This was the first piece I wrote as a widow. It was a Facebook note called “A Mini-Memoir”. I wrote it one year ago.
* * *
Bryon McKim took me by surprise. Those close to us know that the first time I met him was in November of 2006 in Louisville, Kentucky. 2006 was a bad year to be a Republican and I learned that because I lost my race for the Maine State House. (At least I won my hometown. Thank you Surry!) The weekend following the election was the Young Republican National Federation (YRNF) Board Meeting in Louisville. I first met Bryon at the Northeast Caucus. I was the only Mainer in a room full of New Yorkers and there was one in particular that would not shut up when I was giving my report on Maine. And we all know that that New Yorker was Bryon McKim. He didn’t make that much of a lasting impression on me except that I thought he was rude even if everyone from New York thought he was hilarious.
Our story really began in the beginning of the 2008. I was coming to a New York State Young Republican (NYSYR) event to try to build bridges between the NYSYR and the Maine Federation of Young Republicans (MFYR) of which I was the State Chairman. New York and Maine had been on opposite sides of the previous YRNF election and our relationship was not good. I was nervous about the reception I would be receiving so my best friend Tiffany came from Chicago (Illinois and New York had been on the same side of the previously mentioned election but it did not affect the friendship between Tiffany and me.) It turned out that I didn’t have anything to worry about. All the scary New Yorkers were perfectly nice to me. I noticed one person who seemed to be in charge so I went up to him and introduced myself, “Hi. I am Kerry Sullivan, Chairman of the Maine Federation of Young Republicans.” He responded with “I know. We met in Louisville.” Then it clicked. He was the a-hole that wouldn’t shut up when I was talking. Luckily after a year and a half, I seemed to be (mostly) over it.
Over the course of the weekend, Bryon began to try to get my attention. I thought he was nice enough but I was aware that he was several years younger than me so despite being flattered, I kept letting him down, albeit gently. I told him I was too old for him. He didn’t believe me. At one point, I pulled out my drivers license. I do remember him staring at it in disbelief. I definitely liked him but I was not looking to fall in love, especially with a younger man who lived eight hours away.
Heck, at that point in my life, I didn’t believe in love. I was also told that I was too picky. I had a list of ten items. Funny this is, I don’t remember all ten items. I would tell people my top 3 (Republican, Catholic, Red Sox fan) and I was told that was not reasonable especially in Maine. There are Red Sox fans, but not many Republicans or Catholics. I know number 4 was Irish. (That was a bit of a stretch as Bryon was only 1/8 Irish. I guess it didn’t end up being that important.) I do remember two of my other items on my list. One was that I wanted a man to be intelligent. Preferably more intelligent than me because I like to surround myself with smart people and I like to learn from those around me. And I like personalities with a lot of depth to them. I wanted a man who could go to the symphony and a wine tasting one night and a baseball game with hot dogs and beer the next night. I wanted someone who wouldn’t be bored with Museums and historic places. Someone would wanted to do interesting stuff but also the simple stuff. I was told that those two points are not reasonable. I knew what I wanted and I didn’t want to settle.
Anyway, I digress.
For the next six months, Bryon and I started to get to know each other better. First through google chat (I think it was called g-chat then) and then we went to the next level and started texting. Serious stuff that involved actually giving each other our phone numbers. He convinced me to come out for the NYSYR day at the races. I agreed and I decided to come out a day early to go to the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown. I asked him what he thought of the Baseball Hall of Fame and he said it was lame. I said that was a shame because I was hoping to go and surprisingly, out of the blue, Bryon changed his mind and said that it actually wasn’t lame and that he would take me. So we went to the Baseball Hall of Fame. After visiting the Hall of Fame, we weren’t ready for our date to be over so we decided to head back to Albany for dinner at the Pump Station. Then that turned into drinks at Mahars and then Lark Tavern.
The following day was the Day at the Races. We didn’t want anyone to know we were a thing so we spent the day on opposite sides of the group. We acted like we barely knew each other except we did sneak off to the paddock at one point. I left New York not sure what was going to become of us. He was younger and lived eight hours away. Neither of us wanted a long distance relationship. But our relationship only seemed to get stronger. Our communication changed from text messages to actual phone calls. Nightly. I remember having to put my phone on speaker and hold it a certain way or else I couldn’t hear him. Cell phone reception in rural Maine wasn’t that great.
