I am a girl of a lot of contradictions. I am part city girl and I am part small town girl. I am a quiet introvert but I am also social. I am part girly girl and I am part tomboy. I am part homebody and part world traveler. I attributed my contradictions to the fact that I spent part of my childhood near Boston and part in rural Maine. But I have also learned that it is typical of my INFJ personality type.
Due to the contradicting nature of my personality, I found that I clung to the aspects of my personality that were more absolute. I might not know if I am a city girl or a country girl, but I am a New England Girl. I love the Boston Red Sox and fried clams. My heritage and religion stayed the same so I clung to the fact that I am an Irish Catholic. I created an identity for myself and I stayed strong and true to this identity. I have seen this referred to as a fixed identity.
I also liked to live within my comfort zone. I did not take risks in my personal or professional life. I worked hard and moved up in my career, but I never pushed myself to try something unknown. I never was one to let my guard down in my love life and I would never dream of telling anyone how I felt. I never would have wound up with Bryon if he didn’t take a risk on me.
I lived my life with my strong fixed identity in my comfort zone. I never challenged why I believed certain things. I never left my comfort zone and therefore I inhibited my own personal growth. I clung to my likes and dislikes without revisiting them to see if they changed. I also chose friendships based on how they fit into my fixed identity.
I was a wife and mother. I worked in healthcare data. I was an Irish Catholic. I knew there was a God and that God was loving. I knew where I stood on the political spectrum. I knew who my friends were. Bryon and I lived a life where we had a modern view of traditional gender roles where we both worked, but Bryon did the work around the house and the yard and killed bugs and I changed diapers, made sure there was milk in the fridge and unsuccessfully tried to keep up with the laundry. Bryon was a proud husband and father. He worked hard to provide and he didn’t want me to worry about anything. I worried about things that weren’t really problems, but Bryon always assured me that everything was going to be okay. I lived a very safe and secure life. I was happy with my life and felt no need to question my identity or push myself out of my comfort zone.
Then the crisis hit.
In a five day period my husband went from recovering from a minimally invasive surgery to clinging for his life in the ICU. I was not prepared for this outcome. We were at a large regional medical center. Up until this point, I believed in the healthcare system and that it worked. This wasn’t supposed to be happening.
I didn’t know what to do. Bryon always made sure everything was alright and now I had to be the strong one. I wanted to curl up and pretend it was all a bad dream because it didn’t feel real. But I had to stay strong for him. How could I expect him to survive if I gave up on him? I felt helpless. I was at the mercy of the doctors and God, both of which failed us.
I vowed to myself that if Bryon had survived, I was going to be a better wife. I wasn’t going to take him for granted. I knew that if Bryon was to survive that he would likely have some permanent damage to his body. I started to think research who the best doctors were in Boston and New York. Life wasn’t going to be how we envisioned, but that didn’t matter. All that mattered was Bryon surviving.
For five months, I was at Bryon’s side while trying to make our daughter’s life as normal as possible. The latter I was able to do with the help of my parents, the staff at my daughter’s daycare and my friends who filled in any child care gaps. For five months, I prayed for a miracle that wouldn’t happen and I watched him slowly die.
Widowhood is an ultimate game changer.
For five months, my life was mostly spent in an ICU room. For five months I listened to beeping machines and heard medical terms and jargon thrown around. When Bryon died, I had to get re-acquainted to living in the world again. It was a combination of widow fog and the re-entry shock that was similar to when I returned to the United States after studying in England for three months.
My life was permanently altered. I had held out hope that Bryon was going to survive and now that hope was crushed. It wasn’t like I went back to my old life. I couldn’t go back to my old life. Bryon wasn’t there. He wasn’t just a detail in my life. He was my rock and our life was built around that rock. The core of my life wasn’t just shattered, it was completely gone. All our hopes and dreams were gone. Bryon had spent years working on a career that would never progress past where he was in March 2016. We were never going to have our second child or buy a bigger house. We weren’t going to take the cruises we were planning. Our life was gone. My life was gone.
When Bryon was in the hospital, my only semblance of normalcy was my daughter. I still got up with her in the morning, I still took her to daycare, and when my parents would return to Maine periodically, I put her to bed at night. And after Bryon died, the only thing that kept me going was my daughter. I wanted nothing more than to stay in bed all day, but I had to get up and take care of my daughter. She gave me a purpose to live.
When you go through this kind of loss, it changes you. I learned that I was much, much stronger than I ever gave myself credit for. I learned that I am smarter and more resourceful than I thought I was. I also learned that my threshold for bull sh*t is lot lower than I thought it was.
I learned what it meant to have courage. Courage to wake up in the morning. Courage to move forward with my career with a new company. Courage to let people into my life. Courage to let go of negative people who were self serving and tore others down. Courage to share my story.
I have always been an introvert, but I learned that I needed people, more than I ever could have imagined. I am lucky because I learned that I had a strong support system who continues to be there for me. Before widowhood happened, I was content in my own thoughts. But since Bryon died, I can’t be left in my own thoughts for too long or they become dark and intensely sad. I need my relationships to keep me positive and hopeful of the future. I still think a lot and I read a lot but chatting with my friends keeps me balanced.
After a crisis such as this one, every core belief you had is questioned. How can I believe that a loving God would do this to me? I believe in God, or a higher power at the very least, but I no longer believe that He is a loving God. That opinion always upsets people but it upsets me that people don’t sincerely try to understand my point of view before defending God. I am beginning to read up on Buddhism and it makes a lot of sense to me. But I don’t think I will ever completely give up my title as Catholic girl.
While I don’t think I am going to switch political parties anytime soon, I get frustrated on my party’s view of healthcare. But I also get frustrated with the other party’s view too. Both parties play a proverbial tug of war. But the problems in healthcare are not on a linear spectrum. The problems run deeper than just access and cost. Who cares about if it’s accessible or how much it costs if there is no quality? But people can’t understand that unless they live through something like this.
I’ve stopped worrying about the small things. I take more risks. One of the worst possible things that could have happened to me did happen and I survived. The small things don’t matter. You can change your mind. Most decisions don’t have a lasting impact. Most things can be reversed or fixed.
My identity is not fixed. If I remain open, I might learn new things. I may meet new people who could change my life. I could open myself up to new experiences, new hobbies and new ideas. I could have undeveloped dimensions of my personality that I never would have developed before I was convinced I knew who I was and what my plan was. I was so concerned about the next five steps that I wasn’t truly living in the present.
Now there are very few things I can say with certainty. That I will live my life in the present and focus on what matters:
I need to live my life to the fullest. I owe Bryon that much. He gave me so much during his short time here and I need to learn from him.
I am going to make positive changes as the result of Bryon’s death.
And that I am going to be the best mother I can be and help my daughter be the best version of herself.
And I am going to love those around me as hard as possible.