The ugly side of grief

Grief if not pretty.  Grief is actually quite ugly.  Some view me as strong.  Some view me as delicate.   But the truth is I am neither strong or delicate yet I am both strong and delicate at the same time.  I always joke that I am a girl of many contradictions as I am part city girl, part country girl.  The analogy fits here as well.

Grief is hard.  It’s hard to go to bed alone.  It’s hard to deal with the moments of shock where you wonder why all of this had to happen.  It’s been 8 months since Bryon died and over a year (13 months) since Bryon got sick and I am still hit with those moments.  But one of the hardest parts of grief is all the emotions.  Grief makes you feel every emotion there is; sadness, anger, frustration, helplessness, desperation.  It is like each emotion is it’s own bright, vibrant color and I am that cup of disgusting water that you dip your paintbrush into.  All those bright colors have turned my cup of clear water into a disgusting murky shade of greenish brown.

I have always been someone who has struggled with expressing my negative emotions.  I usually say nothing and I let frustration build until it turns into a completely different emotion and then the volcano erupts and it is usually over something minor and stupid. And once that volcano erupts, there is so stopping and tt is not fair to the people that stand in line of that volcano.  It’s not fair to take your negative emotions out on people.  People shouldn’t have to deal with Mt. McKim.

Grief is exhausting.  I joke with my friends that grief has turned me into an emotionally stunted preteen girl.  While I like to think I have more wisdom than the average preteen girl, there is still some level of truth to that statement.  Emotionally, I can only deal with what is in front of me and that in turn has made me self-absorbed.  I talk about myself too much.  I wonder when enough time has gone by that I don’t feel the need to talk about myself and my grief so much.  When do I begin to act normal again?

Grief is overwhelming.  Not only are we dealing with the absence of our loved one, we have to deal with the secondary losses.  Loss of security, loss of income, loss of future plans.  We have to rebuild and that is overwhelming.  Many widows don’t know how to rebuild.  I know I am relearning skills that I haven’t had to think about in over 6 years.  I know where I want to be but I don’t know how to get there.  I am like the underpants gnomes except I am not collecting underpants.

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I had been working on removing toxicity from my life and I still find that I have too much to deal with emotionally.  It dawns on me that it isn’t enough to remove toxic people, you need to remove toxic thoughts too.  I need to learn how to redirect that energy to something more positive.

I also want to make a point that just because one is widowed does not mean that they are obligated to accept friendship from a person who tears you down.  Just because you are at a low point in your life does not mean that you deserve to be bullied or talked to in a way that is demeaning.  Surround yourself with supportive people.

Grief also can make you anxious and paranoid.  So much bad stuff happened to me this past year and I am constantly worried about what tragedy is coming next.  It’s like I can’t just accept that this storm has passed and I need to enjoy the sunshine until the next storm happens.  (Because widowhood doesn’t give you any immunity from bad things happening.  But let’s hope I don’t have to sit in another ICU room for 5 months watching someone else I care about suffer and die)  In addition to watching my husband die, many people that should have been supportive of my daughter and me were not.  Those people were selfish and self serving.  I was hurt by those people but I need to stop anticipating that I am going to be hurt by the people who have been there for me over and over again.  My friends have proven that they have been there for me and I need to trust that they will continue to be there for me.

Grief is ugly.  I am not looking for pity.  People who are grieving generally don’t want pity.  Or advice unless we specifically ask for it.  We want empathy, love and support.  People who are grieving don’t want to be spoken at or preached at.  We just want to be listened to.  And whatever you do, don’t tell the grieving how to grieve or try to educate them on their own experience.  Trust me, you don’t know.  Even if you think you do, you don’t.

Why am I sharing this?  Most people try to portray themselves in the best light possible, not share their ugly side.  There are many reasons.  The most important is that I believe in being honest and I want to give an honest account of grief, not just the noble parts.  I am not always that strong and stoic widow that many people believe I am.  The second reason is accountability.  I don’t want to act like this but I need to own it when I do.  I have been hurt by too many people who don’t take accountability for their actions.  I think we all know those people, the people that never apologize for anything.  They just blame everyone else .  And as always, I am writing this because I know I can’t be the only grieving person that feels like a hot mess sometimes.  Maybe someone that relates will read this and will get some relief for not being alone.