We made plans to meet up in Boston on August 29th, the day between our birthdays. I called him up to wish him a happy birthday on the 28th. He had been out celebrating. He told me he was young and hot like Sarah Palin and that I was old like John McCain. (Remember, it was 2008) Yet I still went to Boston the next day. I had fun recounting that conversation to him as we rode the Red Line into Boston. He made it up to me though. He took me to a Red Sox game on my birthday. If that isn’t love, then I don’t know what is. And it was that weekend that I realized that this wasn’t just a passing fling. It was the real deal. I never would have known that weekend that almost exactly eight years later, I would be attending his funeral.
It’s easy to be negative. Some days I struggle to stay positive. Some days I am not positive at all. Other days I am almost optimistic that despite this sad chapter, I might actually still have a good second half of my life. The reality is that right now I feel lost and like an empty shell of who I used to be. I feel like I am going through the motions. I hate the term “new normal” because I hate that I have to find a new normal. I was perfectly happy with my old normal. I am one of those people who likes to have a 1 year, 5 year, 10 year plan. It may not be detailed but I liked being able to look down the path I was anticipating and have a general idea as to what was going to happen.
I didn’t know exactly what was going to happen in our planned future but Bryon was there. The other child (or children if I got my way) would have been there. We went from being a family of three with plans of being a family of four to a family of two. Now it’s just Maddy and me. I don’t even know if two people fit the definition of a family.
Bryon had all these plans he wanted to do when Maddy was older. He will never take her to a father-daughter dance. He will never make her dates nervous. He will never get to play catch with her or teach her how to ice skate. He won’t ever take her to a Broadway play. He won’t walk her down the aisle when she gets married. He won’t take her on the proper Disney trip he was planning. We spent a day in Epcot last February and we went to a character breakfast, but not the fancy, expensive Princess one. Bryon said if he was going to spend that kind of money, he wanted Maddy to be old enough to enjoy it. I know I can take Maddy to Disney but the thought of being in the Happiest Place On Earth without Bryon makes me cry. And I am not sure that is allowed. It’s like a sick and twisted joke. He did this to try to be healthier for himself and Maddy and then this happened.
We would have taken a lot more cruises. We would have eventually hit all the Caribbean islands. I would have continued to lobby for an Alaskan Cruise and Bryon would have continued to say that an Alaskan cruise sounded boring. (We had two cruises booked. I cancelled one and pushed the reservation out on the other. I don’t know when I will be ready to cruise again, if ever.) We had plans to someday go to Scotland, Ireland, England and Germany. He wanted to go to a Chelsea game in London. He wanted to visit the Scottish Highlands where the Fraser clan originated. He wanted to buy a BMW in Germany, drive it around Bavaria for a week and then have it shipped home. He said something about avoiding some sort of import tax that way. I am not sure.
We would have probably outgrown our current house pretty soon and would have moved somewhere bigger. We’d probably would have argued about that house. I would refuse to live in a ranch house or a house built after 1950. Bryon would probably tell me I was being too picky. I would have dug in my heels on hardwood floors as opposed to wall-to-wall carpeting and Bryon would have eventually agreed with me because he would know I was right. Bryon would have held firm that we would never have a swimming pool, trampoline or a swing set because they are liabilities. I would have pushed to live in the country and Bryon would have probably said there was no effing way he was going to live in a place where he would need to buy a gun because of wild animals.
Now that has been ripped away. I look at my future and all I see is nothingness. I know it will be filled with new adventures and of course, time with Maddy but I don’t like not knowing what to expect. I thought I had my life figured out. I am not good at this “one day at a time” thing. Not only do I have have to mourn the death of my best friend and the love of my life, I have to mourn the loss of my future. I know an optimist would tell me that my future is a blank canvass and I can color it any way I want. Perhaps that is true but I didn’t ask for a blank canvass.
I also have to figure out who I am as an individual which is a daunting task. The Kerry McKim that was Bryon’s wife, no longer exists. I am not the same person I was on March 24, 2016. My life forever changed when Bryon was admitted to the Surgical ICU on March 25. I will never go back to being that version of Kerry McKim again. The truth is, there are some aspects of who I am that got pushed to the back burner during my time with Bryon. It wasn’t intentional. He just always had ideas and sometimes my ideas went to the background. And I let that happen. He didn’t do it on purpose, though it did cause tension in our relationship at time. Of course, now I am glad that I got out of the way and let Bryon accomplish what he needed to do since his time on Earth was limited.
