Today was Bryon’s second birthday in Heaven. You might have read my blog yesterday when I wrote about how it was one year since the funeral and you must be confused as to why I am writing about his birthday. It’s true. His funeral was a day before his birthday. I had to experience a painful first the very next day after the funeral. And the firsts just kept coming. My birthday is in two days, my daughters is next month and our wedding anniversary is at the end of September. This corner of the year will probably always be the roughest five weeks of the year for me.
It seems so unreal that we are celebrating Bryon’s second birthday in Heaven. At times, I am still stunned that this all happened. But I decided that last week that the anniversary of his death will be the sad day. His birthday will be a happy day. So I decided to have a party for our friends to get together and share stories. Instead of dwelling on Bryon’s death, it was time to celebrate that he had lived.
Last year, the day after his funeral, a few of us had dinner at hibachi because that is what we had done for his last living birthday. I was thinking of doing that again but I wanted to include more people and it would be hard to have a lot of people at a hibachi table. I decided that I wanted to release balloons at the cemetery and then have funfetti cheesecake at my house. I wanted to buy a whole cheesecake from Cheesecake Factory. Bryon would have loved that. He loved funfetti cake and cheesecake. It would be perfect. But my friend called the local Cheesecake Factory, they said they couldn’t sell whole funfetti cheesecakes. But that’s okay. I found a recipe online that worked well.
A few of my friends met at the cemetery. One of our friends brought a pennant from Siena College to decorate the grave. The same friend read the prayer of St. Francis which worked well because I did not prepare anything to be said. St. Francis was Bryon’s favorite Saint so he would approve.
My daughter and I brought a bundle of balloons to release. I was very impressed with my daughter. She is not yet three but she understood that the balloons were going to be released and sent to Heaven for Bryon. I was worried that she wasn’t going to understand the concept and that she would get upset but she let the balloons go and seemed happy that they were going to Heaven.
After the cemetery, we went back to my house for pizza, funfetti cheesecake and stories. There also may have been some Moxie tasting. Kimmy Gibber did not like it.
This might be the start of a new tradition. Maybe it won’t. But for the time being, it is comforting to know that I have a group of friends who are like family who want to remember Bryon’s life. And I hold my Albany family close to my heart.
Bryon spent the last two and a half weeks of his life in New York City. I had him moved from our regional medical center because he needed better care. It was two of the most optimistic and the most scariest weeks of my life. I was optimistic because he had a world class medical team caring for him. I was scared because he was still very sick and I knew that even if he survived, the road to recovery was going to be complicated.
I don’t usually think about my time in New York. I mean, it ended with Bryon dying.
Yesterday I was reading about how one of my blogging friends spent her birthday in NYC. She spent part of her day in Washington Heights, which was the part of NYC where Bryon’s hospital was located.
It dawned on me that I can’t ignore New York City forever. Someday I will have to return. I may want to take my daughter to see the Rockettes or take her to the Natural History Museum. Or the Bronx Zoo. Or maybe I would go with my Spanish teacher friend to find an Argentinian restaurant. Or to see The Bangles with Kimmy Gibbler and my Latin Teacher friend the next time they go on tour. It would be ridiculous to avoid a whole city for the rest of my life because of what happened. I will probably just avoid Washington Heights.
My daughter’s Godmother came down with her (now) fiance and got hotel rooms in the Times Square area. She was telling me all about the city as we drove downtown. I am a small town girl from Maine after all. We had dinner at a Mexican restaurant. It was my one fun night in New York City.
Though there were other good things about being in the city.
I had a family to stay with. They didn’t even know me but they knew Bryon. They welcomed me into their home and they were so kind to me. They stay ended up being short but had Bryon survived, he might have been in the city for months. They never once gave me a time limit. I know they were rooting for the slow recovery. It would worth a trip to NYC to see them and have them meet my daughter.
Bryon’s friends in NYC got to see him. That was great.
The team was much more optimistic and Bryon’s spirits were the best they had been through the whole ordeal. In Albany, Bryon was too depressed to facetime with our daughter, but in NYC, he was happy facetiming her.
Bryon still had his sense of humor. It took me a week to figure out that I could take the express train to get to the hospital faster. He shook his head and rolled his eyes at me.
But right now, NYC remains the city where Bryon died. Maybe someday I will return but it probably won’t be anytime soon.