I have had a rough week.  I tend to write about what’s on my mind and there have been four posts this week.  I think that is a record. That’s a lot of stuff on my mind.  I want to put this week behind me. I have a nearly dead palm tree and a nearly dead oak tree in my kitchen.  They have not looked good for months.  I was convinced I had neglected those poor trees to the point of no return.  Well today I see signs of recovery.  If those trees can recover, there is no reason I can not.  We all can regardless of what pain we are moving forward from. It’s time to put the negativity behind me and enjoy the two birthday parties I am attending this weekend.

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All the days of my life

Our cake had four tiers, each with a different flavor.   The cake was decorated with a Celtic cross, red roses and with the tartan ribbon from Bryon’s Scottish clan.  There were weddings pictures of our parents and Bryon’s grandparents.  No wedding pictures of my grandparents exist so there were pictures from my grandparents younger days.  

There was no cake smashing as neither of us were fond of that tradition.  The song that was playing during our cake cutting was “You’re my Best Friend” by Queen.  There was so much excitement going on that day that I don’t remember what the cake tasted like but that was okay, we would freeze our top tier.  Of course, one year later we would discover that that cake would absorb the flavor of everything in our freezer and not taste as it was on our wedding night.

I was driving back from Starbucks yesterday morning (a habit I am trying to break though I am not sure I really want to) when Queen’s “You’re my Best Friend” came on the radio.  (Warning, you might think I am nuts after you read the next sentence.) They say the dead communicate to you through electronics and I am convinced Bryon is doing that.  He communicates with my daughter’s Godmother by putting Top Gun on her tv and he communicates with me through songs, usually in the form of Hall and Oates.  I have heard Hall and Oates more in the past couple of months than I have heard in my whole life prior.  He was partial to this 2008 Saturday Night Live skit of “Hall and Oates”.

Usually hearing a song that triggers a memory like that makes me cry but I actually handled it alright.  I was actually excited that Bryon was communicating and I turned up the song and listened.  Surprisingly I didn’t cry.  I was actually kind of happy and lighthearted.  I was okay until I read my friend widow blogger friend Emily’s post.  Emily’s post really reasonated with me and after I read it,  I cried.  I know, I cried.  Big surprise, right?

Emily’s post got me thinking about the wedding vow “till death do us part” but Bryon and I did not make that vow.  Our weddings vows at our Catholic Nuptial Mass stated that “I will love you and honor you all the days of my life.”  I remember having a conversation with Bryon about the significance of that vow.  He did not express any preference between “till death do us part” and “I will love you and honor you all the days of my life.”  As far as he was concerned, they had the same meaning.

I remember saying to him that I preferred “I will love you and honor you, all the days of my life” because one of us was going to die before the other and when one of us died, our love wasn’t going to stop.  Bryon didn’t really want to talk about it.  He was never one to talk about death and what happens after.  He came from a family where talking about death was taboo while my Boston Irish-Catholic family talked about death almost casually, like one would talk about the weather or the Red Sox.

My love for Bryon didn’t die on the August morning in New York City when he died.   I will love Bryon until I take my last breathe because my love for him doesn’t die until I die.  He is a part of me now and he will always have a part of my heart along with all the memories from our years together.  My love for Bryon is intertwined with the love I have for our daughter and our friends.  Even if I remarry, I will continue to love Bryon.  And that’s okay because the heart has an amazing ability to grow and to make room to accommodate all the love a person has to give.

Bryon’s love lives on in me.  I am who I am today because of Bryon’s love.  And I like to think that his love has made me a better person.  Bryon taught me so much in our short time together and I will never be the same.

And I will honor Bryon for all the days of my life.  I try to honor Bryon in many different ways.  I honor him by trying to be a good mother to our daughter.  I honor him by spending time with our friends even if it goes against my introvert tendencies.  I honor him by trying not to take my life too seriously.  I honor him by trying to do things that are out of my comfort zone.  I honor him by letting more inappropriate comments come out of my mouth.  I honor him by travelling with our daughter.  And some days, honoring Bryon might not be noble and it might be as simple as getting out of bed and existing that day.

