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.

Hope

New Years Eve has always been one of my favorite holidays.

It isn’t because of the booze. Though booze certainly can make the night more interesting and add to the excitement.

I am not against a boozy New Years Eve. But if chose to drink… please drink responsibly.

The real reason I Iove New Years Eve is that the feeling of hope and optimism that the next year will be better than the last.

What does it mean to be hopeful?

For me I always hoped for love, wealth, travel and happiness. I think that is natural to hope for those things but did I even know what I was hoping for?

I think back to what I used to hope for and it just seems so innocent.

Sometimes I am ashamed at how simple my emotional worldview was. So black and white. I thought I had everything figured out when really I had about 7-10% of life figured out. (And no one has life 100% figured out.)

But how can hold this against my younger self? She didn’t know. That wasn’t her fault. 

I don’t want to be arrogant towards my younger self but I didn’t understand how powerful hope can be until I experienced true despair.

New Years 2017 I was just hoping that I was going to survive and that maybe “IT” wouldn’t hurt as much.

Since 2017 I have hoped for continued survival, healing and for my daughter to thrive. I have hoped for happiness. I have hoped for a sense of home. I have hoped for stability, security and safety.

I have hoped for answers. Though I know I will never get the answers I need.

I have desires but I struggle to hope for them.

I have come to realize that in order to hope for something, you need to have faith that you can receive it.

It’s hard to hope when you don’t have faith.

Why hope for love and happiness when it can all be taken away, sometimes at a moments notice?

At the eve of a new decade, I find myself at a very strange spot. It’s a place I have never been before.

Parts of my old optimism are starting to come through but it’s hard to reconcile that optimism with the harsh reality that I have lived through.

We live in a society where time is perceived as linear and that it is easy to let go but my experience has proved that both of those perceived truths are not 100% true.

I am struggling to let go of the past partly because I fear I will never experience happiness again.

So that bring me to this point- New Years 2020.

A new decade.

I feel grossly unprepared.

I live to have a plan and set goals, preferably goals that have measurable outcomes.

I always want to better myself. That is a constant.

I used to be a dreamer but I haven’t had a dream in a very long time.

I have spent too much time letter what happened to me define me.

I want to be a dreamer again. I want to hope again and believe that I can be happy again. That it won’t seem ridiculous to hope for love, happiness, wealth and travel.

It’s a tall order.

All I know is after the past 3.5 years, something has got to change.

Weekly Gratitude #7: The Ebbs and Flows of Joy and Grief

This is a bit later in the day than I usually post.

I am sorry about that.

It is that awkward period between Christmas and the New Year.

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So you are getting this post when I get around to finishing it.

I have finished up Round 1 of Christmas and Round 2 will be happening in a couple of days.  I usually prefer when the holidays are spread out.

The first Christmas post-loss was hard.  I spent it with people who loved my daughter and me and I cried myself to sleep.

The second Christmas was a bit easier than the first but the feelings around Christmas were still heavy and sad.

Last Christmas was actually happy and hopeful.

I expected the same this year as last year but this year Christmas felt kind of flat and a bit empty.  I did do a lot of Christmas events for my daughter.  She seemed to enjoy them, but I would be lying if I didn’t say that part of the reason for having a busy schedule was to keep my mind pre-occupied.

You can’t feel sad when you are experiencing Christmas cheer, right?

I didn’t want my daughter to detect my sadness this year.

Christmas (well Round 1) has come and gone.  There were dinners and presents and such.

I went to “Midnight Mass” (at 9pm, which is an abomination if you ask me but that is another discussion for another time) I had the realization even mellowed out grief still ebbs and flows.  My life is busy but at times it still feels empty without Bryon.

It is significant to mention that I am not a religious person anymore (it all feels hollow and pointless to me) but I was at “Midnight Mass” to keep myself distracted.  Last Christmas Eve I took my daughter to the 4 o’clock Mass and remember how long and lonely the late hours of Christmas Eve were.  I was at “Midnight Mass” for a distraction.

Don’t feel bad.  These ebbs and flows of joy and grief are a part of life.

But I am grateful for the following:

  1. The memories I had with Bryon.
  2. The memories I am making with my daughter.
  3. The fact that the sadness I feel right now is nowhere near as raw as the sadness I felt at this time three years ago.
  4. The hope for the future.
  5. Those who continue to give love and support to my daughter and me.

What are you grateful for this week?

Weekly Gratitude #5: When grief turns into joy

The holidays are in full swing around here.

Last week we attended the Christmas Tree lighting in the next town over.  We had missed our towns tree lighting due to it being on the same night as gymnastics and swim.

There were crafts and treats and even a visit with Santa.

 

We saw the Grinch as performed by the Frogtown Puppeteers at our local (and historic) theater.

My daughter was in our local holiday parade with her Girl Scout Troop.

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We went to the Downeast Festival of Trees.  I had never been before.  I learned that the trees all have prizes and you put raffle tickets in the buckets of the trees you wanted.  My daughter took my tickets and put them into the buckets of all the trees with toys.

She also saw Santa again and told him she wanted a Barbie.  Because the 30ish she has now isn’t enough.