That is Happy Birthday my friend in Latin. At least that is what Google Translate tells me. My friend is a Latin teacher and I am sure she can tell if it is the correct Latin grammar or not.
Today is her birthday. But we celebrated her birthday the other night.
My friend is very special to me. She was in my wedding. This is her favorite picture from our wedding day. (She is the one pinching Bryon’s cheek.)
My friend was the one that got me to run a half marathon. And even though she was dealing with some pretty rough stuff in her own life during those months while Bryon was in the hospital, she still came by almost every day. She brought me fluffy literature to pass the time and she brought pizza to sustain me. She was with me during Bryon’s two worst days and she made it down to NYC before he died. I don’t know what I would have done without her friendship.
We met at an Italian Restaurant called Il Faro. I am conflicted writing about it because it was so good and we didn’t want the whole world to know our secret. But the food was so good that it was only fair to mention it. It is only a matter of time before it gets discovered and will be crowded. I am not Italian, but several of the people at our table have Italian heritage and they were impressed.
We had drinks at the bar and chatted. A lot of baseball talk. The group consisted of four couples and me. I was the ninth wheel. It’s times like these that I miss Bryon. Granted, he wouldn’t have been by my side all night as he would have taken this as an opportunity to catch up with his friends. He would have been making fun of his best friends beer selection. But these are my closest friends- my Albany family- and we still talk about Bryon as if he is still alive, which makes me feel better about being the third, or fifth or seventh or ninth wheel.
I believe everyone was impressed with their meals. I had the eggplant parmesan with a side of meatballs and linguine and it was amazing. I had enough eggplant leftover that it was dinner the next night for me and my daughter and the meatballs and linguine were lunch the next day. And even in leftover form, it did not disappoint.
We got a group picture
And then we got a picture of the girls.
Then the guys got jealous and had to have their picture taken.
In the bathroom. Something to think about.
My friend and I got into my car and right when I turned the key in the ignition, Hall & Oates started to play. It was my friend’s favorite Hall & Oates song.
We took it as a sign that Bryon wouldn’t let us celebrate her birthday without him. We cried.
Half of us went back to my friend’s house where her boyfriend had a cake. It was an orange creamsicle cake. I don’t particularly care for orange creamsicle ,but I thought it was good.
Then we did presents! Which I didn’t get any pictures of my friend opening up.
I never thought birthdays were a big deal. They are mostly for kids. As adults, once you celebrate your 21st, you only celebrate those birthdays that end in zero. But after losing Bryon at such a young age, I know realize that birthdays are meant to be celebrated. We are lucky to have them. And I am lucky to have friends to celebrate these special days with and I look forward to celebrating more.
Amicus meus est natalis beati. te amo. (Don’t fail me Google translate!)
Yesterday Facebook let me know that Kimmy Gibbler and I became friends 8 years ago.
We actually became friends earlier than that. In September 2008. Bryon and I had been dating for 6 weeks. I came out to Albany and it was the weekend of LarkFest. I was impressed (and intimidated) by her Chanel eyeliner and her fancy sunglasses. Bryon and I had not had that awkward “what are we” conversation yet and she referred to me as Bryon’s girlfriend. From that point on, Bryon referred to me as his girlfriend. She saved us from having to have that conversation.
Through the years, we were friendly. We’d see each other at various parties and sporting events. But she was closer to Bryon, but most people were.
We had our kids 18 months apart. She was at my daughter’s Christening.
She was at Bryon’s 30th birthday party. It was a fun night with hibachi. We did not know that it would end up being his last.
Then Bryon got sick. She came by the hospital. She made Bryon laugh and she brought me coffee.
Then Bryon died. I forgot to wear my pearls that Bryon got me on our honeymoon in St. Thomas. She offered me hers. I didn’t take them, but I told her that she reminded me of Robin Scherbatsky and how she was Vice-Girl at Marshall’s father’s funeral.
She was there for me through those rough early weeks. She stayed with me when I started crying after having too much wine. She never once told me how to grieve or how to feel. She just listened. And she listens to hear what you have to say, not just to respond.
The Sunday before Christmas I woke up feeling sick. I couldn’t get myself off the couch. Not the best position to be in when you have a two-year-old. But she came over and made me drink apple cider vinegar tea. She swears by apple cider vinegar. It didn’t taste good, but it made me feel better. It is now my go-to when sick. That and coconut oil. Kimmy Gibbler loves coconut oil.
