Defining moments

I can remember many dates.

Some are easy for me to remember because they relate to events that happened in my life.

I can remember the date I moved to Maine as a teenager.

I can remember the date of my first date with Bryon.

I can remember the date I got married.

I can remember the date my daughter was born.

I can remember the date when Bryon died.

But there are many events in my life where I can’t remember the date.

One of those events happened four years ago today.

I had been anticipating this anniversary, but I needed help from Facebook memories to know exactly what day it was.  Because all I can tell you is that this happened on a Tuesday, two days after Easter.

Truth be told, I don’t look at Facebook Memories very often.  There is a lot of pain in my past.  Even the happy memories bring me pain. Eventually you reach a point where you decide you have had enough of pain and you just have to start staying in the present and move forward.

Kind of like that scene in Love Actually when Mark pretends to be carol singers and holds the cards up to Kiera Knightly, professing his love to her because you have to be honest at Christmas and then she kisses him and he walks off saying “Enough”.

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It kind of like that.

But sometimes you can’t escape thinking about those memories because they are defining moments in our lives.

On this day four years ago, Bryon was in septic shock and his body was beginning to shut down.

He was rushed off to a surgery that the doctors said he may not survive.

He had been in the ICU for 5 days at that point and I had been quiet on social media about his illness.  He was a proud man and I wanted to respect his privacy.  I have questioned that decision.

But in that moment, I only had hope and faith.  So I posted a prayer request on Facebook.

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My life changed that day.

It was the day when I realized that in a matter of moments, everything you had can be taken away from you.

Even if Bryon had survived, I know I never would have been the same.

I think it’s safe to make the assumption that Bryon would not have been the same.  We just don’t know to what extent.

Miraculously, Bryon survived the surgery.  I was hopeful that we were beginning the long road to recovery.

But that moment was really the beginning of the end.  It was the beginning of Bryon’s final chapter. A chapter where he would be hooked up to machines in an ICU.  A chapter where he couldn’t speak and would be too weak to even press the buttons on his TV remote.

Eventually Bryon was moved to another ICU at another hospital in New York City.  I bet he never would have imagined that he’d exit this world in New York City.  Though he was never one to ponder death, aside from showing his concern as to how I would manage if he were to die.  He was always the one to think about long term logistics.  I was the one who made sure milk was in the fridge and that there were enough clean clothes to get us through the following day.

Spoiler alert: I survived and I managed and I am okay.

He was not comfortable with death.  Part of that was the culture of his family of origin.  But sometimes I wonder if he knew on some deep soul level that he wasn’t going to be on Earth for a long time and he didn’t want to think about it.

I was the morbid one in our relationship.  I had no problem talking about death.  Pluto is in my first house.  The darkest planet in the most personal house.

I also come from a Boston Irish family. All of the grandparents came from large Catholic families and I attended many wakes and funerals growing up.  I joke that I grew up at the local funeral home.  Death was never shielded from me.

Four years ago today Bryon started his final chapter, a very painful chapter.  Though we will never know how painful it was to him.

I just know he fought to live.  He fought harder than most people.  I would have given up a lot sooner than he did.  He wanted to live.

He was hooked up to a ventilator and he couldn’t speak.  We never got to discuss what was going on, the what-ifs.  We never got to talk about the possibility of his eventual exit from this world.

If he had any words of wisdom he wanted to share with me and my daughter for our following chapters, he didn’t get to share them.

It’s a piece of closure that I never got and I really needed.  I still need that that closure.  I still struggle to move forward because I never got that closure.

While Bryon entered his final chapter, I also began a chapter that interwined with his chapter.

Our chapters had a lot of the same elements.  The same two main characters, the same minor characters, the same setting, the same medical staff and parade of visitors.  Both chapters had a lot of beeping from machines in the background.

I have no idea how the passage of time felt for Bryon.  I am sure when he was lucid, it went painfully slow.  But there were many days he was out of it due to many episodes of sepsis.

For me time went really slow.  Day by day, sometimes hour by hour.  Just sitting in my own thoughts, unable to focus on much.  I read a few fluffy novels and I did organize all my pinterest boards. I organized all those recipes that I never got to cook for Bryon.

I have tried to explain to people what those 5 months were like.

It’s impossible.

