All that remains

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.

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Young Republican National Federation Fall 2008 Board Meeting in Nasvhille. Bryon called this our High School Prom Picture because of the way we were posed.
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New York City Young Republican Club Holiday Party, 2008.
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New York State Young Republican Convention in Staten Island, 2009
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New York State Young Republican Day at the races, 2010
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Young Republican National Convention in Indianapolis, 2009
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Young Republican National Convention in Indianapolis, 2009.  Doing one of the things he did best.
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New York State Young Republican Convention in the Finger Lakes (wine country), 2011
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Lubec, Maine and Saint John, New Brunswick

May 22-25, 2009
Surry, ME
Lubec, ME
Saint John, NB
Alma, NB

When I started this blog, I was only planning on writing about Bryon’s death forward.  Facebook reminded me today that On This Day eight years ago, Bryon arrived from New York for his first trip to Maine.  It was before I moved to Albany.  I felt like I wanted to share what I remember about that trip.  I don’t want to forget before my daughter is old enough to hear the story so if I write it here, she will likely get a better account.  A preservation of sorts. Also, I am riding a pretty harsh grief wave and maybe writing about this will give me a break from the grief.

As I was saying, Facebook reminded me that 8 years ago, I was excitedly awaiting to arrive of my love.  It was a Friday.  It was his first time coming to Maine and his first time meeting the parents.  That was back when there was that topless donut shop in Vassalboro, ME and Bryon was getting a rise out of me by telling me he was going to stop.  He didn’t actually stop but he enjoyed pulling my chain.

Saturday Bryon and I began the 3 hour drive to Saint John, New Brunswick.  We made a stop at the West Quoddy Lighthouse in Lubec so we could say we had been to the most eastern point in the United States.

 

We arrived in Saint John, New Brunswick in the late afternoon.  Bryon was driving and somehow knew his way around even without using Google Maps.  He had an amazing sense of direction. We stayed at a Delta Hotel.  We had dinner at the Saint John Alehouse which boasted the largest collection of beers on tap in Eastern Canada.  They had 29 beers which Bryon found charming.  We both ate these delicious burgers with a cheese that was flavored with Guinness and we both had a side of poutine.  Bryon was talking about hockey with the bartender.

The next day, we drove another hour and a half to the Bay of Fundy National Park.  I remember we passed a cute historic little cemetery and I was sad we didn’t stop.  (I have fascination with old cemeteries.)  Bryon assured me it was okay that we didn’t stop because they were probably Loyalists anyway.

We spent the day at the National Park.  It was beautiful.  We had lunch at a restaurant in a little coastal New Brunswick village named Alma.  I don’t remember the name of the restaurant but I remember that we ate fried clams and that the service was not good.

That night we had dinner back in Saint John at a restaurant that overlooked the Reversing Falls.  We went out a bar after but I don’t remember the name.

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The next morning, we stopped at Moosehood Brewery and Bryon bought a few pint glasses on clearance.  I think they have all been broken.  At some point, we went to the New Brunswick Museum but I don’t remember where that fit into the timeline.

On the way, I remember we stopped at a gas station and convenience store in rural New Brunswick because we weren’t sure if we had enough has to get back to the US.  (If you are not from the US or Canada, the reason we wanted to get back to the US is because gas is much less expensive here.   So if you drive to Canada from the US, always, always, always fill your tank before you cross the border.)  We put in ten dollars worth of gas figuring that would get us back to the US. Bryon couldn’t resist playing some scratch-offs.

I was excited that we were stopped on the International line.

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So many details I don’t remember.  Makes me glad that I now keep a travel journal and I write down all the mundane details like the names of restaurants and what we ate and every Museum we go to.  I want my daughter to know every detail of our adventures.  But I want to give her some idea of the adventures her Mom and Dad had before her.

All the days of my life

Our cake had four tiers, each with a different flavor.   The cake was decorated with a Celtic cross, red roses and with the tartan ribbon from Bryon’s Scottish clan.  There were weddings pictures of our parents and Bryon’s grandparents.  No wedding pictures of my grandparents exist so there were pictures from my grandparents younger days.  

There was no cake smashing as neither of us were fond of that tradition.  The song that was playing during our cake cutting was “You’re my Best Friend” by Queen.  There was so much excitement going on that day that I don’t remember what the cake tasted like but that was okay, we would freeze our top tier.  Of course, one year later we would discover that that cake would absorb the flavor of everything in our freezer and not taste as it was on our wedding night.