But I will never stop loving and honoring Bryon.

Waiting

“For a long time it seemed to me that life was about to begin — real life. But there was always some obstacle in the way, something to be gotten through first, some unfinished business, time still to be served, a debt to be paid. At last it dawned on me that these obstacles were my life.

This perspective has helped me to see there is no way to happiness. Happiness is the way.

So treasure every moment you have and remember that time waits for no one. Happiness is a journey, not a destination.”

~ Alfred D’Souza

I have always been a person who has always been waiting.

When I was a child, I was waiting for high school because from what I observed by watching Saved by the Bell and Beverly Hills 90210, high school was real life.  Because after sporting events and lame school dances, it was all downhill.

When I was in high school, I was waiting until I could go off to college because college was real life.  I would be out of my small Maine town and I would study abroad in Europe.  I could immerse myself in the subjects I cared about such as History and French.

When I was in college, I was waiting for graduation because that was when my career was going to happen and possibly I will would meet my future husband.  I was going to earn some real money.  And life was going to begin.

When I was finally out of college, I was waiting for my career to take off and to meet that husband I dreamed about meeting.  But none of those things came with a college degree so I kept waiting.

Once I was in a relationship with Bryon, I was waiting to get engaged because then I would be planning our wedding and my life would begin.

When Bryon and I were engaged, I was waiting to be married and when I was a wife, then life would begin.  We could put the stress of wedding planning behind us and we can focus on our happily ever after.

Once I was Bryon’s wife, I was waiting to buy a house and become a mother.  We would become a family and raise our baby in our little house.

Once I became a mother, I was waiting to have our second child so we could be the perfect family with two kids.  Bryon had been working hard on a career as was I and we would buy a bigger house.  Then life would begin.  We would raise our two perfect children, maybe three and take them to whatever sports or lessons they had.  We would get a family dog.  We would go on family vacations.  Bryon had plans to become 1950’s dad and make our daughters dates uncomfortable.  Then the kids would go of to college to wait for their lives to begin and Bryon and I would grow old together.

Only life as I envisioned it would never begin.  I never once thought “once I become a young widow, then my life would begin.”  But my life is happening and for once, I am not waiting for anything.  I know I have a long life ahead of me but for the first time in my life, I am not eagerly anticipating the next phase of my life.  I don’t even know what I should be waiting for.  I don’t even know what my next phase of my life is.  I know I will see my daughter grow up but Bryon won’t be there.  I hope to be in a position to help people but I am not sure how I will get from here to there.

During my grief process, I have felt like there is a lot of waiting.  I am waiting for the pain to subside.  I am waiting for things to get settled.  I am waiting until I can think about everything that happened and not feel like I am being punched in the stomach.  I am waiting until I can talk about what happened without having my voice shake and tears welling up in my eyes.

I don’t know what to wait for.  My life has so many paths it could take.  I am not looking forward to the prospect of someday dating again.  But if I did, my life would follow a certain path, a path I am not ready to consider at the moment.  For the time being, I am actually looking forward to my time alone to figure out exactly who I am.  But since I don’t know who I am right now, I don’t know how to envision a future alone.  There are many facets of my personality I wish to explore and depending on which ones I develop could affect my path.

I spent 37 years waiting for my life to begin.  But I have been living my life this whole time and not living in the moment.  I spent my years with Bryon looking towards the future and that future never materialized.  I spent so much time waiting and not enjoying the life I was living and that life is gone.  I can’t go back and focus on those moments in the present.  I only have memories.  Memories, a future I am not waiting for and the present.  It’s a shame it took my husband’s death to teach me how to live in the present.

So much weekend

I started this blog as an outlet for my feelings and I have decided that I have been writing about too much depressing stuff lately.  My life isn’t all depressing so I decided to share some of my fun moments.  I mean, my life won’t always be this depressing, right?  My daughter and I had a busy weekend so I thought I would share that.

