay to express (anger and restrained amusement are okay too).

The first place my mind went was that Bryon’s death was some sort of punishment.

God was clearly punishing me for something.

Either that or he was punishing my daughter.  She wasn’t even two at that point, so I really don’t think she could have committed an infraction so bad that it would warrant losing her father.

I could write another whole post on my thoughts on God so I will save that for another time.

For another time when I feel like being preached at….

So God, or the Universe, or Whoever is in charge decided that Bryon’s life was over.

And my mind immediately starts searching for any reason that it could have happened.

Because Bryon dying did not make sense.

So I turned inward and figured this must have been some sort of punishment from God for something I did.

Who knows, maybe I did something in a past life to deserve this because I really do try to be a good person.

To this day, I will never understand why Bryon had to die.

I have accepted that I will probably never know that answer.

Maye God is just cruel.

Why do some people get to live long lives and why do some people have to die young?

But one thing I can tell you with all certainty is that survivor’s guilt is real.

I once heard that survivor’s guilt is your psyche’s way of trying to assume control in a situation where you did not have any control.

That makes sense to me.  When Bryon was sick, I never felt so helpless in my life.  All I could do was wait and hope for the best.  Luckily we had visitors but there was a lot of time where I read some fluffy books, said some rosaries and I organized all my pinterest boards.

For years, I beat myself up for taking Bryon for granted.  Maybe if I appreciated him more, he wouldn’t have had to die.

But it wasn’t until recently that I decided to cut “Before Kerry” some slack.

I have suffered from survivors guilt for over three years and I realize that it is time that I have to forgive myself.

There was no way I could have known.

I had a husband who loved me very much.  Sure we could argue.  We were two people who both had Mercury in Leo.  But we loved each other fiercely.

Frankly, there were times Bryon took me for granted too.

Our love and our bond was strong.  There was enough trust for us to be able to take each other for granted.

Isn’t this what life is supposed to be about- taking what we learn from life’s difficult moments and use them to be a better person.

I don’t recommend taking people for granted.

But “Before Kerry” was doing the best she could with what she knew at the time.

Aren’t we all just trying to do our best?

I remember one day just feeling completely beside myself.  Bryon couldn’t speak because he was on a trach.  I remember saying to him, out of complete desperation, that I wish I could have switched places with him.  As if that was even an option.  It wasn’t an option but yet it seemed like the best option.  He just looked at me and shook his head no.

I know he wouldn’t want me to feel this way.

I need to forgive myself so I can move forward.

Weekly Gratitude #3: I Just Might Make It

I have enjoyed popping onto social media the past couple days and seeing their Thanksgiving posts.

Some people posted pictures of their Thanksgiving spreads and I have enjoyed looking at them. I am always curious who serves what sides and what pies. I even had a friend post a picture of “apple bombs” that looked like, well, the bomb.

Other people made posts about how grateful they are.

I didn’t get around to posting my finished spread or a gratitude post. It wasn’t that I didn’t want to. I just was busy leading up to the main meal and tiredness overcame me.

My brain is always thinking about deeply philosophical thoughts. I might seem distracted by whatever part of my brain thinks about these things is always running, like a background program on your computer or tablet or phone or whatever your preferred electronic device is.

And true to my Double Virgo perfectionism, I wanted to get my thoughts out correctly.

Over the past week, I have seen various Facebook memories of Thanksgiving pasts pop up.

I thought about how Thanksgiving evolved over my lifetime.

As a child, we would have dinner with extended family. My family rotated Holiday dinners. If we spent Thanksgiving with the Sullivans, then Christmas dinner would be with the Crowley’s that year and then we’d swap Holidays the next year. And we’d always stop in with the other side later in the day as both sets of my grandparents lived in the same town.

Then my grandfather died and we hosted Thanksgiving for a couple of years until we moved to Maine.

Then we had Thanksgiving dinners in Maine with my immediate family and various Holiday orphans for many years.

