Condescension and clichés

I am going to preface this post by saying that what I am going to write about will be upsetting to some.  When you read it, please remember where I am coming from and that this post is just about how I feel.  This is my starting point for my healing process.  I am open to conversation on this topic but please respect that this is where I am at right now.  

* * *

I was born into an Irish Catholic family.  I was baptized at St. Mary’s Church in Billerica, MA in the fall of 1978 and had my first communion there when I was in second grade.  I got confirmed in 1994 at St. Joseph’s Catholic Church in Ellsworth, Maine.  Bryon and I got married at Blessed Sacrament Church in Albany and our daughter was baptized there a two years later. Two years after that, Bryon had his funeral there.  Aside for a period of time during my teenage years, I loved being a Catholic.  It was just as much a part of my heritage as was being Irish and I love tradition.  I have always felt at home within the Catholic Church and never felt the need to explore other denominations of Christianity or other religions.

Religion has played an important role in my life and in our married life.  We attended Mass on most Sundays and Holy Days. For awhile, we attended Young Adult Ministry until the program was discontinued. Bryon was a lector and sat on the Parish Council.  He also helped out with many parish projects.  My involvement wasn’t as noble as Bryon’s but I like to think that I took care of our daughter which freed him up for his ministries.  

Naturally, when Bryon was sick, I relied on my faith to get me through it.  I prayed, my family prayed, friends prayed, people I didn’t even know prayed. Friends and family put Bryon on their prayers lists and chains. People I didn’t even know put Bryon on their church prayer lists and chains.  People would reassure me that Jesus healed.  I guess we just didn’t reach the quota of prayers for healing.  We were short.

I used to love saying the Rosary.  I always thought it was beautiful.  I took great comfort in it.  I usually made sure to say it once a day during Lent.  I am ashamed that I wasn’t always good about setting aside the time to say it as much as I should but how am I supposed to say the Rosary now?  The same prayers that provided comfort now immediately transport me back to the ICU room and the words fill me with anxiety.

I was having a discussion with a good friend who lost her brother when she was in college. We were talking about how the cliches were the worst.  Most cliches aren’t that bad but they aren’t always helpful and then when you multiply them by hundreds it compounds the frustration.  Sometimes I think people feel the need to say something to try to make me feel better but can’t think of anything so they default to a cliche.  And those cliches usually make the grieving person feel worse.  Sometimes it really is better to say nothing at all.  We discussed that even if it true that God loves us or that it is part of “His plan”, now is not the time.

I keep hearing about a “plan”.  All of my suffering is part of a plan.  But this doesn’t make me feel any better.  God wasn’t the only one with a plan.  Bryon had a plan.  I had a plan.  A lot of people close to Bryon had plans that involved him.  All we are left with is pain.  How am I supposed to trust this “plan”?  How am I supposed to take comfort that there is some plan when this plan involves the world losing a good man, me losing my husband and my daughter losing her father?  I hope God is up there enjoying his plan being executed while there are those us that are suffering.  I hope God is happy about it because I am not.  I couldn’t care less about his plan right now.  I have some choice words about his plan that I will refrain from using here.  I have a hard time believing that God’s Plan has anything in it that can make up for this.

Bryon’s death isn’t just some bump in the road or a disappointment of some sort.  I lost my other half.  He is gone.  And the whole foundation of my life hasn’t just been rattled.  It has completely come down.  All of our dreams are gone.  Yes, I have some pieces that I have salvaged but I don’t think people really understand how big of a void Bryon’s death leaves in my life. And yes, I am aware that things can be worse. I still have my daughter who I love more than anything in this world and she is a piece of Bryon but she doesn’t replace him.

I keep hearing that God loves me.  Really?  I am expected to believe that?  When you love people, you don’t hurt them senselessly.  Bryon’s death was senseless.  He shouldn’t have died.  He deserved to live a long life. God chose him to die.  His death leaves an emptiness in my life.  I will not grow old with my life partner.  My daughter will never know firsthand what an amazing man her father was.  His death leaves a void among so many of our friends and his work colleagues.  So many people depended on him.  This is not love.

People tell me that they pray for me and my daughter.  I truly appreciate that you are thinking about us and wishing us well.  I just say thank you because I don’t have the heart to tell you that I think praying is pointless.

I also have realized how much I used to pray.  I used to pray for many things, specifically for people and for guidance.  I realized that I have not prayed since Bryon has died.  To me, there just doesn’t seem like there is a point.  I lived my life trying to be a good Catholic girl.  I tried to follow all the rules though I failed miserably at some.  I prayed so hard and God clearly doesn’t listen to me.  I have been told that God answers prayers, but not always in the way you want them.  If that was the case, then what was the point in praying for Bryon to get well?  If God just did what he wanted to do then what was the point of praying?  And if he was going to take him in the end, then why did he make him suffer for five months?  It was downright cruel to Bryon and it was downright cruel to those of us that cared about him and had to watch him suffer.

