Why I didn’t participate in International Widow’s Day

Today was International Widows Day and I chose not a participate.  For starters, I was supposed to take a selfie at 7pm and at 7pm, I am chasing my daughter around the house trying to get her ready for bed.  It had been a busy day.  It didn’t matter that I was actually having a good hair day.

But that’s not the real reason I don’t participate.

I don’t want the fact that I am a widow to define me.

I admire the widows who participate.  I just can’t bring myself to.

I am not ashamed to be a widow.  I am Bryon’s widow.  I would prefer to be his wife but I have to settle for being his widow.  He was here for a short time, lived his life to the fullest and he chose me to be the leading lady in his life.  I wish our years together were longer but I am happy I got the time I had with him.

I share my story.  I have been very open about my grief process.  So open that I post some of my most private and intimate thoughts on the Internet.

I share my story because I want people to understand what a widow, especially a young widow goes through.  I want people to understand what my grief is really like.  

I share my story because I want to help other widows.  It helps to know that you aren’t alone.  While every story is different and everyone handles grief differently, there are a lot of similarities.

I share my story because I want to preserve it for my daughter.  This is part of her story too but she won’t remember.  I want my account to be a good history for her.

I share my story to help others understand grief.  We hide under the sadness and scars but we are there.  Most of us are a stronger version of our older self but we are there.

I share my story but I don’t want my widowhood status to define me.  During Bryon’s ICU stay, I told him at one point that we will get through this and that this horrific event will not define him.  Bryon was fully aware but could not speak due to a tracheotomy but he nodded with determination.  I could tell he appreciated that I still saw him for who he was and not the medical conditions that he had.  

It’s the same for me.  This has been a horrific event in my life.  It has shaped who I have become but it doesn’t define me.  I still want people to see me for who I am, not just someone who had one of her worst nightmares come true. 

So even though I share my story, I will not be participating in International Widows Day.

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10 Months

I found this picture of us from our last cruise one month before you got sick.  It was still in the plastic wrapper.  It is likely the last picture taken of our family.  I can’t help but look at it and think of all our plans.  We had our whole lives ahead of us.

It’s hard to believe that you have been gone for 10 months.   That is almost a year.

I still have moments where it doesn’t seem real that you are gone.  Moments where the memories are so vivid that it feels like you are in the present.  That you aren’t gone.

And then I realize that you are gone.

Sometimes I can move on from those moments with simple acknowledgement of the memory.  Sometimes I might even smile.

Other times I get overwhelmed with emotion.  I feel the grief that goes down to my bones, albeit briefly.  I cry.

I ask myself why.  Why did this have to happen?  Why you? Why me? Why us? Stuff like this wasn’t supposed to happen to us.  Not that I would ever wish this on anyone.

I think about all the suffering you went through and tears well up in my eyes.

I think about how you will not see our daughter grow up.

We will not grow old together.

You will never be the old man that you looked forward to being.

Although you are on my mind constantly, there are times that I begin to think that I am getting used to you being gone.  I am starting to forget many of the aspects of our life together.  Sometimes I am scared that with every step forward I take, that is one step further away from our life and our dreams.   But I know I can’t live in the past forever.  It’s not healthy.  And I know you would not want that.

No matter what happens in my life, I will never forget you.  And I will always love you.

 

I am not marrying a Texas rancher.

Members of my Albany family often get together for dinner.  Witty banter is exchanged, like a real family.  My daughter fights with my best friend’s son as if they are siblings.  Last night dinner was at my house.  I made several dishes from The Homesick Texan’s cookbooks (yes, I have both.)  Anything I have ever made from her cookbooks is a hit.  I highly recommend them.  We started joking that my husband should be a Texas rancher.  Except I can’t move to Texas so he would have to set up a ranch in our suburban town.  

I may have posted a joke about this on social media as my sense of humor can be inappropriate at times.  Part of it is my personality.  If you follow the Meyers-Briggs philosophy, I am an INFJ.  My blog friend Jessica is an INFJ as well and she often writes about INFJ problems.  She so gets me.  One of her recent posts is about INFJ humor and our ability to tell jokes that make others uncomfortable.  The other part of my inappropriate sense of humor is dark humor, which is typical of widows.  The way I look at it is, if you have lived through dark times, then you can joke about it.