I made the mistake of assuming that friends who visited a lot understand.  Most didn’t. Very few people from that period actually understood the true impact of Bryon’s final chapter.  Those people who do understand will always be held close to my heart.

I should have realized early one that my chapter is just that.  My chapter.  Pain meant to be shouldered by myself.

When you think about it, most people were just there for many key, pivotal moments.  But they weren’t there for the day by day.  That was me.

I try not to think about that chapter.  Yes, I was there for him through sickness and in health, but I’d rather remember him as healthy Bryon.

No one really asks about those days and can we blame them.  If they did ask me, they’d probably quickly regret it.  It’s probably for the best because I usually cry and that’s awkward.

And here we are now.

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And we are in the middle of a pandemic.

I feel like I am living in some sort of parallel surrealistic universe to the life I lived in 2016.

There is a medical crisis.

A Presidential Election Season is going on, albeit in the background.

There is a lot of talk about ventilators.

We are desperately seeking a cure or at least a solution.

Hand sanitizer and hand-washing are very important.  In 2016, I didn’t want to spread ICU germs to my toddler and I did not want to spread daycare germs to my critically ill husband in the ICU so everything was sanitized.  In 2020, I am careful to wipe down everything I bring into the house from Wal-Mart with a Clorox wipe.

In 2016, it was a treat to grab a coffee at the on-site Dunkin or Starbucks.  In 2020, it is a treat to grab Dunkin from the drive-thru, (paid via app, no cash or card touched by hands and my cup is immediately wiped with a Clorox wipe.  I keep a canister in my car.)

In some ways, 2020 feels just like 2016.  I am living day by day.

But this time I am not alone.

We are all living day by day, sometimes hour by hour.  The whole world.

This event is going to change us all.  Whether we want to admit or not.  We will never be the same.

2020 is a bizarre chapter with the plot twist you never saw coming.

I want to tell everyone that everyone is going to be okay.  But that is a lie.

So many people are going to become critically ill.  But their families won’t be with them because they will likely be quarantined.  That is painful for me to think about.

As I type this, 33,966 people have exited this world and this pandemic is still in the early stages.  The number will be higher by the time you read this.

I can’t help but think of the magnitude of Bryon’s death and then multiply that magnitude by 33,966.

33,966 families and social circles are grieving.

If you are reading this and have lost someone to COVID-19, please accept my heartfelt condolences.

And even if no one close to you dies, it is still okay to grieve.  The world you knew is gone.  It is okay to be scared.  A disease that we don’t have a cure yet is a scary thing.

But my message isn’t all doom and gloom.

For those of us that survive, I can tell you that we will be okay.  Everything has changed and everything seems so different.  You will adapt.

We are all so much stronger than we think we are.

Don’t be afraid of the growth you are going to experience.  We are humans,  we are meant to grown and evolve.

Bryon’s death forced me to grow and evolve.  I am still growing and evolving.  And now we get an opportunity to grow and evolve as a community.

In some ways, it like a gift.  A painful gift, but still a gift.

This is our defining moment.

Weekly Gratitude #12: Late Winter Evenings

Winter is long.  Especially here in Eastern Maine.

Eastern Maine is the first part of the continuous United States to see the sunrise and sunset.

In December the sun sets shortly after my daughter gets off the school bus.

Now it is the end of January.  It is still cold and there is still snow on the ground.

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By this time of the year, our bodies have acclimated.  30F may be cold for some people.  Okay, it is probably cold for most people.  But it is sweatshirt weather in Maine.

But nature is giving up signals that we are on the downhill to Spring.  You hear the birds in the morning.

And the sun stays out just a little bit longer each day serving as nature’s reminder that there is always a light at the end of the tunnel.

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Weekly Gratitude #11: My Four Grandparents

Every week I like to take a moment and reflect on one thing that I am grateful for.

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This week I would like to show gratitude for my grandparents.

I cherish my memories from my Boston-Irish childhood and my grandparents all played an active roll in my memories.

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This week was the anniversary of my paternal grandfather’s death and the anniversary of the maternal grandmother’s death will occur this week and these anniversaries have put me in a reflective mood.

I was lucky enough to know all four of my grandparents.