On Sunday my daughter’s Girl Scout Troop took part in the Wreaths Across America Ceremony.  My father, Local and District VFW Commander was a part of the ceremony.

This week we also had my daughter’s first school Holiday concert.  I am bummed out the Prime Minister didn’t attend but I guess he’s busy with the elections in UK that are wrapping up as I am typing this.  I am also disappointed that I didn’t get to dress her up as a Christmas Lobster.

(Bonus points if you got the Love Actually Reference)

The excitement isn’t ending any time soon.

But this week it dawned on me.

I spend so much time thinking about Bryon isn’t here to see our daughter grow up.

I don’t think about what a blessing it is that I get to our daughter grow up.

It doesn’t mean that it isn’t sad that Bryon isn’t here.

We will never forget him.  Never.

I will always think about the fact that he is missing whatever milestone we are celebrating or what fun event we are doing.

But maybe it’s okay to stop dwelling on it so much.

My daughter and I have many years ahead of us.  Years filled with busy, hectic weekends.

My daughter’s joy has always been my biggest priority.

My second priority has been thinking about Bryon, being sad and dwelling on his death and absence.

And my happiness comes last.

But maybe it’s time to swap the second and third.  It’s a hard thing to admit but being sad all the time is exhausting.

And I can’t believe that Bryon would want that.

My daughter and I are still living on this Earth and it is time to embrace life for what it is and enjoy it.

You deserve credit for your healing

I saw the following meme on Facebook.

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It resonated with me.

Like, really resonated.

Not on the “Yeah, I really like tacos too” kind of way.

Though tacos are awesome.  I am not trying to downplay tacos.  But almost everyone loves tacos.  And if you don’t, you need to re-examine your priorities.

No, this meme resonated with me with my very inner core.

Because I have had people try to take credit for my healing.

The worst thing is that I let them.

I was too afraid to speak up.

So many people helped me.  While I appreciated all the help I received, the truth is that in the whole scope of “healing”, each task someone helped me immensely but my healing was and is a completely separate process.

Though looking back I should have seen the fact that the friendship was so transactional from one side as a red flag.  But that is another blog post for another time.  Maybe in 2020 or something.

2020

When you have been through a traumatic event, you will likely struggle.  And the struggle is ongoing.  I felt stuck for a long time.  Somewhere between “Ugh” and completely wallowing in the depths of despair.

I have come far and today I am saying that I am the reason that I have come far.  #sorrynotsorry

And while I mean no disrespect for those who helped me along the way, it was me.  You may have nudge me along, day to day but the credit for healing goes to me.

I have survived because of me.

I was the one who chose to keep living.

I was the one who had to get out of bed each morning even though I didn’t want to.  And if anyone gets credit, it’s my daughter for being my reason to get out of bed in those early days.

I was the one who trudged forward, going through the motions.  Fake it till you make it was my mantra for awhile.

(Not to be confused with being fake.  No one of substance likes fake people.  Don’t do it.)

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I was the one who spent hours pondering my life and my existence and made changes accordingly.  The vast majority of people are blind to that kind of despair (which is a blessing) and have no idea how empty one’s life feels after a loss of this emotional magnitude.

There is no words in the English language to describe how empty my life felt after Bryon died. Lots of dark thoughts from a dark place.  It was me who had to process those thoughts.

I was the one who cried and cried and cried and cried.

I was the one who had to go through all this items.

I was the one who had to remove him from my bank account and realize that it was another example of erasing his presence on Earth.

I was the one who has to look at my child at every major milestone and think about the fact that the man who loves her the most doesn’t even live in this dimension and won’t get to see her grow up.

Sadly, there are people who glom onto my grief.  Some of them thrive on drama.  Some of them hope to get attention for themselves.  Some of them hope that by downplaying my healing will keep them in a spot of importance.

Whatever the reason, just stop it.

I am the one who gets credit for my healing.  I did (and still am doing) the work, not you.

And if you find yourself in a similar position, don’t be afraid to tell people to stop it.

You were the one who did the work towards your healing.

You made the choice to continue living.

You are the reason for your healing.  Own it.  Take the credit.

You deserve credit for your healing.

No one else.

You, you and only you.

Survivor’s guilt and forgiveness

I have been on this planet for 41 and a quarter years.

I have had lots of experiences throughout my life.  I have had the opportunity of education in two very different areas of study.  If you told 18-year-old Kerry that she would go back to school in her thirties and take classes such as “Anatomy and Physiology,” “Pharmacology”  and “Pathophysiology”, she probably would have laughed at you.

Though truthfully, 18-year-old Kerry did not know what pathophysiology was, so she would not have had any business laughing at you.

(Pathophysiology is basically the functional changes a body has to an illness.)

I have been lucky to have had met some great people and have traveled to some great places.

I ate some fancy dinners and listened to some very important people talk.

The dinners themselves were not that interesting.  It was almost always some form of chicken.

I have been lucky to have a career and own a home.

And most importantly, I have experienced love within marriage and motherhood.

I know I often lament about how I did not realize how great my life was during those years.