I can feel the judgement and the pity.  They are usually met with condescension and patronization.  Especially from people who are happily married and don’t know the pain of losing your spouse at a young age.  I know it is easy to look at me and feel pity.  I know, it must be so sad to see my faith crumble. I get it.  You would never lose your faith if this happened to you because your faith is much stronger. Trust me, you can’t even imagine this pain until you live it and I sincerely hope you never have to.

I don’t mind when people offer book suggestions.  I don’t mind honest, sincere suggestions.  I welcome deeper conversation.  But I don’t need to go to Mass at a different parish.  I am aware that the Catholic Church offers the same Mass in different parishes.  I have attended Mass in 4 countries and in two languages.  I understand how the Church works.  I know where to find Mass should I want to attend and I am going to be just as mad at God at your parish as I am at mine. 

I also don’t need a different religion. I can assure you that I am just as angry at the Protestant version of God or the Bible Church version of God as I am at the Catholic version of God.

Despite all of this, I still plan to raise my daughter in the Catholic faith.  The church, although it has its faults, is beautiful and it is her heritage.   I still have every intention of sending her to Catholic School.  I hope I am healed enough by then so I am not faking my faith.  For years, I looked down with disdain at “cultural Catholics” but maybe in the end, that is where I will be?  Maybe all these “cultural Catholics” have had horrible things happen to them, things that have shaken their faith to the point that they are going through the motions of the faith?  Maybe I have been judgmental toward them this whole time.

Many widows have found that their faith is stronger in widowhood.  Some widows have told me it took years before they felt that their faith was stronger.  Maybe someday I will be in that group.  Maybe in a few years I will be writing about how my faith is stronger than ever and that I have an amazing relationship with God.  Maybe I will be writing about how I healed and my faith was restored in a way that helps other young widows.  But until then, I am going to stay where I am and just hope that when people want to talk about religion and God with me that they do so without the condescension and cliches.

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Top Gun Wake

Friday 12:30pm

August 26, 2016

 

“Revvin’ up your engine

Listen to her howlin’ roar

Metal under tension

Beggin’ you to touch and go

Highway to the danger zone

Ride into the danger zone”

             ~Kenny Loggins

I walked into the viewing room at the Funeral Home to see Bryon for the last time.  Funeral Nick shut the doors behind me.  We walked up to the casket.  It had been a lengthy and rather difficult process to get Bryon’s body moved from New York City to Albany and Funeral Nick had told me the day before that he did not feel that Bryon was fit for a public viewing.  I had decided that was just as well because I wanted everyone to remember the version of Bryon that was full of life, not the sick and lifeless version of Bryon.

He was in his kilt.  Next to him were the three items I wanted him buried with: a rosary, a bottle of Maker’s Mark and a Top Gun DVD.  And Top Gun was playing on the two TV’s mounted on the wall on both sides of the casket.  Just like Bryon wanted.  My friends had done a phenomenal job at collecting photos of Bryon for the picture boards and they were displayed all over the room.

Funeral Nick had stayed up late working on his makeup which I thought was very kind of him considering that I would be the only person who would see him.  Funeral Nick was quick to cover Bryon’s hands, he didn’t want me to see them.  I didn’t question why.  I just assumed they were either discolored as they were turning blue during his final hours or that they were puffy because Bryon had a lot of extra fluid in his body or both.  Seeing Bryon all caked with makeup reassured me that I was making the right choice by having a closed casket.  Caked on funeral makeup was acceptable for my grandparents who lived into their 80’s and 90’s but not on a 30 year old man.

Funeral Nick closed the casket and left me alone to be with Bryon.  I went to walk around the room and look at the photos and flowers and I hear Maverick start singing, “You never close your eyes, anymore, when I kiss your lips.”  I could feel Bryon’s presence strongly.  I think he was trying to make me laugh.  He was right with me.  I laughed and cried at the same time.

When I had arrived I left my parents, daughter, extended family and close friends were out in the lobby. After I had a good look at each of the picture boards, I told a member of the funeral home staff that it was okay to let them in.  They kept me company. The funeral staff was bringing in the flowers that we still being delivered.  I remember that my best friend from Maine made sure that there would be no wardrobe malfunctions with my dress while the Top Gun volleyball scene came on.  Everyone looked at the picture boards until it was time for our pre-wake ceremony and for the priest to come by.

