The second year is a b*tch

During my first year of widowhood, I learned what coping mechanisms did not work.

I tried to outrun grief, literally.  I ran a half marathon 6 weeks after Bryon died.  It was one of my biggest accomplishments in my life.  I hope to do it again.  But with only 6 weeks of training, my knees were not happy with me.

I tried to eat my emotions.  I gained back all the weight I lost when Bryon was sick and then some.  My knees continued to be unhappy.

I tried to keep busy and outsocialize my grief.  But now I am exhausted and nothing is getting crossed of my to-do list.  Being with friends is important but I have ignored spending time with myself.

There was one night I had some Spanish red wine.  That night I watched Jinger Duggar’s wedding and I bawled my eyes out.  But the next morning I had a headache and I was too old to be waking up with headaches.

I would go to Target whenever I was sad.  Nothing could cheer me up more than buying my two year old daughter a pair of pink cowgirl boots.  However, that cheerfulness would never last long.  My daughter had a great wardrobe that year.  A wardrobe she promptly outgrew and I gave away.

Writing helped my grief.  It helped me sort out my feelings.  But it also caused me to intellectualize my feelings which can prevent a person from feeling those feelings.  It is a mechanism I have used my whole life.

While I participated in some questionable grief practices, I have never denied my grief.  I have always acknowledged it.

But maybe I did something wrong because now I feel a flood of anger consuming me.

Let’s say grief is like an ocean.  Grief, like the ocean, can make a person feels small and insignificant.  Both grief and the ocean can be peaceful and serene at times and stormy and dangerous at other times.  Well I am standing in an island in the middle of this grief ocean and my anger is like a large wave crashing down over me.

Anger for all that happened to Bryon and for all his physical, mental and emotional pain.

Anger at how the events transpired.

Anger that Bryon and I never got to discuss what was happening nor did we get to discuss “what if”.

Anger that Bryon isn’t here to help me raise my daughter.

Anger that Bryon didn’t get to accomplish all his dreams and that we didn’t get to accomplish our dreams together.

Anger at the isolation I feel.  Everyone else gets to live normal lives  and not the “new normal” that I was told I needed to find when Bryon died.  I want the old normal.

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The second year is isolating.  Just as the reality of Bryon’s death is hitting me, people think I should be “over it”.

The second year is a b*tch and I still have nine months of it.

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50 long years

50 years.

That is how long I can potentially be on this Earth.  That is if I live to my 90’s like both of my grandmothers.

50 long years.

I don’t know how I am going to do it.

To fill up all those years.

I went from being a person with her life planned out to being a person who is merely existing.

I am obviously still here for a reason.

And I want to see my daughter grow up and meet my grandchildren and maybe even my great-grandchildren.

My daughter (age 3) told me that she is going to be a mother when she grows up and that she is going to have four children.

So I guess that means for every theatrical temper tantrum I have to deal with, she will get it back times four.

Karma can be a beautiful thing.

But it is all going to be delightful as long as my daughter gets an education first.

People used to ask me why I was bothering with a second degree because I was married to a lawyer.  I always said that if something should- God forbid- happen to Bryon, I need to be able to support myself and my family.

I used to say that but I never thought it would actually be my reality.

But here I am.  Surviving?  Existing? Keeping my head above water?  Waiting to live again?

Without direction.  Lost.  Anxious.

Bryon is not here to solve all my problems.  He is not here to tell me that everything is going to be okay.

No idea what the future holds.

I have lost my faith.  In God.  In the Universe.

The future feels bleak and empty.

Scared to be lonely.

Scared to let someone else in.

Scared that I will be unhappy.

Scared that I won’t be able enough for my daughter.

Scared that I will always be sad.

Scared that I won’t make the best of my remaining years.

This is my life now.

For the next 50 long years.

 

Top Gun Wake

Friday 12:30pm

August 26, 2016

 

“Revvin’ up your engine

Listen to her howlin’ roar

Metal under tension

Beggin’ you to touch and go

Highway to the danger zone

Ride into the danger zone”

             ~Kenny Loggins

I walked into the viewing room at the Funeral Home to see Bryon for the last time.  Funeral Nick shut the doors behind me.  We walked up to the casket.  It had been a lengthy and rather difficult process to get Bryon’s body moved from New York City to Albany and Funeral Nick had told me the day before that he did not feel that Bryon was fit for a public viewing.  I had decided that was just as well because I wanted everyone to remember the version of Bryon that was full of life, not the sick and lifeless version of Bryon.