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Each of them was a pivotal link between me and our families past.  All four of my grandparents were children of immigrants (3 from Ireland and 1 from Canada) and told me stories about my great-grandparents.  I only have a few vague recollections of the only great-grandparent who lived long to meet me.

My grandparents instilled in me a sense of where I come from.  From my grandparents, I learned to appreciate corned beef and cabbage and that food just tastes better when you fry it.  I learned that punctuality was important and that you don’t leave the door open.  I wasn’t born in a barn, after all.  I learned the importance of working hard and the meaning of money.  I also learned to be honest and was instilled with some good ‘ole Catholic guilt.

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I m grateful that I had a chance to know all four grandparents.

I am grateful that three of my grandparents lived long enough to see me as an adult.

I am grateful one of my grandparents lived long enough to see me get married and meet my daughter.

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Were you fortunate enough to know your grandparents?  Leave a comment.  I would love to hear about your grandparents.

Grandma Sullivan‘s Obituary Here

Papa Crowley’s Obituary Here

Nana Crowley’s Obituary Here

 

Weekly Gratitude #10: Three Years

Today is my blog’s birthday.

I started this blog as a way to process and cope with all the emotions I was feelings 5 months post-loss.  I was starting to “wake up” from the grief fog and I felt the need to share my emotions as I have noticed a dearth of information to help young widows.  I wanted my information out there so if another widow stumbled across it, they would know that they were not alone.

I also felt the need to share my story because I wanted others to understand the emotions that a widowed person felt, at least from my perspective.  After all, that is the only perspective I can honestly offer.

So much has changed since that time.

At that time I was somewhere between existing and surviving.

Now I am a survivor and on some days, I might even consider myself to be thriving.

Some locations in my story have changed.

Some characters in my story are the same, but some characters are different. I don’t doubt that all the characters in my life are there (or have been there) for a reason.

When I started this blog, my daughter was a toddler.  Now she is a kindergartener.

As I reread some of my earlier blog posts, I feel that strange dichotomy that widows feel.  The dichotomy where my old life and my old self feel current and they exist alongside my new life and new self.

My last two sentences of my first blog post really hit me hard.

“A part of me died with him that morning.  This is the story of the part of me that is still living.”

At that point in time, my soul was completely fractured.  I felt like an empty shell of who I was and I had no clue how I was going to move forward.

Now it is three years later.  I have survived.  I have grown.

Yes, a part of me may have died the same morning Bryon did but the part of me that is still living has forged ahead.

She has grown back into a whole, albeit different, person.

I want to thank all of you who have been a part of this ride.  As I said the other day, nothing ever lasts forever.  But I appreciate all of you who continue to travel this journey with me.

Nothing Ever Lasts Forever

Nothing ever lasts forever.

I don’t who needed that message, but here it is.

Nothing ever lasts forever.

But what does that even mean?

Nothing ever lasts forever.

We live in a physical world where time is linear and is always moving forward.

But in addition to the linear timeline, we have so many other factors that are affected by time.  Things like energy, emotions, love, hate,  relationships, money, planetary alignments, memories and outside events we can’t control.  Just to be clear- this is not an exhaustive list.

Things are always changing and nothing ever lasts forever.

The good things don’t last forever.  Relationships can fall apart.  Couples can grow apart or someone can die. Friendships can end.  A job you like may end abruptly.

But neither do the bad things.  Bad things will eventually turn around.  Maybe not as quickly as you may like, but they will turn around eventually.

So if the things are good right now – cherish them because they probably won’t always be good.

And if things are rough right now- try to hang in there.  Things are bound to turn up soon.

Karaoke Side Door Cafe Albany 2012
Karaoke 2012

 

Weekly Gratitude #9: Focus on what can go right.

It has been a week.

We had sickness in the house.  Nothing major, just a low grade fever and a cold that seems to be going around but it still warranted a day off from school.

I also had my work computer malfunction.  It would not connect to my WiFi.  At first I blamed Spectrum but it turns out it was a Windows 10 issue.

Sorry, Spectrum!

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My company had to overnight a new computer to me.   in less than 24 hours.

I am grateful for my company’s IT department who spend hours on the phone with me trying to figure out the problem.

And to Fed Ex.  I am impressed that Fed-Ex got it about 2/3 across the country to my corner of the country

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I was able to get my computer up and running and finish my work week strong.

