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.

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Brunette Catholic, blonde Buddhist or somewhere in between?

I always thought I had a strong sense of who I was.  And I never questioned my own authenticity.  Yes, on the outside I am from a small Maine town but many people don’t realize that I spent the first 14 years of my life in the Boston area.  I spent a semester abroad in England when I was 21.  Besides Boston, I have spent time in London, Paris, Chicago, New York, Washington, D.C., Miami, Houston, New Orleans, Vegas and many other cities.  I am fairly educated and worldly.  I just try not to be pretentious about it.

I have always been a rule follower whether it was my Catholic religion or sitting in school.  I was not a kid who got in (much) trouble.  I did get caught daydreaming a lot but there was a whole world outside whatever window I was looking out of.  I can’t say I never broke the rules in high school but I pretty much did as I was told.  I did not drink in high school or go to gravel pit parties.  I rarely stayed out past curfew (though my parents were pretty lenient as long as I called) though sometimes I stayed the night at my best friends house because she did not have a curfew. This created a kind of late night loophole that I would take advantage of. (Sorry Mom and Dad!)

I stretched my wings a little bit when I was in college.  A few weeks into my freshman year I decided to get an eyebrow ring.  It was 1997 and it was before they became popular.  It actually looked good on me though I don’t think any picture exists.  I didn’t think it through because I was heading home the following week and figured I would just take it out when I was around my parents.  My parents never saw it (though my brother saw it and he kept threatening to tell them).  I realized that I was never going to have the guts to wear it in front of my parents and I couldn’t handle the pressure of living a double life so the eyebrow ring didn’t last.

And of course, there was the road trip my friends and I took to St. Stephen, New Brunswick just so we could go to the bars when we were 19.  I remember walking along the Saint Croix River, pointing to the Maine side and laughing because we “couldn’t drink over there but we can drink over here.”  I always think of that trip every time I hear “One Week” by the Barenaked Ladies.  I wasn’t a saint but I kept myself out of trouble.

I was a very hyper and annoying kid and somewhere along the way, I figured that I had to bottle up my true self to fit in with people.  I would just sit quietly because I didn’t want to become hyper and weird and annoying.  I chose to only open up to a few.  I liked to participate in structured activities so I only had to discuss the topics on hand.

After college, I started dating the guy who would later become my ex-boyfriend.  I think of him as kind of an anti-Bryon because he was the exact opposite of Bryon.  One could argue that Bryon was the over correction of this guy. I could probably write a whole post on him and what I learned from that relationship.   In very general terms Bryon was a Catholic, Republican, manly-man who loved sports while the anti-Bryon was a Protestant, Democrat, non-manly man who preferred science fiction to sports.  Another big difference was that Bryon actually liked me while the anti-Bryon did not.  I think I was someone who paid for dates for two and a half years.  He never embraced me for who I was and I spent two and a half years trying to be the woman he wanted.

After I broke up with the anti-Bryon, I got absorbed into the world of politics and most notably, the Young Republicans.  I embraced the lifestyle of Republican politics and I wore suits, heels, pearls and the Sarah Palin hairstyle.  I loved politics because it was like I was an actress playing a role.  I didn’t have to worry that I was shy and awkward.  Politics gave me a way to relate to people.  It was also during my time in politics that I learned conversation skills and poise.

Politics led me to the best years of my life.  My years with Bryon.  The years where I became a wife and mother.  And like everything else, being a wife and mother provided me with a role that I was more than happy to assume.  Bryon did love me for me but relationships are always filled with give and take.  Bryon had the successful career and I pretty much was content to live in his shadow.  It might have caused some contention between us at times but I don’t regret it. Especially since he apparently wasn’t meant to be here as long as the rest of us.

I have heard that during widowhood, you begin to question everything you once believed.  I thought I had myself and the world all figured out.  While I learned that I am much, much stronger than I ever gave myself credit for, I also learned just how much Bryon overcompensated for my weaknesses.  I don’t have him to cover for me anymore. I have learned that I can count on my family and I have also learned which of my friends are actually my family.  I have learned who I can’t count on (some were surprising) and which friends really weren’t friends. I learned that you can’t put all your faith into the healthcare system and that the healthcare system can fail you.  And I learned that God  doesn’t care if you did your best to be a good Catholic girl for over 30 years.

All those years of trying to fit into roles and groups has left me with a repressed free spirit.  I have always had a free spirit that gets antsy and wants to see the world.  It used to drive Bryon nuts when I wanted to day trip to anywhere, as long as it was out of Albany. He usually indulged me. I also have a creative side.  I am still in the process of trying to let those parts of me out.  I have been running.  I have been travelling.  I have been cooking new recipes and putting together furniture from IKEA.  I have been reading about Buddhism to try to stay Zen.  I have been in the process of changing over to natural cleaning and beauty products.  I plan to have a garden this summer and learn how to can vegetables.  I tried to dye my hair blonde but that didn’t work.  And don’t be fooled if you ever see all the books on my nightstand.  You might see titles that consist of history, religion, politics, business, memoirs, parenting and grief/self help but the last two books I read consisted of one by the Long Island Medium and the other was Jodie Sweetin’s memoir.  Candace Cameron Bure’s memoir isn’t proving to be nearly as exciting as Jodie Sweetin’s memoir.

I realize that I was just afraid.  I have been afraid of success and I have been afraid of failure.   I have been afraid to let people see the real me.  I had a clearly defined past and I have been afraid to stray from the expectation of who I am supposed to be.   I have been afraid that if I tried something different or learned about something different that it might change how I think.  And if I continue to be afraid, I will never fully live and I must fully live to be an example for my daughter.  So my daughter can grow into the woman she is supposed to be.

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.