He was in his kilt.  Next to him were the three items I wanted him buried with: a rosary, a bottle of Maker’s Mark and a Top Gun DVD.  And Top Gun was playing on the two TV’s mounted on the wall on both sides of the casket.  Just like Bryon wanted.  My friends had done a phenomenal job at collecting photos of Bryon for the picture boards and they were displayed all over the room.

Funeral Nick had stayed up late working on his makeup which I thought was very kind of him considering that I would be the only person who would see him.  Funeral Nick was quick to cover Bryon’s hands, he didn’t want me to see them.  I didn’t question why.  I just assumed they were either discolored as they were turning blue during his final hours or that they were puffy because Bryon had a lot of extra fluid in his body or both.  Seeing Bryon all caked with makeup reassured me that I was making the right choice by having a closed casket.  Caked on funeral makeup was acceptable for my grandparents who lived into their 80’s and 90’s but not on a 30 year old man.

Funeral Nick closed the casket and left me alone to be with Bryon.  I went to walk around the room and look at the photos and flowers and I hear Maverick start singing, “You never close your eyes, anymore, when I kiss your lips.”  I could feel Bryon’s presence strongly.  I think he was trying to make me laugh.  He was right with me.  I laughed and cried at the same time.

When I had arrived I left my parents, daughter, extended family and close friends were out in the lobby. After I had a good look at each of the picture boards, I told a member of the funeral home staff that it was okay to let them in.  They kept me company. The funeral staff was bringing in the flowers that we still being delivered.  I remember that my best friend from Maine made sure that there would be no wardrobe malfunctions with my dress while the Top Gun volleyball scene came on.  Everyone looked at the picture boards until it was time for our pre-wake ceremony and for the priest to come by.

3pm was the official start of the viewing.  I remember that there was a long line of people.  I stood next to the casket and my daughter’s Godmother stood next to me.  People from so many areas of Bryon’s life came by; coworkers, friends from college and college, friends from politics,  friends from some of the various organizations he belonged to, friends of his parents, some of his relatives.  I remember that many of my relatives made it in from Boston, Florida and Maine.  My best friend and another friend arrived from Chicago.  During the procession, there was a break in visiting and my best friend from Maine brought me Wendy’s (perfectly timed) which I quickly ate in a conference room. The visiting hours ran from 3 pm to 8pm and it the line of people slowed down at times but never completely stopped.

I had gone to Target the day before and I bought a doll, a doll stroller and a Doc McStuffins doctors kit for my daughter to play with.  She is a trooper when it comes to having her around people but I wanted her to have some toys to play with.  And I wanted these toys to be a novelty so they had to be new.  My friends and my family all took turns playing with her.  I was greeting people and everyone made sure that I did not need to worry.  I remember a few times I would look around and not see her but someone always reassured me that she was being watched by someone.

So many people came to pay their respects for Bryon to our family and many friends stayed the whole evening.  I know the visiting hours were long but to be truthful, the whole night was a blur, a whirlwind.  After the visiting hours ended, a staff member of the funeral home sat down with my daughter’s Godmother and me and we discussed logistics for the next day and what to do with flowers.

It was late but a large group of friends went out after for dinner.  The group was comprised of close friends from different areas of our life; college, politics, local and out of town. I needed the company and to hear the stories about Bryon.  It was late and it was a big day tomorrow.

Six Months

It has been six months since you left us.

It has been six months since I last held your hand or looked into your brown eyes.

It has been six months since your body just couldn’t fight anymore.  

It’s has been six months since I had to give up the dream that you were going to recover and that we were going to be able to put this nightmare behind us.

It’s been six months since I walked out of the hospital for the last time.

Within the past six months, I have probably felt every emotion possible.  

I have felt anger.  Not at you, but at the situation.  That this had to happen.  That our daughter will grow up without you.  And at God for taking you from me.  Who does he think he is?

I have felt relieved that you are not in pain anymore.  Wherever you are now has to be better than the ICU.  I am also relieved because as you were dying, I was afraid that I was going to remember you as you were in that hospital bed.  But I remember you as the person you were when you were full of life.