People may see our banter back and forth on Facebook, but people don’t realize that that is actually a small amount of our interaction. One time we had three different conversations at once, one on Facebook, one on Facebook messenger and one via text. And it wasn’t on purpose.
I can message her whenever. It can be when grief is hitting me hard or if I just want to randomly (but passionately) say that I don’t like the Uncle Jesse/Aunt Becky storyline on Fuller House. And she will respond thoughtfully in each scenario.
She understands my humor, which is some weird combination of cheesiness, sarcasm, and being wildly inappropriate. I have never once shocked her.
We know to adult and be good moms. But at times we act like two teenage girls. We might be known to giggle and tee-hee at times. Especially when we hear Bryan Adams.
We work well as a pair. I am the visionary and come up with the crazy ideas. She is the planner and executes them.
She is always up for an adventure, even with the kids. We are both history geeks and we took the kids to Philadelphia (I will write about that trip soon, I promise).
I found out that there was an Amato’s in Ticonderoga and she was crazy enough to take a road trip with me. With our two kids. I was so scared that the Italians were not going to be as good as I remembered them but they were. We then drove through Washington County (I think) and then over to Vermont to look for a cheese shop and a chocolate museum that I remembered visiting with Bryon. We found a cheese shop, but it was closed and we couldn’t find the chocolate museum. Luckily we found a chocolate shop in Bennington. The kids seemed just as excited.
Sometimes I curl my hair like DJ on Fuller House. I don’t do it every day like DJ because I am a real person, not a TV character and I do not have daily access to make up artists and hairstylists. I told her that I am like DJ because we are both widows, except DJ has amazing hair and a hot boyfriend while I have neither. I told my friend that would make her my Kimmy Gibbler. She accepted her new role (as if she had a choice!)
We sat at Bryon’s grave yesterday. She brought him a Stewarts Mountain Brew Tall Boy (which still does not have rugby listed as one of the activities you can enjoy while drinking a Mountain Brew). We talked about how it sometimes it feels like yesterday that he died and other times it feels like a lifetime ago. We talked about much we miss him, but we know we wouldn’t be close friends If he were still alive. She also told me how much I have changed since Bryon had died and how she never knew who I was before.
She was the one of the first people to help me embrace my new self and grow as a person. We will never know why Bryon had to die, but I truly think that my friendship with Kimmy Gibbler is one of the biggest gifts that Bryon gave me. I can’t imagine my life without my Kimmy Gibbler.
I am going to preface this post by stating that Bryon and I did meet through politics so politics plays a role in our story and it may come up from time to time. However, this is not a political blog. It’s a blog about grief, life, love and resilience. There will be no political commentary from me.
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A seer sucker suit hanging in the closet.
A vintage briefcase bought at an estate sale.
A shelf of books.
A pair of size 13 Aldens in the closet.
A whole bunch of Brooks Brothers bow ties.
Bryon’s Albany Law Rugby sweatshirt with “Shrek” embroidered on the sleeve.
Several copies of Smithsonian Magazine and The Economist.
A lot of political memorabilia.
His coat hanging off the back of a dining room chair.
A six pack of beer in the back of the fridge, untouched after 14 months.
His laptop bag filled with a folder of travel documents from our last cruise 15 months before.
One voicemail I found in the deleted files on my phone.
This is a list of items that remain from Bryon. This is certainly not an exhaustive list. These items are reminders of who he was and the life he lived. The capture aspects of his personality and his passions. These very reminders sting whenever I look at them, but at the same time, I can’t get rid of them because they are all that remain. Every time I get rid of an item that belonged to Bryon, I feel like I am getting rid of a piece of him.
But so much more remains of Bryon’s memory than the items that clutter up my house.
This weekend I had the honor of co-presenting the first ever New York State Young Republican Bryon McKim Alumni Award. I was touched, but I wasn’t expecting to get as emotional as I did. Bryon and I hadn’t been actively involved in this organization for a couple of leadership cycles. There were several old friends but most of the faces in the crowd were new to me though they welcomed my daughter and I as if we were old friends. This organization had played a large role in our life for several years, both at the state and national level. I was reminded that this was our beginning. Our love story started at a New York State Young Republican Event. If it wasn’t for the Young Republicans, Bryon and I would never have met, fallen in love, gotten married or had our daughter. It was almost as if I was in the part and present at the same time. Being at that meeting brought up all those emotions because even though it had been years, once I was sitting down at that dinner, it almost felt like I was reliving those memories.