I was driving back from Starbucks yesterday morning (a habit I am trying to break though I am not sure I really want to) when Queen’s “You’re my Best Friend” came on the radio.  (Warning, you might think I am nuts after you read the next sentence.) They say the dead communicate to you through electronics and I am convinced Bryon is doing that.  He communicates with my daughter’s Godmother by putting Top Gun on her tv and he communicates with me through songs, usually in the form of Hall and Oates.  I have heard Hall and Oates more in the past couple of months than I have heard in my whole life prior.  He was partial to this 2008 Saturday Night Live skit of “Hall and Oates”.

Usually hearing a song that triggers a memory like that makes me cry but I actually handled it alright.  I was actually excited that Bryon was communicating and I turned up the song and listened.  Surprisingly I didn’t cry.  I was actually kind of happy and lighthearted.  I was okay until I read my friend widow blogger friend Emily’s post.  Emily’s post really reasonated with me and after I read it,  I cried.  I know, I cried.  Big surprise, right?

Emily’s post got me thinking about the wedding vow “till death do us part” but Bryon and I did not make that vow.  Our weddings vows at our Catholic Nuptial Mass stated that “I will love you and honor you all the days of my life.”  I remember having a conversation with Bryon about the significance of that vow.  He did not express any preference between “till death do us part” and “I will love you and honor you all the days of my life.”  As far as he was concerned, they had the same meaning.

I remember saying to him that I preferred “I will love you and honor you, all the days of my life” because one of us was going to die before the other and when one of us died, our love wasn’t going to stop.  Bryon didn’t really want to talk about it.  He was never one to talk about death and what happens after.  He came from a family where talking about death was taboo while my Boston Irish-Catholic family talked about death almost casually, like one would talk about the weather or the Red Sox.

My love for Bryon didn’t die on the August morning in New York City when he died.   I will love Bryon until I take my last breathe because my love for him doesn’t die until I die.  He is a part of me now and he will always have a part of my heart along with all the memories from our years together.  My love for Bryon is intertwined with the love I have for our daughter and our friends.  Even if I remarry, I will continue to love Bryon.  And that’s okay because the heart has an amazing ability to grow and to make room to accommodate all the love a person has to give.

Bryon’s love lives on in me.  I am who I am today because of Bryon’s love.  And I like to think that his love has made me a better person.  Bryon taught me so much in our short time together and I will never be the same.

And I will honor Bryon for all the days of my life.  I try to honor Bryon in many different ways.  I honor him by trying to be a good mother to our daughter.  I honor him by spending time with our friends even if it goes against my introvert tendencies.  I honor him by trying not to take my life too seriously.  I honor him by trying to do things that are out of my comfort zone.  I honor him by letting more inappropriate comments come out of my mouth.  I honor him by travelling with our daughter.  And some days, honoring Bryon might not be noble and it might be as simple as getting out of bed and existing that day.

But I will never stop loving and honoring Bryon.

“On this day” should be changed to “More depressing sh*t”

I belong to a few widow(er) facebook groups and it comes up periodically that the “On This Day” feature on facebook is a minefield full of triggers.  The triggers aren’t just reminders of illness and death.  The triggers are also the happy memories because you are reminded of the life that you are missing.

Some days I didn’t talk much throughout my history on facebook.  But some days are chock full of memories.

On this day in 2009, I was attending the Midcoast Maine Young Republican Meeting.

On this day in 2010, I was having a bad day at work and wanted to go home and drink. Considering I was working in the ER, that sounds about right.

On this day in 2011, I was out of work for the weekend and I had a hot date.  Of course someone commented and asked what Bryon was doing that night.

On this day in 2012, I was at a Bruce Springsteen Concert at the Times Union Center with Bryon.  I also was pissed that the Red Sox blew a 9-0 lead and I wanted Terry Francona back.

On this day in 2013, I hated Windows 8. I still do.

On this day in 2014, I was wishing all Boston Marathon Runners Good Luck.

I apparently wasn’t doing anything on this day in 2015.

On this day in 2016, I had my first glimmer of hope.  I remember writing that facebook status and feeling relieved.  We were finally on the road to recovery.  I remember being told that he would probably be in the ICU for another month or so and then he would go to rehab for a couple months.

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But we now know that that road would never lead Bryon to recovery.  It’s like I can feel all the emotions I felt waiting for that road to recovery at the same time; the frustration, the anger, the sadness, the hopefulness, the desperation.  However, it is also mixed with the grief and emptiness I feel every day from Bryon’s death.

Those memories are always going to be there whether they are on Facebook or in my memory.  I can’t un-live it.  I can’t pretend it didn’t happen.  And I don’t want to forget my memories with Bryon.  We had too many good times.  I can only hope that as time passes, I can think about these memories without crying and being overcome with sadness.  I want to be able to look back and smile.