But I want to be clear,  I am not marrying a rancher from Texas.  

I am not marrying anyone.  

I am not dating anyone.  

I am not sleeping with anyone.  (Though it would not be anyone’s business if I was sleeping with anyone and no one’s place to judge.  I am just not interested.  Besides, I would probably start crying halfway through this activity and I am pretty sure that is not considered a turn-on. Though some people are into some weird stuff so you never know).

I am not marrying anyone.  I was married to a man who was the love of my life and my best friend.  I don’t know if there are even words to describe the love between us.  We were a team and we fit.  Sure, we had problems and arguments, but got through them.  We both had strong personalities and we had our groove.  We supported one another as individuals and as a part of our team.  Bryon was the first man I ever let my guard down too and he never let me down.  

My Grandma Sullivan was widowed when she was 76 and was never remarried before she died at the age of 90.  I remember her joking about two things with me.  One was that she was going to buy a pair of jeans (though she called them dungarees).  The second thing she joked about was getting a boyfriend.  I didn’t see a problem with it, but I remember my grandmother just saying that she could never find a man who would compare to my grandfather.  My grandmother was an Irish woman and she was not one to express emotions and my younger self didn’t detect any emotion in her comment but now I know that comment was full of emotion.  Now I totally understand exactly what she was saying.

Will I ever remarry? Possibly.  I was good at being a wife.  I can cook.  I am not bothered if dinner is interrupted by a work call. I don’t mind sports being on the TV.  Oh, and I will stay by your side when you are sick.  But I really hope that Bryon’s situation doesn’t happen to anyone again, especially anyone I know.  But right now I struggle to think anyone could capture my heart like Bryon did.  There was only one of him and he was perfect.  I doubt there is anyone out there that would be perfect for my broken heart or could understand what a widow goes through.

Will I ever date?  Someday, maybe, but right now I feel “meh” about it.  I have never been good at dating and I just don’t have any desire to enter the meat market.  Plus, I know that even the best relationships are work and right now I am not ready for that kind of work.  Especially when most guys would probably be mediocre.  I have spent my life trying to do well in all my roles- the good wife, the good mother, the good daughter, the good friend.  Those roles are important, but there was one area I was never concerned about and that was being good to myself.  I need to sort out who I really am as opposed to who I have been expected to be.

So I am not marrying anyone and I am not dating anyone and I don’t plan on doing either anytime soon.  Oh, and I am not sleeping with anyone and I don’t plan on doing that anytime soon either.  Until I am ready for any of those things, I have so many things to do.  I have a story I need to write.  I need to figure out where I stand with God and I need to decide if there is any point to being religious. I have a nightstand with three ridiculously tall piles of books I need to read.  I have races to train for.  I have places to travel to and weddings to attend.  I have a stack of cookbooks full of recipes that I need to try.  I have crime TV shows to watch even if they scare me and then I can’t sleep.  I have a garden to tend to.  I have a house to redecorate.  And all of this gets worked around my daughter’s schedule and spending time with my friends.  And once I know what my daughters dreams are, then some of our adventures will revolve around that.  Right now I know she likes gymnastics and aquariums.

After I accomplish all of this, then we will see about the whole love bit.

Father’s Day without you

Here we are.  Father’s Day.  The second to last first holiday without you.  Unlike all the other holidays, I couldn’t just go through the motions since this holiday is centered around you.  Each holiday was drastically different, but I still had events to distract me.  

On Halloween, our daughter and I were invited to go trick or treating with friends in a neighboring town.  Our daughter was a cheerleader. There were other kids who were our daughters age and she had a blast.  She totally understood the concept and would run up to each door and do a happy dance each time she received candy.

On Thanksgiving the family met at my brothers in New Hampshire and I cooked dinner.  I also ran a Turkey Trot and at one water station they were giving out beer.  I took one because I knew that you would been disappointed if did not.  I only managed a sip.  

On Christmas, our daughter and I continued to see our friends.  Instead of continuing Christmas Eve afternoon at the pub, some of us started the new tradition of Feliz Navidad Brunch.  We visited your grave.  We went to Mass even if I still think the whole religion and praying thing is pointless.  Santa may have gone overboard with Amazon Prime.