I just think about all the ways the people who knew Bryon have chosen to honor him. The Bryon C. McKim Memorial Derby Party. The Bryon “Shrek” McKim Albany Law School Memorial Alumni Match and the Shrek award. The New York State Young Republican Bryon McKim alumni award. People don’t choose to honor your memory if you hadn’t made some sort of difference in their lives. Bryon touched so many lives and I appreciate that his memory being honored. So many people die and ultimately become forgotten and it is comforting to know that Bryon won’t be forgotten.
It means so much when the recipients of these awards say wonderful things about Bryon in their acceptance speeches, though as time passes, I expect that the recipients of these awards will remember Bryon decreases. Eventually they will only know about Bryon through his legacy that is passed down by others in the respective organization.
Everytime I go to an event that honors Bryon, it still hits me like the proverbial ton of bricks that I am attending a memorial event. Memorial events are to remember dead people. Bryon is dead. Gone. He is a memory. But I will show up because it is important for me to honor Bryon’s memory and honor those who choose to keep his memory alive.
Bryon has left behind a legacy of friendships. Bryon had built relationships with so many people from so many different areas of his life. But his legacy of friendships isn’t just with those he had relationships with, but also with all the people that have been brought together because of Bryon. Bryon was a really good mediator which was a talent that could be a headache for him at times, but he took the responsibility of this talent seriously. Many of my friendships are the result of the bridges that Bryon built between others.
Bryon was full of life and leaves behind so many stories, most of them hilarious. At Saturday’s event, I was talking to a good friend. Her father died when she was little and that she heard a lot of stories about her father through his friends and that she feels like she knew her father from these stories. She assured me that my daughter will know Bryon from all these stories. Many people have said this to me, but honestly, it was a sentiment that always felt hollow to me. One of those comments that is well-intentioned but feels like it was just said to me to try to comfort me. It meant so much more coming from someone who grew up in the same situation that my daughter will grow up in. But my friend is absolutely correct. Bryon has left behind a legacy filled with stories and those stories will ultimately be passed down to our daughter through his friends. And even though it’s painful to think that my daughter will not remember Bryon, I am thankful that Bryon left a legacy that includes all these stories and friends. Not every child who loses a parent has that legacy.
On my two hour drive home, I just kept thinking about Bryon and our early years. So I decided to end this post with pictures taken at various Young Republican events. We weren’t good about remembering to take photos so please remember to take photos! Someday they will be what remains of you.
I have never met Stephanie in person but we both belong to a Facebook group which was formed in 2011. It consisted of a bunch of ladies planning their September 2012 weddings. We discussed many things in that group such as floral arrangements, wedding hairstyles and seating charts. After our wedding, many of us stayed in that group and since then we have bought houses, gotten job promotions and welcomed babies into the world. We also give each other fashion advice, share recipes and we talk about a LOT of things that, like Vegas, will stay in that group.
I am the first widow of the group.
Well, sort of.
My friend Stephanie really is the first widow of our group.
Stephanie and I had a lot in common. We are both New England girls and we love the ocean. We both root for the Boston Red Sox and the New England Patriots. We have both run for public office. Despite the fact that she is a Democrat and I was a Republican, we understood each other and we always refer to each other as our “sister from another party.” However, I never thought we would share the bond of being widows. At least not this soon.
While the members of our online group come from a variety of backgrounds and each had our own love story, Stephanie’s story was a bit different. Like the rest of us, Stephanie was marrying her soulmate, Chris. But unlike the rest of us, Stephanie had a heart breaking story that preceded her happily ever after. Chris is Stephanie’s second soul-mate. Her first soul mate was her fiancé Stephen and he drowned in a lake in New Hampshire in 2010.
Now, I am just going to stop here and state that just because Stephanie and Stephen were engaged and not married does not disqualify Stephanie from widow status. As far as I am concerned, she lost the man she was planning to spend the rest of her life with and it doesn’t matter if they had made it legal yet. If anything, engaged widows have to deal with some major challenges, especially if they did not legally have their affairs sorted out beforehand. And to be clear, I have no idea if Stephanie had those challenges. I didn’t ask her because it is none of my (or your) business.
Stephanie was about my age when Stephen died. And she had to face the dilemma that every widow must face- do you move forward or do you let this destroy you?