3pm was the official start of the viewing.  I remember that there was a long line of people.  I stood next to the casket and my daughter’s Godmother stood next to me.  People from so many areas of Bryon’s life came by; coworkers, friends from college and college, friends from politics,  friends from some of the various organizations he belonged to, friends of his parents, some of his relatives.  I remember that many of my relatives made it in from Boston, Florida and Maine.  My best friend and another friend arrived from Chicago.  During the procession, there was a break in visiting and my best friend from Maine brought me Wendy’s (perfectly timed) which I quickly ate in a conference room. The visiting hours ran from 3 pm to 8pm and it the line of people slowed down at times but never completely stopped.

I had gone to Target the day before and I bought a doll, a doll stroller and a Doc McStuffins doctors kit for my daughter to play with.  She is a trooper when it comes to having her around people but I wanted her to have some toys to play with.  And I wanted these toys to be a novelty so they had to be new.  My friends and my family all took turns playing with her.  I was greeting people and everyone made sure that I did not need to worry.  I remember a few times I would look around and not see her but someone always reassured me that she was being watched by someone.

So many people came to pay their respects for Bryon to our family and many friends stayed the whole evening.  I know the visiting hours were long but to be truthful, the whole night was a blur, a whirlwind.  After the visiting hours ended, a staff member of the funeral home sat down with my daughter’s Godmother and me and we discussed logistics for the next day and what to do with flowers.

It was late but a large group of friends went out after for dinner.  The group was comprised of close friends from different areas of our life; college, politics, local and out of town. I needed the company and to hear the stories about Bryon.  It was late and it was a big day tomorrow.

The mopey love song phase

My early days of widowhood were filled with numbness as I worked through processing Bryon’s death as well as the death of all our dreams.  I am one of those people who likes to have some idea of what will happen in the future like a tentative 5 year, 10 year and 20 year plan.  I am not good at flying by the seat of my pants. I know that things can change but I was certain that Bryon, our daughter and the child we planned on having later were going to be there.  When Bryon was sick, I knew that it was possible that if he survived (which I believed he was going to) that he was probably going to have long term health problems that would have altered our plans.  But he was going to be there.  We would figure the rest out.

Then one day he was gone and so were our dreams.  The family of three (with plans to be four) had become a family of two.  And I have gotten used to the fact that that will be our future.  My daughter, me and our cat.  Maybe I will get her a dog to make up for the fact that she won’t ever have a brother or sister.  I am trying to reconstruct new dreams.

I have been shifting from feeling of numbness due to his absence in our daily life to reflecting on our life together.

I never really been one to date.  I didn’t have a serious boyfriend until my senior year in college.  He was the complete opposite of Bryon.  We dated for almost three years even though he didn’t really put much effort into our relationship.  At the time, I thought that it was love and left the relationship unimpressed with the whole concept of love. It definitely was not like the love I had seen in the movies. I don’t think he was a bad guy, he just did not seem to have much passion with me or for anything else.

All my life I had kept people at a distance.  I never let anyone get too close and can be quite stand-offish at times.  This probably factored into the reason why I never dated much.  I never liked letting my guard down.  It is much easier to not let people get close instead of opening yourself up and potentially getting hurt.  I spent my 20’s immersed in Maine Republican politics and the politics of the Young Republican National Federation.  While part of me enjoyed some superficial male attention, I really wasn’t that interested in letting anyone into my own world and exposing myself to potential hurt. As a result, I probably denied myself a lot of happiness during that decade.

All that changed in the winter of 2008.  I was still living in Maine and I had traveled to Albany, NY for a leadership conference put on by the New York State Young Republicans.  I was feeling more social than usual that weekend and I chatted with several charming gentlemen.  I must have made quite an impression on a certain younger gentlemen who stood next to me all evening at the bar and kept buying me drinks.  This younger gentleman brought me back to my hotel.  I started to get nervous because I felt that this younger gentleman was interested in me and I didn’t want him to get the wrong idea.  I started to stress our age difference because he would surely lose interest if he knew how old I was.  He said he didn’t believe I was that old so I took out my driver’s license and said “That’s a ‘7’ not an ‘8’.”  He looked at it with complete disbelief and said that that can’t be right.  I said.  “Oh, yes it is.  I was born during the Carter Administration.”

The fact that I was born in the 1970’s (albeit late 1970’s) and that I am old enough to remember Ronald Reagan actually being president did not deter this young gentlemen.  For the next several months he showered me with attention on google chat and Facebook.  While I enjoyed the attention, I tried to discourage his advances.  He was too young.  Why on Earth would he want to date an old lady like me?  