I have felt numb and unable to deal with certain tasks.  Dealing with those tasks would be admitting that you really are gone.  

I have felt helpless because you did so much.  How can I do all of this without you?  

I have felt fearful.  I am the only parent left to take care of our daughter.  What if something happens to me?  How am I going to be a Mom and a Dad to our daughter?

I have felt guilt.  Did I do everything I could?  Did I miss something?  Was there something that could have kept you alive that I somehow missed?  

I have felt frustrated.  Taking care of our daughter by myself is tough.  I miss having you as my co-parent.

I feel empty every night as I sit at home by myself without you to talk to.  I feel empty every night when I go to sleep alone.  I miss you every day.

I have felt lonely because your death and absence leaves a huge void in my life.  I miss you so much that it hurts.  I miss our conversations.  I miss watching TV with you.  I miss emailing back and forth with you trying to figure out what to do for dinner.  You truly were my other half and my best friend.

I have felt happy because you left some great memories.  I love it when friends share funny stories about you.  You might be gone, but you still find a way to make us laugh.

I have felt comfort because I know that at some level you are still with me and you will continue to look out for me and our daughter from above.

I have felt grateful that you chose me to be by your side even if it was for a short time.  I am grateful for the love that you gave me.  I am grateful for everything that you have taught me and I am grateful for our life together.  

I have lost my faith.  I used to think God loved me but not anymore.  And I think he is kind of a jerk.  I used to believe in happy endings but my “Happily Ever After” has been taken away.  I no longer believe in happy ends or miracles.

I have felt despair because I will not get to grow old with you and that our daughter will not remember you.  Why did this have to happen?  I have a hard time with the fact that you will not get to watch our daughter grow up.  She has already grown up so much since you got sick. Who is going to take her to the Father-Daughter dance?  Who is going to walk her down the aisle when she gets married?  I know you left behind many great friends who are willing to be positive male role models for her and will be there for her and I am grateful for that.  But sometimes I still think it is unfair because it is supposed to be you that was supposed to do all of those things.

I have learned that I am a lot stronger than I have ever given myself credit for.  I am a survivor.  

I have had moments where I am about to call or text you but then I remember that you are not here.  I can’t ask you that question or tell you that story.  There is so much that I want to tell you. Your phone will go straight to voicemail.  Because I can’t bring myself to call the phone company and disconnect your number.  It’s just easier to pay the bill as I have been.   And speaking of phones, my phone is acting possessed and I don’t have you to fix it.

Some of your clothes are still hanging up in the closet.  Others are in bags but I can’t bring myself to bring them to goodwill.

You meant so much to so many people and you accomplished so much in your short life.  And you were only just beginning.  I can’t help but wonder what you would have accomplished if you were given the 80+ years on this planet that you should have had.  There were so many dreams and plans that you had for yourself and for our family.  Dreams that will be unfulfilled.

I am still trying to make sense of what happened and trying to accept that I will probably never make sense of it.  Why this had to happen?   We think we control our lives but at the end of the day, we can only control so much.  We just have to do the best with what we have at any given time. I am trying to accept that all of this had to happen for some reason but I don’t know what that reason is.  Whatever that reason is, it is just hard to accept that you had to die for it.  

I am sad because you are gone.  But also because I am starting to get used to you being gone.  Every time I throw something away, even if it is something like your holey socks, that is another piece of you that is gone.  But I know I can’t keep your holey socks around.  My emotions feel less raw but they are still there.  At times I feel like I can more forward, without you here.  This makes me feel guilty.  You are supposed to be here with me.  I didn’t plan on having to go it alone at this stage of my life.  We were supposed to be forever and always.  I thought I was going to spend the rest of my life with you and that is not going to happen but I get a little comfort knowing that you spent “the rest of your life” with me.  

Getting pretty for him…one last time.

Wed-Thurs

August 24-25, 2016

It was late August and Bryon had been sick since March and I clearly had ignored my appearance.  I hadn’t worn makeup during that time.  My nails were bitten off due to the stress and I don’t want to think about how many gray hairs I had.  There were several instances over the course of Bryon’s five month stay in the ICU where he came very close to dying and I was too afraid to leave his side and went days without showering and I would wear the same clothes for days. Before this health crisis, I never would have dreamed of going more than 24 hours without showering or wearing dirty clothes but I learned that showering and clean clothes were actually optional.