There was that one year where I was studying in England and I cooked Thanksgiving for 9 people. I learned that putting stuffing in the bird was a huge “no-no” on that side of the pond and that you can’t get canned pumpkin in the UK. We also had mashed swede. I didn’t know what swede was but I said sure. I learned from my friends that swede is a root vegetable. Google tells me that it isa rutabaga.

Then Bryon came into the picture and we spent a couple of Thanksgiving traveling to Maine. We’d listen to Free Beer and Hot Wings Radio Show during the drive because they would have people call in to say how they ruined Thanksgiving. One year we drove him in a blizzard.

Once our daughter was born, my parents and brother drove to New York to visit us. One year they drove in a blizzard.

Then Bryon died.

I didn’t want to host and I also remember that driving to Maine wasn’t an option because I was starting a new job. So we met at my brothers in New Hampshire.

Since then, I spent my grandmother’s last two Thanksgivings with her.

I thought about the traditions.

The old ones like watching the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade and the new ones of like going on a shopping trip at the LL Bean Store in Freeport.

I thought about how some recipes have trickled down like my grandmother’s rolls (I was lucky that my uncle took a picture of the recipe from my grandmother’s book and sent it to me. I did locate a used copy on Amazon for $6).

Or certain foods even if I don’t have the actual recipe like creamed onions (don’t use the water, the 3 cups of milk/cream suffice) and chocolate cream pie.

I thought about how Sullivan Thanksgiving had canned cranberry and homemade cranberry sauce because my Uncle Peter refused to eat the canned stuff.

I thought about how I try to recreate the stuffing like Bryon made it.

I thought about how we always had apple cider at Thanksgiving and Christmas on the Sullivan side and there was the one year that my frugal grandmother saved the leftover cider from Thanksgiving for the following Christmas. Yeah…I am sure you can figure out what happened…

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I started thinking about that first Thanksgiving without Bryon.

This was only a little over three months after.

I was coming out of the rawest stage of grief and it was starting to sink in that I was going to have to live the rest of my life without Bryon.

I was not looking forward to the Holidays.

I took over cooking that year, partially because I love to cook and partially to keep myself busy.

I saw this status and I can see just how far I have come.

It was the first day I didn’t cry.

Three years later, those days are still few. I still cry most days though it is different.

My tears are very quick and subtle, usually only lasting a minute or two.

The tears from the early days where of despair.

Now the tears are from a softer, chronic sadness.

Tears because I still miss him.

Tears for Bryon for his life that ended too soon and all that he is missing.

Tears for my daughter because she will grow up not knowing her father.

Tears of compassion for my younger self for all that she endured.

Day to day, it is hard to see how far I have come.

Most days I am busy keeping up with the kindergarten mother life.

I still feel the overall cloud of “ugh” that comes with loss and grief.

And truthfully, I don’t know where I am going or where I will end up.

My life has been a revolving door of change.

In those beginning days I didn’t know of how I was going to survive or if I was even going to survive.

Now I know I am a survivor.

I still don’t know how this story ends.

I am still learning to trust the journey.

I don’t doubt that someday, I will actually make it.

Weekly Gratitude #2: Snovember

 

One of my biggest regrets I have from my “before” life was that that I did not take the time to notice all the beauty around me.

I was an “as soon as” person, always concerned about what was coming next that I was not focused on the present.

I made a lot of changes in my life this year.  I have worked on my life from the inside out.

One of the biggest changes I have made was also one of the simplest changes.

I take time to look around me and notice all the little changes.

This also helps when you have a small child.  My daughter has taught me to see the delight in all the little changes that happen in nature.  Her enthusiasm is contagious.  Her school even has a naturalist come every week and they go out into the forest and learn about plants.

Though I could do without her acorn and rock collections she brings home.

I have always appreciated the fact that I live in the Northeast where we always have four very distinct seasons.  But now I notice the subtleties of when the seasons start to blur together.

I feel like Fall is a very popular season.  Everyone loves the Fall.  My local friends always post pictures on social media of their Fall activities.  And my friends who live in warm weather climates comment on my Fall foliage pictures saying how beautiful the leaves are. 