Our friends and I stayed up on New Years Eve.  Mariah Carey was so bad that it was epic.  I made poblano macaroni and cheese, which is a crowd favorite.  I learned to make it after you died so you have never tasted it, but you would have loved it.  We went to New Beginnings Brunch the next day.

Valentine’s Day was filled with love from our friends.  They didn’t forget about us.  Even Carter the dog thought to get us roses.

I made a ham on Easter.  We colored Easter eggs and we went out for ice cream.

Mother’s Day was spent at Baby Animal Day at Indian Ladder Farm.

But today I couldn’t avoid the fact that you were not here.  I kept thinking about how you were looking forward to our daughter being this age.  You were so excited for her to start talking.  You couldn’t wait to hear the funny things she was going to say.  I know you would have had some pretty ridiculous conversations with her.  

I just not fair that she is going to grow up without you.  All these other kids get their fathers and she doesn’t.  She doesn’t remember life with you so she seems content that it is just me and her.  But I always think about how life should have been.  If you were still alive, we would be planning on having a second kid soon.

One thing that struck me today is that our daughter is always asking why.  I always answer because I like to think she is trying to figure out how the world works.  But today when I told her you were in Heaven.  I braced for the “why?” but she didn’t ask why.  I know that question is coming.  Don’t worry, she will know all about you.  She will know you loved her very much and that you still do.

So today we visited your grave.  I cried because this isn’t how we were supposed to be celebrating Father’s Day.  We should have spent the day doing whatever you wanted to do.  But instead, I spent the day thinking about how you are not here.  There will be no pictures on Facebook of you spending time with our daughter.

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I did decide that we would go out for ice cream since you wouldn’t want us to spend the day being sad.  But please know that no matter what happens in life, you will always be missed.

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A better version of myself

I am always wondering “what if”. What is Bryon hadn’t died?  What if Bryon hadn’t gotten sick?  What would we be doing?  How would the crisis have affected our relationship?  I think about Bryon playing with our daughter.  I think about Bryon hanging out with our friends.  I think about going to political events with Bryon and our daughter.  

Usually when I visualize how life would be with Bryon and I, I am imagining life with him at his healthiest.  I have no idea what long term effects he would have had if he had survived.  I know we wouldn’t have been able to go on a cruise (our favorite way to travel).  In fact, I would have been nervous travelling anywhere that was not close to a large medical center, let alone on a ship in the middle of the ocean.  Had Bryon survived, our lives would have been drastically different.  

But Bryon didn’t survive and our lives are drastically different.  And one of the things that is drastically different is me.

As the crisis began to unfold, I had to change.  I went from being one half of a two person team who took care of a toddler and I instantly became one person who had to take care of her critically ill husband, our toddler and myself.  Everything became my responsibility, plus I had to stay on top of Bryon’s care.  Luckily I had help.  My parents did take care of my daughter and when they had to go back to Maine periodically, friends would step up and take care of her.   Friends prepared meals and did tasks around my house, like mowing my lawn.  I remember thinking that I couldn’t wait to tell Bryon because he was going to be proud of me for rising to the occasion.  

I also remember thinking that I couldn’t wait to fill Bryon in on everything that had happened.  I filled him on some of it, but I was waiting until he got better to tell him some of the events that had transpired.  I vowed to myself that Bryon would have known everyone who helped me and our daughter.  There were certain people who should have been supportive and always had high expectations from Bryon who offered little to no support and made my life difficult but I did not tell this to Bryon.  I didn’t want to stress him out and I figured I could tell him when he was well again.  But of course that never happened.

Before this crisis, I was a very different person.  I was innocent and ungrateful.  I did not know how good my life was and I never dreamed something like this could have happened.  Through this crisis, I learned I was much, much stronger than I ever thought I was.  I think everyone has that potential for strength during a crisis, though you have to choose to be strong and not fall apart.  