I didn’t make it easy for him but Bryon eventually wore me down.  Our attraction was just too strong and it was just meant to be.   And to this day, I have no idea what he saw in me.  What made me special?  No man had ever made an effort to romance me or make me feel special but Bryon did.  What was it about me that made him think I was worth the trouble?

He was the first person I truly let get close to me.  This scared me and I am ashamed to say that I would test him even though I don’t think I did it intentionally. I just thought he was too good to be true and that he would surely lose interest in me.  Friends used to always say that I was a saint for putting up with his mischievous antics but he was just as much as a saint for putting up with me. I wasn’t always a picnic to deal with.   I have no idea why I couldn’t just accept that a great guy like Bryon would love me.

I just think about how he used to look at me during those romantic dinners, like I was the only girl in the room.  Or how he listened to every silly story I told on our first date.  I think about how sappy he got right before he proposed to me at Mahars and how happy he looked when I walked down the aisle on our wedding day.   I think about how excited he would get when I would say a one-liner that made him laugh.  He would reiterate to me that he was the funny one but once in awhile I can be really funny too.  I think about all the times he told me I was beautiful and all the times I got mad at him because I didn’t believe I was deserving of that compliment.

I think I am beginning to enter what I am thinking of as the Mopey Love Song Phase.  In the earlier days of widowhood, my sadness felt raw and intense but it still felt like an external feeling that I could fight off. My sadness doesn’t feel as raw or intense now but it feels deeper and more internalized. It is like the sadness has actually become a physical part of me and I accept that it is now a part of me. The emptiness sits like a big pit in my stomach and radiates through my bones.

Now that I am getting over the shock of Bryon being gone, I am bombarded with memories and trying to process the emotions that go along with all of those memories.  Our love story is played over and over again in my head. I tear up to think that as we were living our lives and making memories, we never knew that we weren’t going to get many years.  And there never would have been no way to know.

Six Months

It has been six months since you left us.

It has been six months since I last held your hand or looked into your brown eyes.

It has been six months since your body just couldn’t fight anymore.  

It’s has been six months since I had to give up the dream that you were going to recover and that we were going to be able to put this nightmare behind us.

It’s been six months since I walked out of the hospital for the last time.

Within the past six months, I have probably felt every emotion possible.  

I have felt anger.  Not at you, but at the situation.  That this had to happen.  That our daughter will grow up without you.  And at God for taking you from me.  Who does he think he is?

I have felt relieved that you are not in pain anymore.  Wherever you are now has to be better than the ICU.  I am also relieved because as you were dying, I was afraid that I was going to remember you as you were in that hospital bed.  But I remember you as the person you were when you were full of life.

I have felt numb and unable to deal with certain tasks.  Dealing with those tasks would be admitting that you really are gone.  

I have felt helpless because you did so much.  How can I do all of this without you?  

I have felt fearful.  I am the only parent left to take care of our daughter.  What if something happens to me?  How am I going to be a Mom and a Dad to our daughter?

I have felt guilt.  Did I do everything I could?  Did I miss something?  Was there something that could have kept you alive that I somehow missed?  

I have felt frustrated.  Taking care of our daughter by myself is tough.  I miss having you as my co-parent.

I feel empty every night as I sit at home by myself without you to talk to.  I feel empty every night when I go to sleep alone.  I miss you every day.

I have felt lonely because your death and absence leaves a huge void in my life.  I miss you so much that it hurts.  I miss our conversations.  I miss watching TV with you.  I miss emailing back and forth with you trying to figure out what to do for dinner.  You truly were my other half and my best friend.

I have felt happy because you left some great memories.  I love it when friends share funny stories about you.  You might be gone, but you still find a way to make us laugh.

I have felt comfort because I know that at some level you are still with me and you will continue to look out for me and our daughter from above.

I have felt grateful that you chose me to be by your side even if it was for a short time.  I am grateful for the love that you gave me.  I am grateful for everything that you have taught me and I am grateful for our life together.  

I have lost my faith.  I used to think God loved me but not anymore.  And I think he is kind of a jerk.  I used to believe in happy endings but my “Happily Ever After” has been taken away.  I no longer believe in happy ends or miracles.

I have felt despair because I will not get to grow old with you and that our daughter will not remember you.  Why did this have to happen?  I have a hard time with the fact that you will not get to watch our daughter grow up.  She has already grown up so much since you got sick. Who is going to take her to the Father-Daughter dance?  Who is going to walk her down the aisle when she gets married?  I know you left behind many great friends who are willing to be positive male role models for her and will be there for her and I am grateful for that.  But sometimes I still think it is unfair because it is supposed to be you that was supposed to do all of those things.

I have learned that I am a lot stronger than I have ever given myself credit for.  I am a survivor.  