I must move forward and try to fill my future with happier memories with my daughter and my family and friends.

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.

Why am I doing this?

Yesterday my blog reached a milestone.  A milestone that I never would have dreamed of ever happening, let alone only after two and a half months.   Yesterday my blog reached 10,000 page views.  I never would have thought that my words about Bryon would go so far in such a short time.  

So why do I do this?  Anyone who knows me in “real life” would tell you that I tend to be a pretty private person who takes a long time to open up to people.  I usually prefer to keep in interactions with people at the superficial level.  Want to talk about the weather?  Sure!  Talk about emotions and feelings?  No way!  Before Bryon got sick, I kept all but a few people at an arm’s length.

So what has compelled me to share some of my most private feelings on the internet? If someone would have told me that I would be sharing some of my most personal thoughts for the whole world to see, I would have probably looked at them like they were nuts.  But here I am.  Sharing my personal thoughts in a place where anyone can see.   I am not lying when I tell you that it is one of the scariest things I have ever done.  I am most likely ruining my chances of ever getting a boyfriend (in the very distant future) because any potential suitors would likely find this blog during a google search and go running far away after reading this.  And I can’t blame them.  Run, Forrest, Run!

There are many reasons I pour my heart out on the internet.

I have barely begun to share most of Bryon’s story because it is still too painful for me to share.  But I feel compelled to tell Bryon’s story in an effort to help other patients.  I want to help people know how to advocate for themselves and I want to empower people to find the right knowledge so they can make educated medical decisions.  I want to help people know what kind of questions to ask their doctors and what to do if something just doesn’t seem right with themselves or with the health care that they might be receiving.  I want people to know why it is important to know their own health history and, if possible, that of their family members.

I feel compelled to share my story as a caregiver and an advocate because I want to help the family members and friends of the critically and terminally ill.  I was thrown into a situation where one day my husband was recovering from a minimally invasive surgical procedure to fighting for his life in the ICU a few days later.  I don’t think there is a word in the English language that could accurately describe how overwhelmed I felt during those weeks that my life came crashing down. I have a background in oncology data and oncology was one of the few medical specialties that did not play a role in Bryon’s care.  While I had more medical knowledge than the average person, I am not a doctor or nurse and I had to quickly adapt to all the new medical terminology and procedures.  Bryon also could not speak for himself while he was in the ICU and he depended on me to advocate for him.   And unfortunately advocating for patients is not easy.  As a caregiver, you need to be prepared to fight for your family member or friend.

I feel compelled to share my story because I want to help other widows and widowers.  Widowhood is a very lonely place.  It helps to read that we are not alone and that other people can relate.  I appreciate reading blogs and memoirs of widows and widowers, especially those who are further in the healing process because I want some sort of idea of what to expect down the road.  Since I benefited from the stories of others, I want to share my stories with the hope that it might help another widow and widower.

I want to share my story to help those who have gone through a trauma and/or have experienced the loss of someone important in their life.  Grief is grief regardless of whether it was a spouse, a family member or a friend and we can all relate and support each other.

I write because it helps me process my own emotions.  I was in the “widow fog” for several months after Bryon died and the fog didn’t start to subside until I started writing about my feelings and my experience.  Before I started writing, I could bottle up my emotions and ignore them for a later time.  This isn’t healthy.  Writing forces me to acknowledge what I am feeling at any given time and it forces me to deal with my grief instead of ignoring it.

I write because I must preserve as much of our story for my daughter.  She won’t have any first hand memories of Bryon and she will have to rely on the stories that are told to her.  I can already start to feel that my memories are not as sharp.  I feel a huge void that Bryon left but it’s getting harder to remember the little things.  I am fearful that if I don’t write things down then those memories will die with Bryon.

I hope to become a patient advocate someday.  I want to raise awareness for the issues that plagued Bryon and ultimately took his life.  I want to empower the caregivers of critically and terminally ill patients.  I share our story to meet others who have been in similar situations and have similar goals.  I write with the hope that I can expand my network so that someday I am able to accomplish my goals of helping people.

One year

It was a Wednesday. Exactly one year ago.

I was at work.  Bryon was at home, recovering from surgery.

It was mid afternoon and my co-workers and I were preparing for a late afternoon meeting.

My phone rings.  It is Bryon.  He is in a lot of pain and I have to leave immediately and take him to the emergency room.

I am not sure if I even shut down my computer. I remember saying that I needed to tell my boss.  My co-workers told me not to worry about that and that they would relay the message.

I rush out of the office.

Life is made up of moments and little did I know that this was the moment where my life was about to change.

Forever.