My life was great during those years.  And I should cut myself slack for not appreciating it.

Because that was Before.

Before IT all happened.

Before my life changed forever.

That version of myself stopped existing on March 23, 2016.

But after I lost everything- after I hit my rock bottom- it was impossible not to think about my years with Bryon and regret that I did not make the most of those years.

I took him, our marriage and our love for granted.

And I took our future for granted.  We were supposed to grow old together.

But we all know that life had other plans.  The proverbial curve ball.

True to my Boston-Irish-Catholic upbringing, guilt is one of the few emotions that my upbringing taught me that it was okay to express (anger and restrained amusement are okay too).

The first place my mind went was that Bryon’s death was some sort of punishment.

God was clearly punishing me for something.

Either that or he was punishing my daughter.  She wasn’t even two at that point, so I really don’t think she could have committed an infraction so bad that it would warrant losing her father.

I could write another whole post on my thoughts on God so I will save that for another time.

For another time when I feel like being preached at….

So God, or the Universe, or Whoever is in charge decided that Bryon’s life was over.

And my mind immediately starts searching for any reason that it could have happened.

Because Bryon dying did not make sense.

So I turned inward and figured this must have been some sort of punishment from God for something I did.

Who knows, maybe I did something in a past life to deserve this because I really do try to be a good person.

To this day, I will never understand why Bryon had to die.

I have accepted that I will probably never know that answer.

Maye God is just cruel.

Why do some people get to live long lives and why do some people have to die young?

But one thing I can tell you with all certainty is that survivor’s guilt is real.

I once heard that survivor’s guilt is your psyche’s way of trying to assume control in a situation where you did not have any control.

That makes sense to me.  When Bryon was sick, I never felt so helpless in my life.  All I could do was wait and hope for the best.  Luckily we had visitors but there was a lot of time where I read some fluffy books, said some rosaries and I organized all my pinterest boards.

For years, I beat myself up for taking Bryon for granted.  Maybe if I appreciated him more, he wouldn’t have had to die.

But it wasn’t until recently that I decided to cut “Before Kerry” some slack.

I have suffered from survivors guilt for over three years and I realize that it is time that I have to forgive myself.

There was no way I could have known.

I had a husband who loved me very much.  Sure we could argue.  We were two people who both had Mercury in Leo.  But we loved each other fiercely.

Frankly, there were times Bryon took me for granted too.

Our love and our bond was strong.  There was enough trust for us to be able to take each other for granted.

Isn’t this what life is supposed to be about- taking what we learn from life’s difficult moments and use them to be a better person.

I don’t recommend taking people for granted.

But “Before Kerry” was doing the best she could with what she knew at the time.

Aren’t we all just trying to do our best?

I remember one day just feeling completely beside myself.  Bryon couldn’t speak because he was on a trach.  I remember saying to him, out of complete desperation, that I wish I could have switched places with him.  As if that was even an option.  It wasn’t an option but yet it seemed like the best option.  He just looked at me and shook his head no.

I know he wouldn’t want me to feel this way.

I need to forgive myself so I can move forward.

Weekly Gratitude #2: Snovember

 

One of my biggest regrets I have from my “before” life was that that I did not take the time to notice all the beauty around me.

I was an “as soon as” person, always concerned about what was coming next that I was not focused on the present.

I made a lot of changes in my life this year.  I have worked on my life from the inside out.

One of the biggest changes I have made was also one of the simplest changes.

I take time to look around me and notice all the little changes.

This also helps when you have a small child.  My daughter has taught me to see the delight in all the little changes that happen in nature.  Her enthusiasm is contagious.  Her school even has a naturalist come every week and they go out into the forest and learn about plants.

Though I could do without her acorn and rock collections she brings home.

I have always appreciated the fact that I live in the Northeast where we always have four very distinct seasons.  But now I notice the subtleties of when the seasons start to blur together.

I feel like Fall is a very popular season.  Everyone loves the Fall.  My local friends always post pictures on social media of their Fall activities.  And my friends who live in warm weather climates comment on my Fall foliage pictures saying how beautiful the leaves are. 

It’s a time of pumpkin spice, apple picking, flannel, and boots.

But now it is November.

The temperature is cold and we have even had some snow.

BTW, I am trying to make the hashtag #snovember happen.  Please, can we make it happen?

But it is not Winter yet.

Many people are putting up their Christmas trees and have moved on from Autumn.

I am not hating on people who start their Christmas enthusiasm.  Whatever makes you happy.  But I prefer to wait because the part of me that is still attached to my Catholic identity feels that Christmas really lasts until Epiphany (Jan 6).

But I’d be lying by omission if I didn’t admit that I have listened to some Christmas music.

I just choose to keep my November Christmas enthusiasm to a minimum.

The days are getting shorter and there is snow on the ground.  I am wearing my winter coat, hat, and gloves.

Winter will be here soon enough and winter overstays it’s welcome around these parts.  Every year.

I am going to hold out and continue to put pumpkin spice creamer into my coffee and I will continue to enjoy the late November beauty.

What are you grateful for this week?  Please comment below.