I have had moments where I am about to call or text you but then I remember that you are not here.  I can’t ask you that question or tell you that story.  There is so much that I want to tell you. Your phone will go straight to voicemail.  Because I can’t bring myself to call the phone company and disconnect your number.  It’s just easier to pay the bill as I have been.   And speaking of phones, my phone is acting possessed and I don’t have you to fix it.

Some of your clothes are still hanging up in the closet.  Others are in bags but I can’t bring myself to bring them to goodwill.

You meant so much to so many people and you accomplished so much in your short life.  And you were only just beginning.  I can’t help but wonder what you would have accomplished if you were given the 80+ years on this planet that you should have had.  There were so many dreams and plans that you had for yourself and for our family.  Dreams that will be unfulfilled.

I am still trying to make sense of what happened and trying to accept that I will probably never make sense of it.  Why this had to happen?   We think we control our lives but at the end of the day, we can only control so much.  We just have to do the best with what we have at any given time. I am trying to accept that all of this had to happen for some reason but I don’t know what that reason is.  Whatever that reason is, it is just hard to accept that you had to die for it.  

I am sad because you are gone.  But also because I am starting to get used to you being gone.  Every time I throw something away, even if it is something like your holey socks, that is another piece of you that is gone.  But I know I can’t keep your holey socks around.  My emotions feel less raw but they are still there.  At times I feel like I can more forward, without you here.  This makes me feel guilty.  You are supposed to be here with me.  I didn’t plan on having to go it alone at this stage of my life.  We were supposed to be forever and always.  I thought I was going to spend the rest of my life with you and that is not going to happen but I get a little comfort knowing that you spent “the rest of your life” with me.  

Vegas Vacation

Every winter, Bryon and I liked to go on a cruise.  We had one booked that was supposed to leave today.  We were supposed to sail on the Royal Caribbean Navigator of the Seas and we were supposed to sail out of Miami and go to four brand new ports (Labadee, Aruba, Bonaire and Curacao).  I cancelled that cruise even though my daughter’s godmother said she would go.  I appreciated her offer but declined because I would be too sad.  Cruising was our thing and if I were to go without Bryon, I would probably cry the whole time.  And it would not be fun to be on a cruise if you are crying all the time.  Maybe someday I will be ready to cruise again with friends.  

My best friend was going to Vegas with her husband and her two year old daughter because her husband was in a tournament and she invited my daughter and I to come along.  I figured it would be nice to get away and see my best friend.  I don’t get to see her often because she lives in Chicago.  I remembered the promise I made to Bryon that I would take our daughter to see the world.  We would do Vegas Mom and Toddler style.

This was my first time flying by myself with our daughter.  I used to fly by myself all the time as a singleton but I only flown by myself once since I was with Bryon.  That was to my best friends wedding in the Cancun area (same best friend I was traveling with on this trip).  Bryon wasn’t able to attend the wedding because it was during his busy time at work.  I remember being overwhelmed on that flight because I got so used to travelling with him.  And he even booked that flight for me and even researched what to expect when going through Mexican customs.  He was so organized.  He had a folder with all pertinent travel documents and he did all the heavy lifting.  But he is no longer here and he would want my daughter and I to continue living so I figured we would be brave it by ourselves.

In some ways, traveling with my 2 year old on a cross country flight wasn’t as hard as I thought it was going to be.  I was prepared for everything to take longer.  Luckily we had TSA Pre-check so security was easier.  The car seat couldn’t fit through the bag screener and I was instructed to bring the stroller to the metal detector and I had to wait until they were individually checked.  Coming back they were able to put them both through the bag scanner.

Luckily my daughter likes to people watch so she is generally entertained in places with lots of people.  But I had brought books and dolls.  Also, toddlers like to eat and there is usually lots of food in airports so I think she ate three bananas, an orange and a bag of M&M’s.  I also had gotten her a frozen yogurt with strawberries on it.  She ate the strawberries but pretty much played with the rest.  Maybe not the best dinner but I was more concerned about keeping her happy.   I guess there could be worse things for her to eat too much off.  All I know is when I went to grab some M&M’s, they were gone.

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Fun at Newark

When we used to fly with Bryon, he usually did most of the heavy lifting while I took care of our daughter.  He always made comments that he was the pack mule.  Well this time I got to be the pack mule and take care of our daughter.  So I texted one of my good friends, the one that I can talk to completely uncensored (nothing I say can shock her) and I said that I needed to get a boyfriend just so he could come with me on vacation to help with the heavy lifting.  Experience at installing car seats would be a plus.  I would even pay for the fictional boyfriend’s vacation and he wouldn’t even have to hang out with us.  During our conversation, I remembered that I am not ready for a boyfriend (even if he is fictional) and I would then have to break up with this fictional boyfriend after vacation and give him the “yeah…this isn’t going to work…it’s not you, it’s me…” speech.  Also, I like to travel a lot so I would need an off-again, on-again type of relationship.  I was starting to become stressed out over this fictional relationship.  My conversation with my friend concluded that next time I will just check the car seat and learn more about minimalist packing and wait for a real relationship to come in it’s own time.