I have much more confidence in my abilities than I did before.  I used to care what other people thought, but that changed quickly.  When you are a widow, people think they have a say in your decisions and how you live your life and are quick to tell you how to live your life, how to grieve, how to spend your money, how to parent- the list goes on.  I survived one of the possible worst case scenarios that could happen in my life.  I am sure I can survive anything else, even any consequences for any potential screw up that might be my own doing. (Take away point- if you feel like giving a widow any unsolicited advice, just don’t.  We are capable of seeking help and if we wanted your opinion, we would ask for it.  No ands, ifs or buts.)  

Another effect of going through one of the two possible worst scenarios imaginable is that I don’t live in fear anymore. I survived.  It’s not easy, but it’s been 15 months since that day that Bryon went into septic shock and I am still here.  I am still in my house.  I am working.  My bills are paid.  I have travelled.  My daughter is happy.  Fifteen months ago, my life crashed down and I had no clue how I was going to do it without Bryon but I am.  I miss him so much that it hurts, but I am surviving.  I don’t fear what comes down the road because I realize that things can easily fall into place and am open to opportunities.

I don’t stress on unimportant decisions.  I used to be a person that would stress about picking two items on a restaurant menu.  Now I realize that there is no need to stress about things like that because that isn’t an important decision.  I should just go with the hamburger and if I don’t like it, I will go with the turkey club the next time.  I no longer sweat the small stuff.

I am open to friendships now.  I am an introvert (though some online tests call me an ambivert which is technically in the middle of the introvert-extrovert scale) and I usually just kept to Bryon and a very few close friends.  I had a lot of walls and I never let my guard down.  After this crisis, I have learned to let others into my life.  It’s okay to need people and it’s okay to lean on them.  I have learned to embrace the love that comes with friendships.

While I am more open to friendship, I don’t tolerate being treated poorly anymore.  I don’t tolerate B.S.  If you can’t be supportive of me or my daughter, then you don’t get to play a role in our lives.  Grief is exhausting and I don’t have the energy to deal with people who cause drama and make me feel bad.  As one of my closest friends says “less negativity and more high-fives!”

But I used to seek the approval of other people, but now I know that the only people that I have to answer to are myself and my daughter.  For the first time in 38 years, I am being true to myself and I have the confidence to work toward my dreams.  To live the life I want to live.  And even though I am tired and exhausted all the time I feel like I am a better mother.  Sure, I seem scattered and forget stuff, but instead of being concerned being a good mother and appearing as such, I just focus on my daughter.  Not what others think (though I will use self-deprecating humor from time to time). I also am not concerned about being the perfect family because it’s just my daughter and me.  Now I am just concerned about my daughter being happy and I know that (in addition to covering her basic needs-very important), it is my job to make sure she becomes an independent adult and that she becomes of the best version of the person she is supposed to be.

I am a better version of myself.  The hard part of that I like myself much better now, but I would not be this person if Bryon were still alive.  I don’t like who I was then, but I would give up my new self if it means Bryon could come back.  But that is not going to happen.  I can only move forward with the life lessons that I have learned by loving Bryon and having him in my life.  I am a better person because of him.  Everyone that is in my life now knows that I am who I am because of Bryon.   In a way, he is a part of who I am now even if he is no longer here.

The last 30 hours

Saturday, August 20, 2016
New York City

I was sleeping in the recliner that the nursing staff had found.  I think they took pity on me because I was sleeping on two chairs put together.  The resident woke me up just after midnight and told me that Bryon’s numbers were looking much, much worse.  I called my daughter’s Godmother.  I was hysterical and I know I yelled at her after she asked some questions.  

I barely slept the rest of the night.

The following morning the resident came in.  She came in to tell me what I had been fearing: that Bryon’s heart was going to stop beating that day.  I remember staring straight ahead with tears in my eyes.  The resident asked me if I wanted to know what was going to happen.  Through my tears, I just nodded.  She explained to me the there was going to be a lot of yelling and everyone was going to come into the room and work on resuscitating him.  She explained that I would need to leave the unit should that happen.  I just nodded.  

I called my daughter’s Godmother who said she would be at the hospital as soon as possible. I truly don’t know how I would have gotten through the day (or really the past 15 months) without her and her fiance.