Stephanie chose to move forward. She met her next soul mate Chris shortly thereafter. Stephanie says that falling in love again was scary because you know that love can be ripped away. Stephanie was so happy with Stephen and she never thought she would experience that kind of love again. When she started to have those feelings again, she realized that she could let this new love pass her by or she can see where it goes. I am sure Stephanie is glad that she decided to see where this love would go.
Chris was extremely supportive of Stephanie during her time of grief. Chris also let her incorporate Stephen’s memory into their life. Stephanie states that she and Chris were comfortable creating a bridge between the relationships. It makes sense since there was not breakup. It was more like a transition. When Chris and Stephanie got engaged, the center stone of her engagement ring came from the solitaire from her engagement ring from Stephen. And on their wedding day, Stephen’s dad walked Stephanie down the aisle.
If I ever fall in love again, I hope my man would be as understanding and supportive as Chris.
I did ask Stephanie if she had any advice for other widows. Here is what she had to say-
Don’t live according to anyone else’s timeline.
Everyone grieves differently and no one has the right to judge any of your decisions
Lean on people. Friends and family genuinely want to help you. Take them up on offers, but don’t be afraid to say no as well. If you are not ready to go to a movie, have girls night, etc., it’s okay not to force it.
People will surprise you. You will definitely find out who your real friends are.
It’s okay to seek professional help.
There is also an opportunity to do things you might not have otherwise done that you’ve always wanted to do. Once the “widow fog” lifts, do what you have always wanted to do whether it is learn to paint, take piano lessons or go to law school.
You will be caught off guard by PTSD even years later. Stephanie states that she was watching a movie a few months ago where the husband died and the wife was in his closet, crying in his clothes. Stephanie says she lost it.
Whether my great love story has a chapter 2 or not, I will continue to look up to Stephanie. As I said, she was my age when she lost Stephen and she chose to be resilient. She went on to finish her bachelors degree and she just completed her first year of law school proving that you can always follow your dreams. I hope I can be like Stephanie. Today she and Chris are going on a well-deserved vacation to somewhere that requires passports. Let’s all wish for them to have a great time.
If you want to read more about Stephanie and Chris’s love story, click here.
If you want to read more about Stephen, you can view his obituary here.
Three of us girls and my daughter went out for breakfast the morning after the Kentucky Derby. One of us had said that in the past, she felt like she was viewed as “Bryon’s friend” but after this weekend, she felt like she became part of our friends group in her own right. We all felt warm and fuzzy when we realized that.
My friends observation hit me close to home because for years I felt the same way. I moved to Albany in 2009 after Bryon and I had been dating for a year and he already has his social network. Everyone was Bryon’s friend and I felt like I was his shadow. Over the years, my friendships did start to evolve but I didn’t realize how strong those friendships were until my friends were there for me when I needed them the most. They continue to be there for me, helping me heal.
Yesterday I wrote about all the love and friendship shared on Derby Day. Today I feel like celebrating that love and friendship.
In the past, I have written a lot about my girls. But most of these girls are attached to guys. Really great guys. These guys would drop whatever they were doing to help me with anything and I don’t give them enough credit in this blog. Most of these guys were Bryon’s friends and many of us girls became friends through our significant others. Now I think it’s safe to say that it is us girls who are the driving force behind the groups social calendar.
I have realized that I have been looking at these friendships only through my own eyes and not the eyes of my friends. My grieving process has made me self-absorbed at times. I know my friends have been there for me and my daughter but I haven’t been able to fully appreciate that my friends have been there for each other too. I am not the only one who has needed support during this time. Each one of my friends has been grieving too and they have been there for each other as well as be there for my daughter and me.
So many other friendships have formed before my very eyes. Older friendships have been strengthened. We have all been friends to varying degrees but Bryon’s death has brought many of us closer. But we aren’t just friends, we are a family. And we have been all along. We just never realized it until after Bryon died. Bryon may not be able to be here for us but he gave us each other.
We are one big, crazy extended family complete with adults, kids and pets as well as the biological families of our family and friends of friends. I have noticed that since Bryon has passed, we make more time for each other. Birthdays get celebrated as well as personal milestones. We check in with each other more, even if it is just because it’s been a couple of days and we wanted to make sure everything was okay. The ladies have a monthly brunch. Everyone seems fully committed to be positive role models and trusted adults for the younger generation to look up to.
I love my family and I am so thankful I have them in my life.