I was surprised that so many people were willing to help.  Turns out I don’t need a pack mule boyfriend.  I did have offers from many people to help carry my bags onto the plane and to carry the carseat.  I was surprised at the kindness people showed us.  Or maybe it was pity.  Most likely, they were just victims of my daughter’s adorable looks and charming personality.

Our flight was supposed to arrive around 8:30pm (close to the time that my friends flight was due to arrive from Chicago) but we didn’t get in until after 10pm (local time so it was after 1am Eastern time).   My best friend and her husband and daughter came back to the airport to get us.  It was so good to see my best friend.  It was late and we went to bed when we got back to the hotel.

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Welcome to Las Vegas!

My cell phone never adjusted to the time change and the clock stayed in Eastern time so it didn’t surprise me that I slept in until 10am Eastern (7 am local).  We had a view of the strip and the girls were fascinated with the tiny cars down below.  They kept exclaiming “Cars!  Cars!”  My best friend and I got our two daughters ready which was quite an ordeal in itself.  As I was getting ready, a few of Bryon’s contacts (he used the daily disposables) fell out of my toiletry bag.  He probably put them in there while on our last cruise in February 2016, a month before he got sick.  I threw them away as it didn’t make any sense to keep them. I felt a twinge of sadness because over time, those little reminders of Bryon are going to slowly disappear.

After we were finally ready, we went down to the lobby and had crepes at one of the cafe’s in the hotel.  (We were staying at Paris).  We then went next door to Planet Hollywood to do some shopping at the Miracle Mile Mall.  I was on a mission for the Las Vegas Pandora beads.  And I wanted to buy my daughter a Vegas T-shirt as well as a Vegas Christmas ornament because I like to collect Christmas ornaments from places I travel too.

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Crepes!  Oh lala!

For lunch, we went to Hash House A Go-Go at The Linq.  The portions were HUGE.  Then we walked around the Venetian, got Gelato, dealt with several bodily fluids (ah, motherhood) and then got lost in Ceasar’s Palace.  My daughter lost a shoe which we never found.  We went to use the elevator because of our strollers and there was a homeless man sleeping in the elevator.  So we had no choice but to (carefully) use escalator with a stroller.  Then we went back to the hotel to curl our hair before going out to a steakhouse where I got Maine lobster pasta because I am weird like that.

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Who orders Maine Lobster pasta at a Steakhouse?  

Oh and it was raining.  In the desert.  I am still kind of confused about that.

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Nightlife. Like 9pm. 

The following day we took the girls to M&M World which consisted of 4 floors of pure excitement.   I felt the need to buy my daughter a M&M stuffed animal (yellow), a M&M mug (yellow), a Christmas ornament (yellow- notice a theme?  I think it is my daughter’s favorite color) and some overpriced M&M’s (but oh, all the color choices!  But not yellow because you can get those in regular packages) and I spent so much that I could get the M&M character blanket for $5 so of course I did.  And I bought the $2 reusable tote bag because I am a sucker like that.  I got pecan pie M&M’s which were delicious and my best friend got butterscotch M&M’s which she let me try and they were amazing too.

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She couldn’t contain her excitement.
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All the colors!

After M&M world, we walked over to New York, New York and had lunch.  The kids had hot dogs and the adults had pizza.  We then walked through the castle (i.e. The Excalibur) and took the tram to Mandalay Bay.  We planned on taking the girls to the Shark Reef Aquarium.

I had stayed at Mandalay Bay in 2005 when I attended the Young Republican National Convention.  It was the first of many Young Republican National Federation events that I would attend.  As I walked through the hotel and convention center, I started reflecting to my best friend (i.e. verbal diarrhea) about how eerie it felt to be in the place that changed my life.  I didn’t know it at the time, but my decision to attend that convention in 2005 completely altered the course of my life. I had a great time at that convention and I made connections and decided to get further involved in the organization.  I met my daughter’s godmother at the following board meeting in Little Rock, AR in the fall of 2005.  I met my best friend the following spring in Washington, D.C. at the Young Republican Leadership Conference.  She was sitting in front of me on the bus that took us to and from the reception at the Romanian Embassy.   And I met Bryon at the Fall 2006 Board Meeting in Louisville, KY.  If I had not attended that convention, I would not have (eventually) met my husband or my close friends, I would not have my daughter and I would not be living in New York.  Also, almost all my friends in New York became my friends originally through Bryon.  This completely blew me away.