It’s a time of pumpkin spice, apple picking, flannel, and boots.

But now it is November.

The temperature is cold and we have even had some snow.

BTW, I am trying to make the hashtag #snovember happen.  Please, can we make it happen?

But it is not Winter yet.

Many people are putting up their Christmas trees and have moved on from Autumn.

I am not hating on people who start their Christmas enthusiasm.  Whatever makes you happy.  But I prefer to wait because the part of me that is still attached to my Catholic identity feels that Christmas really lasts until Epiphany (Jan 6).

But I’d be lying by omission if I didn’t admit that I have listened to some Christmas music.

I just choose to keep my November Christmas enthusiasm to a minimum.

The days are getting shorter and there is snow on the ground.  I am wearing my winter coat, hat, and gloves.

Winter will be here soon enough and winter overstays it’s welcome around these parts.  Every year.

I am going to hold out and continue to put pumpkin spice creamer into my coffee and I will continue to enjoy the late November beauty.

What are you grateful for this week?  Please comment below.

Weekly Gratitude #1

If you have been a longtime reader of my blog (thank you!), you would know that I used to do a weekly gratitude post on Fridays called “Good Vibrations Gratitude Friday.”  It was a fun post to write every week.  I would put in a GIF of Marky Mark. Writing the post gave me a chance to look back on my week and share the highlights.

I stopped doing those posts at the end of 2018.

It wasn’t because I stopped having gratitude.  I just shared a lot about my personal life in those posts.

I didn’t write much because I was burned out.  I went through a lot of change and a lot of healing in 2019.

When Bryon died in 2016, my life changed and I had to heal from that.  Though I will never be 100% healed from that.  Because his death had changed me and his loss will always be in my heart.

2016 will always be the worst year of my life.  (Note to the Universe or God or whoever is in charge- please don’t view this as a challenge to be accepted.  Let it ride).

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2018 was a messy and awkward year. I learned a lot about relationships, human nature and myself.

It was a year that I realized I was totally alone in my grief. Truly alone. Sure, there are people who miss Bryon. Some people miss Bryon a lot. But with all do respect, no one misses Bryon as much as I do.

It’s not rocket science, but psychology does back that up. At least the Social Readjustment Scale does.

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The Social Readjustment Scale ranks life events and rates them based on the stress impact.  Death of Spouse is the number one stresses which ranks 100 on the scale.  Divorce is the second largest stressful event and that ranks at 73 and Marital Separation ranks at 65.  Jail term (63) and Personal Injury (53) round out the top 5.  You can have more than one stressful event and those events can add up to over 100.  But death of spouse is the single most stressful event.

I am not writing these words to be hurtful to those who also miss Bryon.  I am just trying to illustrate the point that his loss was very different for me than anyone else.  Many people are respectful of that, others are not.  Some people are supportive, others are not.  Some people say wonderful things, others said horrible things.

It was a harsh realization when I realized that I was seeking support from the wrong people.  I should have leaned on my online widow tribe more than people who knew Bryon.  Even though our stories are different, we have all experienced level 100 stress.

But this year, I had to turn into myself.

I had to set some boundaries.

This has been a year of change and healing.

I am grateful that I am here.

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And I finally feel inspired to write again.

I truly try to live a life filled with Gratitude.

I thought about bringing back Good Vibrations Gratitude Friday but I decided to retire that series.

I felt like I was just making a weekly list.  Which is fine but I came to the realization that I’d rather pick one thing and delve into it.

And if I ever do feel like making a gratitude list, I can.  Because I am the CEO of this blog.

I was a little sad to start over with a new series. I had 48 Good Vibrations Gratitude Friday and I was hesitant to start over at 1 but life is about change and growth.  I can’t be afraid of change.

I shouldn’t be afraid of change. My life has had enough change over the past couple of years that I feel like I am stuck in a revolving door.

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So I hope you will join me each week and think about the things that you are grateful for.

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