On Friday evening I had plans to meet some good friends for Mexican food at El Loco.  I had gotten a baby sitter for my daughter and I braved the drive to downtown Albany and even found a parking spot.  It was great to catch up with my friends.

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I was supposed to run the Fly Creek Cider Run 10k this weekend but I dropped a metal trashcan on my toe on Easter.  That doesn’t sound like a big deal but my big toenail is blue and I had to wear flip flops all week because it hurt too much to wear regular shoes.  By Friday I could wearing shoes was bearable but I decided that it wasn’t the best idea to run the 10k or 5k.  I was disappointed because I really was looking forward to this race.  I was signed up to run it last year but missed it due to Bryon’s illness.  Maybe the third time will be the charm.

There was a rugby tournament at Albany Law School so my daughter and I went for a little bit.  My daughter wasn’t that interested but we did walk around the track and even did a little running.

Saturday afternoon was the birthday party of the son of Bryon’s best friend.  He is turning 3.  They did an amazing job with the Mickey and the Roadster Racers theme.  There was also a bounce house and wagon rides.

Reminders that life continues on.  It feels good that that we are making happy memories that my daughter and my friends children will grow up with.  But, like everything else, it is bittersweet because Bryon isn’t here for those memories.

Sunday was the monthly brunch with my girls.  This is turning into my most favorite day of the month.  We alternate houses and we each bring something.  We had an amazing brunch with Blueberry and Strawberry French Toast Casserole, Goat Cheese and Sundried Tomato Quiche, Vanilla Bread, Sausage, Fruit, cookies, Mimosas and great conversation.   

 I couldn’t have asked for a better weekend or better company.  

“On this day” should be changed to “More depressing sh*t”

I belong to a few widow(er) facebook groups and it comes up periodically that the “On This Day” feature on facebook is a minefield full of triggers.  The triggers aren’t just reminders of illness and death.  The triggers are also the happy memories because you are reminded of the life that you are missing.

Some days I didn’t talk much throughout my history on facebook.  But some days are chock full of memories.

On this day in 2009, I was attending the Midcoast Maine Young Republican Meeting.

On this day in 2010, I was having a bad day at work and wanted to go home and drink. Considering I was working in the ER, that sounds about right.

On this day in 2011, I was out of work for the weekend and I had a hot date.  Of course someone commented and asked what Bryon was doing that night.

On this day in 2012, I was at a Bruce Springsteen Concert at the Times Union Center with Bryon.  I also was pissed that the Red Sox blew a 9-0 lead and I wanted Terry Francona back.

On this day in 2013, I hated Windows 8. I still do.

On this day in 2014, I was wishing all Boston Marathon Runners Good Luck.

I apparently wasn’t doing anything on this day in 2015.

On this day in 2016, I had my first glimmer of hope.  I remember writing that facebook status and feeling relieved.  We were finally on the road to recovery.  I remember being told that he would probably be in the ICU for another month or so and then he would go to rehab for a couple months.

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But we now know that that road would never lead Bryon to recovery.  It’s like I can feel all the emotions I felt waiting for that road to recovery at the same time; the frustration, the anger, the sadness, the hopefulness, the desperation.  However, it is also mixed with the grief and emptiness I feel every day from Bryon’s death.

Those memories are always going to be there whether they are on Facebook or in my memory.  I can’t un-live it.  I can’t pretend it didn’t happen.  And I don’t want to forget my memories with Bryon.  We had too many good times.  I can only hope that as time passes, I can think about these memories without crying and being overcome with sadness.  I want to be able to look back and smile.

I must move forward and try to fill my future with happier memories with my daughter and my family and friends.

Rest in Peace Rev. Malcolm Stephens

You are probably wondering “Who is Malcolm Stephens?’’

I was asking myself that very question the other night.

I was looking at my Facebook newsfeed and there was a post from Malcolm Stephens. It was actually written by his wife and it was stating that he had passed away unexpectedly and that the funeral service will be Saturday.  This immediately grabs my attention because widowhood gives you a sick fascination with death.

