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.

Why I don’t play the “what if” game (4-minute read)

My husband, Bryon passed away in 2016.

His illness had come as a shock.  His body went into shock and he almost died at the beginning but he survived.

He did have an uphill battle ahead of him.  He spent 5 months in the ICU fighting for his life.

I knew death was a potential outcome but I really thought he was going to make it through.  But it didn’t work out that way.

After Bryon died, my mind tried to make sense of what had just happened.

I was trying to figure out what my “new normal” was.

As I was trying to figure out my new life, I kept comparing it to my old life.  My old life was the only point of reference I knew.

And every time I would have to make any sort of decision, I would imagine what Bryon would think of the situation.  After all, we spent almost every day together for the past 8 years and he wasn’t only my spouse.  He was my best friend.  We talked about everything.

Bryon was on my mind a lot.

 

While one is never free of grief, the emotions usually ease up over time.  Some say time heals all wounds.  I don’t discount that theory but I think that the easing of emotions over time can be attributed to the fact that you begin to get used to them being gone.

But in those early days, I was wondering what the *bleep* had just happened to my life.

I found myself wondering what if Bryon were still alive.  What would he say?  What would he do?  What would our life be like?

I would watch our TV shows and wonder what he’d think of the plotline.  Or how hard he’d laugh at one of the jokes.

As the Election of 2016 unfolded, I wondered what he would have thought of it all.

In the beginning, it was easy to bridge the gap from “new life” to “old life”.  I was in our house with our daughter (who was still a toddler) and our cat and I was among all our belongings.  Our friends were around.  I was essentially living our life…without him.

It was very easy to slip back into the past, even if it was only in my mind.

But over time, things began to change.

My daughter got older.  Even though my role as a mother changed when I went from co-parent to solo parent, my role as a mother changed as I observed my toddler turning into a pre-schooler.

I started to give away and donate items of his that I didn’t need or want.  Though this was a lengthy process as Bryon saved everything and there was a lot of sentiment attached to his possessions.

I got a new job where I could work from home.  If he was still alive, I couldn’t work from home.  He sometimes worked from home and he joked that we couldn’t both work from home.

Many friends drifted away.  I also learned that many of “our friends” were really just his friends and those friendships crumbled.

Over time, my home stopped feeling like home.  I began to feel as alien in New York then as I did when I moved there in 2009.

I realized “our life” no longer existed and that I was fooling myself thinking I could reconstruct a life out of the remnants of “our old life”.

I changed.  I grew.  I am not the same person I was.

My life has been a revolving door of change.

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Change has been the only constant.

I had to grieve the life I once knew.

But now my life path has meandered.  It is a lot harder to think “If Bryon was here…” because if Bryon were alive, I wouldn’t be where I was.

I know Bryon is always with me in that esoteric kind of way but I am very removed from the life we had.

I can’t wonder “what if” anymore.

The only thing wondering “what if” will accomplish is denying me happiness in my current life.

I can’t move forward if I am constantly looking back.

It doesn’t mean that I can’t appreciate our memories.

It doesn’t mean that I can’t cry when I miss him or that I can’t laugh when I think of a funny memory.

It doesn’t mean that I have to stop loving him.

I know that wherever Bryon is, he would want me to be happy.

After everything I have been through, the least I can do is let myself be happy.

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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 #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.