But while the computer was in transit, I spent many hours worrying that something was going to happen in transit.  I was stressing about not getting enough work done for our client.

And it was all for nothing.

Everything worked out okay.

I spent so much time worrying about what could go wrong when I should have been focused on what could go right.  I thought I had left that habit in my old life, but I still relapse sometime.

I don’t get too esoteric on this blog, but I will venture there today.

The spiritual gurus say that thoughts are powerful and that like attracts like.  If that is true, then why are so many of us negatives with our thoughts?

Why are we so many of us resistant to letting things work out the way they are supposed to? Or even better than they were supposed to?

Some of us have been conditioned to always expect the worst.  To keep our expectations low.  And while failures and mishaps can and will happen, I challenge everyone to ponder what would happen if we started to expect good things to happen.

At the very least, maybe you won’t feel fear and dread.  Those are such heavy emotions.

But maybe some good things will happen.

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Weekly Gratitude #8: Christmas with the Casales

I had two Rounds of Christmas this year.

I had my Christmas here in Maine which has been shown prominently on my Instragram. (Can you blame me?  I live in one of the most beautiful places in the world.  I am going to Instagram that shit)

Then I had Christmas in New York with my New York family.

My New York family is not biologically related to me.  But these people were there with me during Bryon’s last hours on this planet. They were with me at the funeral home when I picked out Bryon’s casket, helped write his obituary and made sure that his funeral had an open bar with wristbands.

They have been there for me throughout the darkest of my days and have never asked for anything in return, nor have they thrown it in my face.

And I know these people love my daughter more than most people on this planet.

I feel really awkward calling them “these people.”  They are so much more than that, but I don’t feel comfortable using people’s real names in my blog.  Usually, I ask people for input on their blog nicknames, but it is almost midnight as I write this and I don’t want to wake them. Especially since I may have woken them up with this hysterical picture of my daughter putting her sweatshirt on backwards.

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It was a rough morning.  First day back at school after the holidays.  My daughter and I laughed for a solid 5 minutes when this was happening and I wanted to share it with her Godmother and eventually the whole internet.

There we go.  I will refer to one half of “Those people” as her Godmother and the other half as Mr. Uncle V.

I did use their surname in the blog title, but that was because I am a bit of a word nerd and I enjoy the aesthetics of alliteration.

I am grateful for the time we got to spend in NY with our NY family.

Yes, they have always treated us like family and their extended family has always welcomed us.

Yes, they have a beautiful house and they served lots of amazing food.

Downton Abbey has nothing on them, except Mr. Bates.  I may have a bit of a crush on Mr. Bates.  I would have been alright if Mr. Bates was walking around.

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I also got to observe how homemade pasta was made.  It blew my Irish-American mind.  And it was delicious too.

I enjoyed a delicious drink called Rum, Rum, Runaway and drank some good wine.

My daughter’s Godmother and Mr. Uncle V are such great people and they are always surrounded by great people.  This makes sense since like attracts like.  I know they are busy, but they still always find time for people, including my daughter and me.

They are literally two of the smartest people I know.

And some of the most fun people I know as demonstrated by late-night games of Family Feud.

Sometimes I struggle with the whole concept of putting the past behind me and moving into the future. Sometimes I have to “numb out” to the past or else I will never move forward and my mind will go on like it’s binge-watching all the seasons of  This is Us only it’s Bryon that’s dead and not Jack Pearson.

It gets complicated when it comes to certain relationships.  Some people have left my life willingly.  Some were toxic and I had to proactively cut out of my life.

But some people I want to stay though sometimes the forces of life just feel like I am supposed to choose between past and present.

And I am grateful that there are people in my life who want to stay with me for the wild and bumpy ride.  People who love me enough that they want to see me thrive.  People who loved Bryon and also knew how deep my love was for Bryon, but they also want to see me move forward.

It might be a shocker, but not everyone feels that way.

Like, life dealt me this shitty hand and I am not supposed to grow from the experience.

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Being around my friends and their family and friends (now my friends…I think…I hope…) made me realize that I don’t have to give up that piece of my life.  I have spent so much time getting reacquainted with my younger self and my present self, but I have to accept that those political years are just as much a part of me as the younger years.

I am grateful I got to spend the Holidays with them.  And I am also grateful for the clarity I got about my life from being around them.