He was a Facebook friend of mine and yet I had no idea who he was.  The fact that I didn’t know how I knew him didn’t concern me.  I have a lot of Facebook friends I don’t really know.  A lot of people had sent me friend requests when Bryon got sick and I assumed he was a friend of Bryon’s.

I clicked on Rev. Stephen’s facebook profile looking for clues as to how Bryon knew him.  Our mutual friends would reveal how he knew Bryon.  I would learn if they were connected through politics, or college, or law school, or the Masons based on mutual friends.  But Bryon was our only mutual friend.  I could see that Rev. Stephens was the minister of an African Methodist Episcopal church and that he lived in Atlanta, GA.  We are Catholic from New York so I have no idea how their paths crossed.

I message my daughter’s Godmother to tell her about this.  She could not place Rev. Stephens name and she knows a lot of people too.  We both discussed how Bryon knew so many people.  We pondered a few possibilities but we were still stumped.

Now it was starting to bother me.  How did Bryon know Malcolm Stephens?  Did they meet on an on cruise or on an internet cruise forum?  Did they meet on a train?  At a conference?  I looked through Bryon’s Facebook for clues.  Looked at the “see friendship” option and there were only brief but sincere messages of friendship between the two.  I still couldn’t figure it out.

Then I investigate Rev. Stephen’s on my own Facebook.  We had become friends when Bryon got sick.  Turned out he messaged me twice and I never responded to either.  First was in April and in that message he explained to me that he was Bryon’s manager when he worked at Disney.  That explained it.  The second message was in August when Bryon was in NYC.  Rev. Stephens told me that his sister who lived in NYC would like to stop in and pray with him.  And for whatever reason, I never responded.  I know I was overwhelmed, but was I that overwhelmed?

I cried.  I cried for his wife, his family and his community.  This man was clearly a caring man and he had touched many lives.

I cried because I started thinking about how this past spring he was worried about his friend and all he really had was my facebook status updates.  I was too overwhelmed to answer texts and facebook messages.  Among our close friends, they had created their own hierarchy of information.  His best friend would communicate with his college friends, another friend communicated with his political contacts.  But unfortunately I did not delegate anyone to be a contact for people Bryon knew that did not fit into one of this many groups.

I cried because I thought about all the lives that Bryon had touched.  So many that even I, his other half and best friend did not know to what extent that Bryon’s touched people.

I cried because I thought that even if they hadn’t seen each other in ten years, they probably had already met up, two old friends in Heaven.

I am beginning to think that Bryon touched so many lives that there was no way that the average person could process all his friendships.  Whenever I take those psychology tests online, my results are either introvert or ambivert (which means I fall exactly in the middle of the introvert-extrovert scale).  I like the company of others but it does wear me out.  If I seem like I am outgoing, it is because I worked hard to develop those social skills.  Being outgoing doesn’t come naturally to me.  Bryon, as we know, was an extreme extrovert and I still am amazed at how many friends he had. I have no idea how he managed to keep all these friendships alive because he spent so much time with my daughter and me and he was always focused on us.  I never felt cheated or like I was second place.  He also got a full nights sleep every night.  I truly have no idea how he did it.  It was like he had a superpower.

Rest in Peace, Rev Malcolm Stephens.  I am sorry I didn’t know you but if you were friend of Bryon’s, you must have been a good person.

Honesty

I have tried to be honest about my grief through this whole process.  I usually do that in the form of blog posts such as this one.  I find that writing about my feelings helps me process them and I make my feelings public because it might help others. While it might only take you five minutes to read this blog post, it will take me hours to write this.  Sometimes those hours are spread over days.  I keep a written journal of sorts that I write down my thoughts and ideas that come to me as they are happening in their rawest forms and usually I review these journals when I write a blog post.  Sometimes my thoughts go straight on my google doc and I spent hours elaborating and organizing these thoughts.  I usually write about something that has bothering that particular week and I usually feel somewhat peaceful about that particular issue after I hit the publish button.  