Now I do get to do the things that Bryon never wanted to do. I like to do boring things like take drives to check out scenery and Bryon couldn’t stand that. To him, there was no point. I could go on an Alaskan cruise if I wanted or to a National Park (Bryon had no interest in going to the Grand Canyon even though I told him pictures don’t do it justice.) I can live my life at a slower pace. It could sometimes be exhausting keeping up with him though it was exciting. I loved every minute of it.
However, I don’t revert back to being Kerry Sullivan either. Kerry Sullivan was a young girl who was bored and wanted “more.” Bryon changed my world. He challenged me. He encouraged me. He believed in me. I am tasked with taking the best parts of being Kerry McKim and the best parts of being Kerry Sullivan and make them into some sort of newer version of Kerry McKim. I just don’t want to be viewed as Old Widow McKim. While I am definitely a widow, I don’t want it to define me.
So where does that leave me? Everyone talks about stages of grief. Personally I think stages are bullshit. The first one is supposed to be denial. I was never in denial that he died. I watched him slowly die for five months in the ICU. I can tell you that he never gave up. He fought until the bitter end. I think almost anyone else would have given up long before but he kept fighting. While he could communicate, he obviously couldn’t express himself fully and I can’t imagine what it must have been like for him to have to lie in a bed for five months, not being able to move and having to be dependent on me or a nurse for simple tasks like changing the channel on the TV. He had his mind up until 36 hours before he died. It must have been hell for him to be lying in that hospital bed without being able to articulate his thoughts.
The second stage is anger. Well of course I am angry but that will be another post for another time. Third stage is supposed to be bargaining? Bargaining for what? He’s not coming back. Then desperation. Again, he’s not coming back so I don’t know what there is to be desperate about. The final stage is acceptance which is probably the only stage that makes any sense. I don’t even know what it means to accept that he is dead. I know he is dead. I know because all the tasks he did are now my responsibility. (I am beginning to wonder what I even brought to the table? I think all I did before was change diapers and make sure there is milk in the fridge. And I wasn’t even that great at the latter.) I know he is dead because once in a while I think about something to ask him something and then I remember that there is no point in texting him because he isn’t going to answer that text. I know he is dead when I am watching one of our TV shows and they make a joke that he would have found funny. He isn’t there to laugh. He wasn’t there to discuss the issues surrounding the election. I know he is dead every night when I lie in bed alone. Even though I know he is dead, there are times where I think about certain memories where he was so full of life and then I think about him being dead. Then it hits me me- the pang of disbelief. Disbelief that someone so full of life can be gone. That realization always takes me by surprise. It stings. Every time.
I also have to accept that even if he had lived, our future would have not been what we planned. He would have had some long term medical problems. Doctor visits to NYC or Boston would have become the norm. We certainly wouldn’t be traveling on cruise ships in the middle of the ocean far away from American hospitals. Before this crisis, Bryon liked to take care of everything. It was as if his goal was for me to never have to worry about anything. I am not going to lie, I enjoyed that and took full advantage of that. I was thrust into the caregiver role and even if he survived, he would have been sick for a very long time, possibly for the rest of his life. The carefree days would be over but I would have continued to fight for him.
Maybe this is some sort of “post acceptance” processing. I know he is dead. He is never coming back at least in any human form. Some widows get upset about “being left behind.” I am not. I don’t want to be in Heaven or wherever spirits go when in the afterlife at least not until it is my time. I want to be here and with Maddy. But I am, in a sense, left behind to try to make sense of what happened. I ask myself why at least once a day. Why did this have to happen? And why did it have to happen like it did?
Then there are all the other questions. Did I do something wrong? Did I miss something? Was I not paying attention to something the doctors said? Why would God let something like this happen? What did we do to deserve this? Why does Maddy have to grow up without her father? When will all this pain go away? When does it start getting easier? When will I start to feel like myself again? How can I feel like myself when I don’t even know who I am as an individual? How much is Maddy aware? Does Maddy even remember him? Will Maddy grow up feeling cheated? Can I give Maddy a happy life without her Dad?
So many unanswered questions.
The only question I can answer is- would I do it all over again even with the same outcome? That answer is yes. Not just because of Maddy. I am a better person because of Bryon McKim.
BCM 08-28-1985 – 08-21-2016
“Don’t cry because it’s over. Smile because it happened.” ~Dr. Suess