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An event that would change the course of my life.

We took the girls through the shark reef aquarium.  I was very impressed.

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Mandalay Bay 2017
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Mandalay Bay 2017

 

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Mandalay Bay 2017
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Mandalay Bay 2017

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Mandalay Bay 2017
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Mandalay Bay 2017
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Mandalay Bay 2017
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Mandalay Bay 2017
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Mandalay Bay 2017

After the aquarium, we drove down the strip and to the other side of the Stratosphere.  We passed Silver and Gold, the pawn shop from Pawn Stars.  We also drove through some local neighborhoods.

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The Strip  2017
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The Strip 2017
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The Strip 2017
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The Strip 2017
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The Stratosphere
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Pawn Stars
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Pawn Stars

We decided to have dinner at Burgr, one of Gordon Ramsay’s restaurants.  When the food came, my daughter had an epic tantrum.  I admit, I am spoiled because she is generally a very easy going and well behaved kid.  I know they say you can’t reason with a toddler but I can usually reason with her.  But she wasn’t having any of it.  She was tired and she was overstimulated.  I had to take her out of the restaurant and I strapped her into her stroller.  I found a quiet corner where I sit down on the floor and I start crying.  My best friend came out and I proceeded to completely melt down about how it all wasn’t fair.  Why did Bryon have to die?  How come everyone else in the world gets to be happy except me?  It wasn’t supposed to be like this.  We were supposed to grow old together.  Not one of my proudest moments and I couldn’t even blame it on alcohol because I was sober.

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Gordon Ramsay’s Burgr
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My Sandwich that I didn’t get to eat.

After I finished my meltdown, my best friend and I went to Holsteins in the Cosmopolitan for adult milkshakes. That made things better.

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Adult Milkshakes at Holsteins

This trip was great because I got to see my best friend and my daughter got to play with her daughter.  But I couldn’t help but feel like Bryon was missing.  It felt like he should have been on this trip with us.  He would have loved Vegas.  He would have loved the fact that the people came from all walks of life (including the homeless man sleeping in the elevator).  He would have loved the gambling and all the food.  He would have loved the casinos.  He would have loved the ride through the neighborhoods near the strip. He had been my travelling buddy for 8 years so I definitely felt his absence.  While I know he will always be with me and that does comfort me to some level, I hope in the future I won’t feel so empty from his absence when I travel.

A widowed Valentine’s Day

Valentine’s Day 2009 was our first Valentine’s Day together.  I had a long weekend so I planned to drive from Maine to Albany.  I decided I was going to get him a Brooks Brother’s gift card so he could buy a bow tie.  I got out of work at 4:30 in Bar Harbor, ME and I was worried that the closest store in Freeport, ME (which was about three hours into my drive) was going to be closed by the time I was driving through.  Luckily I made it there with ten minutes to spare.  Bryon cooked me chicken parm for dinner and even had candles in his small apartment.  I gave him the Brooks Brothers gift card and a box of chocolates made by my friend who has a confectionary business. (Affectionate Confections)  He gave me a box of commercial chocolates and an EZ pass because he couldn’t stand that I actually stopped at the toll plazas and paid cash to the attendant.  I won’t go into the details of the rest of the evening.  I will leave that to your imagination.

(I did find that Brooks Brother’s gift card still in the box about a month after Bryon died.  No idea if he used it or if the card is even good.  It is so old it doesn’t have a number on the back to call for a balance.)

Valentine’s Day 2016 was our last Valentine’s Day.  We started it on the cruise ship, Freedom of the Seas.  We were back in Port Canaveral after a seven night cruise to the Bahamas, U.S.V.I, and Saint Maarten.   It was debarkation day and we were concerned about the logistics of getting off the ship and getting to the airport and ultimately getting home.  We had long ago blown off the idea of Valentine’s Day.  Bryon would rather send me flowers or take me out to a fancy dinner on any other night of the year.  That morning Bryon didn’t say anything about it being Valentine’s Day to me.  Maddy woke up and he said “Maddy, will you be my Valentine?”  My heart melted.

To those who are in love, whether you are in the early stages of your relationship or have been married for decades, please don’t take each other for granted.  Listen to each other.  Really look at each other.  Spent time together, just the two of you.  Show interest in each other’s interests and lives. Don’t leave anything unsaid.  Take time to make sure you hug and feel the embrace.