There are times that a feeling comes on so strong and I can’t keep it in.  Like my blog posts, I need to get these issues out.  So sometimes it comes out in a post on social media.  Usually when I post on social media about something, I am upset and can’t wait to go through the process of writing a blog post.  When I post something in this state, I am venting.  I am not looking for sympathy nor am I looking for advice.  If I am looking for advice, I would be asking a specific question.  Usually when I post an emotional social media status, I don’t have anything left to debate or defend my position.

Usually the social media posts that spark the biggest reactions are those about religion.  There are some widows and widowers that never lose their faith in God and that is great.  I am happy for them.  I began my grief journey feeling that way.  I was actually fairly at peace when Bryon died but as time passed and I was left to deal with the grief, I was not comforted by God.  I have recently begun reading A Grief Observed by C.S. Lewis and Lewis speaks about feeling like God has slammed the door in his face.  That is how I feel and I own it and I am honest about it.  While I don’t take my loss of faith lightly and resent it when people imply that I have.  I actually was very distressed about it in the beginning.  Aside from a few rebellious teenage years, I have tried to have a close relationship with God.  Being a good Catholic girl was a huge part of my identity and I was distressed that I was losing my identity on top of losing my husband.

I know that the comments about God being good and God allegedly loving me are well intentioned, it is actually like salt is being rubbed in my wound.  I have also come to the conclusion that a lot of these well intentioned people truly don’t understand what I have lost and what kind of pain I feel every single day.  And that is a good thing because I would never wish this type of pain on anyone.

Being told that I need to realize that life isn’t easy comes across as disingenuous to me and it demonstrates to me that my point is being missed.   I lost my best friend and the love of my life after less than four years of marriage.  Can people who have not had that loss truly tell me that they know how I feel?  Bryon was robbed of  the life he was supposed to live, the career he was working on, the places he wanted to go to, and the years he was supposed to spend with me and my daughter.  I was cheated out of my Happily Ever After and my daughter was cheated out of knowing her father and all her years with him.  I am tired of being told that the God that stole my daughters father from her is “loving”.  She’s 2!  What could a 2-year-old do to deserve that?

Sometimes I wonder if they need to reassure me of God’s alleged love not because I need to be reminded but that they need to reassure themselves.  I also wonder of people’s motives when they are trying to convince me about God’s alleged love.  Are bonus points given out for saving the widow?  I don’t need another church or another religion.  I am Catholic and will always be Catholic to some level.  I don’t need a new parish.  I will forever be grateful for the parish priest at my church.  He was there for Bryon, my family and me even when God was not.

I know this post might offend some people but I have spent too much time over the past 8 months worrying that I was offending people and this has caused stress.  Before Bryon got sick and passed away, I had the energy to deal with someone if they said anything rude or critical or insincere and by “deal”, I mean fume about rude, critical and insincere comments.  I also held back a lot of my true feelings.  But I don’t have the energy to fume.  If you cause that kind of reaction from me, I am going to take a step back.  I am going to take my space.  Because I just don’t have the energy to deal with anything negative.

There are a lot of assumptions and expectations about who I am based on who I was.  I touched upon that here.  But I am done being defined by others expectations of who they think I am.  I have spent my whole life worried about what people thought of me and not wanting to offend other people.  I can’t do it anymore.  I can’t hold back who I am, take care of my daughter, work 40 hours a week and grieve all at the same time.  I have to put my daughter and myself first.

I know that this post may upset people but I need to take care of my daughter and myself.  And those who are my true friends will understand and love me wherever my journey of self growth takes me.   Maybe I will find my faith in God renewed.  Maybe I will become a Buddhist.  Those who love me will understand that I am smart and I am strong and I am don’t need to be told what to believe.  I spent 38 years letting others have too much of a say in my life.  I need to figure things out myself and I need to be honest to my myself.  And I need to figure it out in my time.  I am processing my grief and soul searching and I am confident that over time, I will figure out what path I need to take.  The path that is best for me and the path that will lead my daughter into being who she is supposed to be.  And a part of me is actually a excited about the process.  I apologize that my self growth might make you uncomfortable but I will not apologize for doing what is best for me.