I made phone calls.  My parents were in Albany with my daughter.  I didn’t think it made sense for them to bring her down because Bryon was no longer aware and my daughter would be too young to remember.  Plus my parents are from Maine and my father hadn’t been to New York City since 1964 and it didn’t make sense for him to be driving in a city that was unfamiliar when Bryon wouldn’t even be aware.

I called Bryon’s parents and they told me they weren’t coming.  As a parent myself, I will never understand their decision.  If my daughter were in New Zealand and I heard she was dying, I would be on the first flight I could get across the world.  But we all make our own choices in life and we have to live with those choices.

I called some of my friends.  Some of them were able to make the trip down to the city that day to say their good-byes.

Specialists came in and out all day.  Each one gave me the news that there was nothing they could do.  Exploratory surgery would be the only option and he wouldn’t survive a trip to the operating room.  I overheard one of the doctors say they were looking for a Hail Mary.  I just appreciated that the doctors hadn’t given up on him, even though his death was imminent.

Saturday turned into Sunday.  Bryon was still alive.  It was my Dad’s birthday.  I wrote Happy Birthday on his Facebook wall because I knew my first call to him on his birthday was going to be telling him that Bryon had died.  

My daughter’s Godmother stayed with me all night.  Neither of us could sleep.  I was too afraid that if I were to fall asleep that that would be the moment his heart would stop beating.  I didn’t want my last moments with him to consist of me being awoken by commotion.  So my daughter’s Godmother and I stayed up all night, taking turns talking to Bryon. Obviously we didn’t know how much he could hear us or understand us or if he could hear us at all.

His vitals were falling.  His heart rate and blood pressure dropped to levels that I hadn’t seen in the five months of staring at the monitor.  His hand felt cold when I held it.  

I was talking to him.  I was probably rambling.  I remember telling him that our daughter and I were going to be okay.  Then I started rambling about shower hooks. Then, at 6:47 am, Bryon’s heart stopped beating.

Existing

I haven’t been myself for the past month.  You may be thinking, “well Kerry, you’re husband died not that long ago” and perhaps that is it.  But it’s different.

For the first couple of months of widowhood, I was in survival mode.  I was in a fog and just going through the motions of my routine.  I had spent 5 months sitting in an ICU and I was getting re-acclimated to life outside.  I wasn’t working as Bryon spent a large part of his illness at the hospital where I had worked and I could not go back.  I trained for a half marathon and binge watched the Gilmore Girls. The holidays came and went.  It was hard to celebrate but I tried my best to go through with the festivities for my daughter’s sake.

The next quarter was when the fog started to lift and reality started to set in.  I needed income and health insurance so I got a new job.  As my life started to stabilize and the amount of people around started to thin out, the reality of Bryon’s absence started to hit.

The third quarter was actually a sweet spot.  I was starting to get used to my new life and start getting used to Bryon being gone.  My daughter and I traveled to Las Vegas, Ann Arbor, Michigan and Philadelphia. I was starting to get used to Bryon being gone and I was starting to get used to my new life. I was actually starting to look forward to getting to know who I was as an individual.

But now in the last quarter of my first year of widowhood, I just feel like I am existing.  I am no longer in thick fog but I know that I am still in active grieving.  Grief is exhausting.  I feel drained most of the time.  And I feel like it’s time to tackle all the tasks that I kept putting off because they were painful.  Those tasks aren’t going away.  But I can’t seem to bring myself to call Verizon to shut of his phone.  I don’t call his cell phone to hear the greeting like Hilary Swank’s character does P.S. I Love You.  But his voicemail greeting is there.  To shut off his phone and know that if anyone calls it, they are going to get a “this number has been disconnected” message just seems to final. Like the proverbial nail in the coffin.

All around me I see all the things that I am missing.  Happy couples.  Complete families. I am no longer a wife.  I am a widow. I was called “Mrs. McKim” the other day and it took me by surprise.  I was sad that it took me by surprise.  It means my life with Bryon is slipping away.  As time passes, I feel less like the wife I was and more like a widow. I miss being a wife.  I miss being part of a complete family.  I miss being part of a couple.  Finding out who I am now seems like a chore, not something I am excited about.  I want my old life back.

The years stretch out in front of me, long and lonely.   They say it gets easier with time.  But until that time comes, it just feels like I am existing.