Don’t live each day like it’s your last as that is just too exhausting.  But remember that things can change instantly, without warning.  Bryon’s illness happened suddenly and unexpectedly.  I don’t remember a lot of our “lasts” because I didn’t realize that those lasts were going to be our lasts.  While I am thankful I had those last five months with him, there were so many things we never got a chance to say.  So many things we didn’t get to do.

To those who are single, please don’t be discouraged.  I had given up on love when Bryon entered my life.  Please make sure you keep your heart open and never lose the faith.  Don’t settle but don’t be so stuck on what your ideal partner is that you miss out on something wonderful.  Sometimes love surprises us.  And if you are single and are happy, that is great and keep doing things that make you happy.

If Bryon were still living, we would not have had anything spectacular planned today but I still feel the emptiness.  But I am thankful I got my eight years with him.  I am thankful that he loved me.  He touched a lot of people lives and he chose me to be by his side.  I am a better person now because of him.  Because of him, I will live my life differently and love those around more.

I will continue on my journey on trying to love myself and being the best mother I can be to my daughter.  I will cherish the non-romantic love in my life from my family and friends.  I will cherish all the meals I share with friends.  All of the conversations.  These people were there for me in the darkest hours and still continue to stay by my side.  I will be ready to be there for them during their darkest hours, though I hope their darkest hours are bright compared to mine.  I will continue to try to keep my heart open to new friendships and work at not keeping myself closed off from others.

I do not know what future Valentine’s Days will bring.  I hope someday that I will get a chance to love and be loved again.  Maybe, when I am ready for it,  I will have another special man in my life who won’t be scared off by all my baggage.  But until that day arrives, should it arrive,  I will be spending this Valentine’s Day at a rocking party with the other love of my life and the twelve other two-year-olds in her daycare class.  And there is nowhere else I would rather be.

A Promise

During Bryon’s final hours, one of our closest friends and I sat in his room and we would take turns going over to him to talk to him.  He wasn’t conscious at this point but no one really knows how much he heard or if he could even hear us at this point.  But we continued to talk to him.  I am not going to tell you about everything we talked about but I am going to tell you about one promise I made to him.

I was probably rambling at this point.  But I started talking about our travel maps.  I struggled on a good first anniversary paper gift but decided that we should buy a large map of the U.S. and a huge map of the world and put them on large bulletin boards and pin all the places we travel.  True to my nature, I even found a way to make it more complicated by adding color coded pins to denote places that only I had traveled  (blue) and places that only he had traveled (green).  We used red pins for the places we traveled together and yellow pins to denote places that we both had been but not together.

In a perfect world, I would have made these maps for him and given them to him as a gift.  But I knew that there was no way I could hide them.  So I presented my idea to Bryon and he liked the it and true to his “take charge” nature, he located the items online, purchased them and put the maps with the adhesive onto the bulletin boards. He did let me help with the assembly.   He even indulged my system of color coded pins.  Though one day as a prank, he put one of my pins in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia even though I have never been to Africa and didn’t tell me.  He waited until I figured it out.  He thought it was the funniest thing ever so I left the pin in place.

Anyway, as I was talking (or rambling) to Bryon during his last night on Earth, I started talking about these maps.  I remember saying that I couldn’t believe that there wouldn’t be any more adventures together.  We loved to travel.  We had so many plans and so many places we wanted to visit. We would never go to San Diego and visit all the Top Gun places.  We would never go to Branson, Missouri (it was always his dream to go to the Nashville of the Ozarks.  A dream I never understood).  We would never go to Scotland, or Seattle, or London or Texas.  Travelling with Bryon was amazing because he was a planner and he would make the best of wherever he was.  We could be in some random place but give him 5-10 minutes on his phone and he would figure out the top tourist attractions, the most random tourist attraction, what famous (or not-so-famous) person lived there, if there was a Waffle House or a Chick-Fil-A nearby and what the best local places to eat and grab a drink and he would come up with a plan to see it all. Literally, all I had to do was show up and enjoy the amazing vacation.

Our adventures were going to be over.  We wouldn’t put any more red pins into our map.  But I told him that I promised that I would still take our daughter on adventures even though it would be hard to do it without him. Bryon would want her to see the world.  We brought her everywhere with us.  By the time she was 16 months, she had already been on two Caribbean cruises.  Bryon wouldn’t want us to stop travelling.  I even bought special pink pins to denote our girl trips.

So today my daughter and I embark on our first adventure without Bryon.  It is going to be hard without him.  It will be the first time I will fly alone with my daughter.  We will be going to a place that Bryon had never been but always wanted to go.  We will be spending time with my best friend and her two year old daughter.

So get ready Las Vegas.  The McKim girls are coming.