Amidst planning Bryon’s funeral/farewell party, I realized that I needed to do something about my appearance.  I was talking to my good friend (and daughter’s godmother) and we both agreed that I shouldn’t look like a tired widow and that Bryon would actually be hurt if I didn’t get all prettied up for him and his farewell party.

My hair needed the most help but I was dreading going to the salon I had been going to.  Normally I don’t mind small talk but the last thing I wanted was to have to talk to the hairstylists.  I hadn’t been to salon in awhile and I know I would be asked about what was going on in my life.  I did not want to talk about how my husband died.  I shared these concerns with my friend and she told me not to worry.  She said she would call her salon and get me an appointment with the instructions to just do my hair.  The owner of the salon did my hair and she did talk to me but did not bring up Bryon’s death.  We chatted about how we knew mutual friends and we talked about our kids.

I decided to get acrylics put on my nails even though I hate them because Bryon liked my nails long.  He didn’t care if my nails are real or fake, he just liked them long.  But I honestly can’t tell you which nail salon I went to.  I have no recollection of getting my nails done but I know I had them done.  Perhaps “widow fog” (it’s a real thing, similar to “pregnancy brain”) was beginning to set in.  Keep in mind, I can remember the conversation I had with the nail tech that did my nails for my cousins wedding in Florida in 2004.  I can tell you about the conversation I had with the nail tech who did my mani-pedi in New Orleans in 2014.  But I can’t tell you which salon I went to the week Bryon died.  I just know that I got my nails done and that they didn’t do a good job because they started popping off a day or two later.

I needed something to wear for the wake and the funeral.  I had a few tired black dresses in my closet that I have worn to countless weddings and they would have worked but I felt that these events deserved their own specific event dresses.  It was weird to buy a dress for Bryon’s funeral without Bryon there.  Bryon was a “guy’s guy” but he was a stylish dresser and many times he would find clothes for me try on.  I preferred shopping with him over anyone else.  He knew my style better than I did and he was honest about how items fit.  I always valued his input.  But I was going to have to do this one alone.

I began my search at a store that is local to us in Upstate NY called Boscov’s.  For some reason I usually have good luck in that store.  I don’t know if Bryon was guiding me but I made my way straight to a rack that had black dresses with white polka dots.  Bryon always liked me in polka dots though they were my thing long before he came into my life.  I decided that I could wear this dress for the wake but I needed something more somber for the funeral.  Something that was solid black.  I did not see anything else at Boscov’s so I made my purchase and then head over to my other “tried-and-true” shopping options- Macy’s.

At Macy’s I selected a few dresses to try on but as I passed the clearance rack on the way to the fitting room, a black dress caught my eye.  It was my size to I grabbed that one as well.  I went into the fitting room and tried on my choices but they didn’t work.  I tried on the clearance dress and it fit perfectly.  This was the dress.

As I looked in the mirror, I had another “punched in the stomach” moment.  I realized that this would be last dress I would buy to wear for Bryon.   This was it.  He was dead.  There would be no more dresses.  No  more celebrations.  No more anniversaries.  No more weddings. No more fancy dinners.  No more formal nights on cruises.  This would be the last time I would get pretty for Bryon.  I cried in the fitting room.

Before I purchased my dress, I went to the toddler section because my daughter needed dresses.  My mother had bought a white dress with black polka dots that she had seen in passing knowing how much I liked polka dots.  But we needed at least two dresses, preferably three because I wanted an extra dress in case one got dirty.  It was a little hard to find a mourning dress in the little girls section but I found two black and white dresses that would work.

The last thing I needed to look pretty for Bryon’s funeral was makeup.  I hadn’t worn makeup in over five months and I couldn’t remember the last time I bought makeup before that.  So I went to the Mac counter within Macy’s.  I must have had a blank stare on my face because the makeup artist came over and asked me if he could help me with anything.  I just blurted out “my husband’s funeral is on Saturday and I don’t want to look like a tired old widow.”  He was sympathetic, sat me down and got to work picking out some simple makeup.  He said that we should skip the mascara and I agreed.  I bought the makeup and I was ready to go.  Bring on the wake and the funeral.

The first few hours after

Sunday, August 21, 2016

8:35 am

My husband had just been declared dead.  I quietly sat in a chair on his right while the doctors were finishing up.  Our friend (and Godmother to our daughter and like a sister to me) was sitting on another chair in the corner of the room.  We were told to go to the waiting room so they could clean him up.  We could come back and see him before they take him to the morgue.  My friend and I went out to the waiting room where her significant other was waiting.  We knew we had to let people know about my husband’s death.  My husband worked in politics so my friends made sure that the proper people knew of his death.  I decided to make calls to my family and friends.  I wanted to make sure everyone close to us knew before the news of his death started to appear on Facebook.

My first call was to my father.  It was his birthday.  I had made sure to wish him a happy birthday on his Facebook wall at midnight because I knew my first call of the day to him was going to be telling him that Bryon was dead and I wanted to say happy birthday before he got that news.  I had asked my father to call our relatives so they knew.

I called our close friends.   Every call started the same, almost as if I was a robot.  “Hi, it’s me. I was calling to let you know that Bryon passed away this morning.”  Almost everyone, if not everyone, started to cry or seemed shocked.  Bryon came close to dying many times in those five months but always seemed to bounced back.  I think everyone wanted to believe that he was going to bounce back.  I know I did.  I continued to make each phone call in a robotic manner.

I was surprised at how easy it was to make phone calls but I know now that I was in some form of shock. Before my husband died, I always thought that being in shock was a mental state where one couldn’t function at all and that there was some level of not believing the current situation.  At the time, I did not think I was actually in shock.  I was functioning.  I fully understood that his body just couldn’t take it anymore.  It had been a long five months and I had been staring at all his numbers on the monitor.  I knew from the numbers he had over the previous three days that he wasn’t going to bounce back.  For five months, I knew that this was a possible outcome and I thought I was prepared for it, but you are never truly prepared for it.

After the nurse cleaned him up, I was allowed to go back to his room.  As I walked into his room, I was taken aback at how still and quiet it was.  The beeping machines that had been working and monitoring his vitals had been shut off.  They were no longer needed.  After 5 months, Bryon finally looked like he was at peace.  I sat to the left of him and just looked at him.

My friend and I decided to say a Hail Mary.  We cried through it.  Then the priest came by.  A member of the pastoral care staff had tried to contact him while he was saying morning Mass and the priest scolded me for the interruption.  I remember saying “I am sorry my husband didn’t die at a more convenient time.  I did not know you were saying Mass and I really could do without the attitude right about now.”  I have never snapped at a priest like that before.  Let’s hope my grandmother never finds out that I talked to a priest like that.

Earlier that morning when the nurse sent me out of the room to clean him up, I thought I wouldn’t need to come back. I had just spent the last 3 days sitting in his room as I watched him actively die.  The death felt so final.  I didn’t think I needed any extra time but when I went into the room, I found that I needed to just look at him.  I remember thinking about how I was never going to kiss him again or feel his embrace.  I was never going to hear him tell a funny story.  He had been a person that was so full of life and now he was gone.  I didn’t want to leave him.  The next time I would be seeing him, he would be in a casket.

His nurse was waiting for hospital transportation to come and take him to the morgue.  I began to feel anxious.  What if the transporters don’t arrive?  What if his body gets lost?  I felt like I needed to stay there to make sure he got moved to the morgue.  I had spent the past five months monitoring his care and needs.  Was his test done?  What were the results? Has the specialist seen him?  Did he get his medicine?  Does he want to change the channel on the TV?  For the past five months, I had to have my cell phone fully charged and by my side.  One time I dropped my daughter off at daycare and I had left my phone in car and had a panic attack when I got back to the car and I had realized that I had left my phone there.  What if something happened to Bryon and they were trying to get ahold of me?   I came to the realization that it was just his body. The life was gone from his body and he no longer needed me to monitor every move.  It was time for me to go back to Albany. It was time to go home and see my daughter.  It was time for me to go home and plan his funeral.

As I walked out of the ICU, I stopped by the team of his doctors who were rounding on another patient.  They all stopped when I approached and just looked at me sympathetically.  I thanked them for taking care of my husband and told them that I knew they did everything they could.

It was late morning when I walked out of the hospital like I had every day for the past 5 months.  The only difference was this time I was walking out of the hospital for the last time.  And it was without him.