Five years

5 years ago I woke up from a sleepless night.  I think I slept from 4:00 until 5:30.  I was too excited to sleep.  This day was going to be the first day of our happily ever after.

This was one of the happiest days of my life.  The other being when our daughter was born.  However, I think it is worth noting that I looked a lot better and felt a lot better on the day we got married as opposed to the day we became parents.

The weather was cool and a little dreary.  Father Mullen, the priest who had married us, had referred to it as a “soft Irish morning.”

I spent the morning in our bridal suite getting ready with my bridesmaids. My hairstylist said I was the calmest bride that she ever had.  The nerves didn’t hit me until it was time to board the trolley to the church.  It wasn’t nerves about getting married, just nerves that everything was going to go perfectly.

You spent the morning watching soccer at the Biergarten with some of the groomsman. You drank “das boot” even though I told you not to.

You always did what you wanted to do.

We had our whole lives together.

We bought our starter house.  Our daughter was born.  We bought a family car.  We made progress in our careers (you more than me).  We went on 5 cruises.

But our happily ever after only lasted 1422 days.  

151 of those days I was upholding my vow “to be true to you in sickness and in health.”

And now it is our fifth wedding anniversary and you are dead.

This wasn’t how it was supposed to happen.  We were supposed to grow old together.  We were supposed to have at least two kids.  We were going to buy a bigger house and take many more cruises. We were supposed to go to San Diego.  And Scotland.  And London.   And Branson, Missouri.  (I still don’t understand that one.  But I will make it there someday).

You were supposed to walk our daughter down the aisle.  You were supposed to hold your grandchildren.

You wanted to be an adjunct college professor and write a book on election law.

You weren’t ready to die.  You were taken too soon.

And I am here, still reeling from everything that happened.  The other morning, I drove to the cemetery and I wept.  My whole body was shaking and I was gasping for air.  I have never cried so hard where it affected me physically.  I just kept saying “Why?  Why?  Why?”   

404 days later and I am still asking why you have to die?

Maybe I will never know.

For the past 404 days I have thought about the 151 days you spent in the hospital, 149 of them in the ICU.

Every one of those 404 days, I have thought about what happened, how the events unfolded.

For 404 days, I have beat myself up which is ridiculous because I had no control over the situation.  That was up to God and the medical staff, both of which failed you.

For 404 days, I have felt empty.  An emptiness that felt like a deafening silence that echoed through my body.  The emptiness is both physical and emotional.  Your side of the bed is empty and you are not there to hear my stories.  

You were aware the whole time you were in hospital and I have no idea what was going through your mind.  The other morning I was driving and listening to some morning talk show.  The hosts were discussing the song “Seasons in the Sun” and of course I lost it when I heard “It’s so hard to die, when all the birds are singing in the sky”. Because you weren’t able to talk, I have no idea what was going through your mind before you died.  Or even if you knew you were dying.

One of the hardest parts about your death was that we didn’t get to talk about it.  You went from having back pain to being intubated in a matter of hours.  For the following 149 days, you could not speak.  You were my best friend and we talked about everything but we couldn’t talk about how sick you were or that you may be dying.  

We didn’t get any closure.  

Wherever you are right now and in whatever form you are, I am sure you understand what happened.  But for me, on Earth and in human form, I struggle to make sense of it.

You left me with amazing friends.  They are now my family, but unfortunately it took your illness and death for us to realize what we meant to each other.

I am so much stronger than I ever thought I could be.  When you were sick, I looked forward to when you were better.  I was hoping that you would be proud of me.  But you died before you got to see that.

At your funeral, your best friend gave your eulogy.  He said we were the lucky ones because we got to know you.  In some ways, I must have been the luckiest one of all.  You chose me to be by my side.  

You made such a big difference in my life.  You taught me so much.  You taught me my worth.  You believed in me and gave me confidence.  You told me I was beautiful.  One of my biggest regrets is not believing you.  I couldn’t just let you think I was beautiful.  I made it hard for you to love me.  I didn’t appreciate you. These things will always haunt me.

Our daughter was robbed because she was only 18 months when you went into the ICU and you left us a month before she turned 2.  But I am grateful that you left so many friends who love her. It makes my heart hurt to know what you won’t be taking her to any Father-Daughter dances, but you left many friends who would step up and take her.  I hesitate to use this analogy because I know how you feel about Hillary Clinton, but our daughter truly has a village.  That is one of your legacies to her.

I was talking to a friend of ours the other day.  I said that I wished you were here to weigh in on a problem one of us was having.  Because you would know how to handle it.  You knew how to handle everything.  I still need your advice.  Our friend said that while you were not here, at least you gave us a lot of advice when you were here that we can use.

But it is not the same.

Grieving your death has been exhausting.  Even though 404 days have passed, I still miss you so much that I literally feel physical pain.  I miss you so much that it literally takes my breath away.  I still go through the motions of life and I still feel dead inside.  

I still have moments where I curl up in the fetal position and I cry my eyes out.

I am in a weird place because sometimes I wonder when it won’t hurt so much.  But then I get scared.  I know that in order to get to the point where it doesn’t hurt so bad means that I have to let go to a certain extent.  The thought of letting go brings on those feelings of pain.  

Sheryl Sandberg says there is a one line Jewish prayer that states “Let me not die while I am still living.”  

I am trying.  Some days I do okay.  Other days I feel like I can barely stay afloat.  Some days I feel like I am drowning.

But I know deep down that I need to live again.  When I think about all that you had given me in our short time together, I owe it to you to try to make my remaining days on Earth matter.  

I just wish it didn’t hurt so much.

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Six dreams about my dead husband

I have had six dreams about Bryon since he passed away.  At least, six dreams that I have remembered.

The first dream was the night of my daughters second birthday party.  He looked normal and not sick.  He was wearing his navy sweater vest and a tie and his hair was combed back, off of his face.  (It always annoyed me when his hair got long, but I never nagged him because that would only strengthen his resolve to keep it long.  But I would tell him that he was no Tom Brady.)  We just stood there, several feet apart from each other, looking at each other.  I said “Hi Handsome” and he said “Hello Beautiful.”

The second dream was within the first couple of months.  He was sick, in the hospital and I was sitting next to him, waiting for him to die.  Then he burst out laughing.

The third dream was also within in those first couple of months.  I was in a dangerous situation.  Luckily, Bryon shows up in a car.  I had been waiting for him and while I was relieved he had showed up, I told him about all the bad things that almost just happened to me.

The fourth dream happened about 9 months after he passed.  I was at a Republican convention that was covering the Northeast.  I was sitting at a table on a patio with a group of  friends, but I only recognized two people.  One of them was my daughters Godmother.  I guess they were having presentations from different states and I hear that Maine’s presentation was about to begin in the auditorium and I begin to make my way over.  I wanted to see Senator Collins.  On my way, I get distracted by a stairwell.  Bryon is standing on a landing half way down the stairs.  He has lost a lot of weight and he is wearing a beige suit with an orange tie.  It was an interesting color combination.  We stop and just look at each other and smile.  We don’t talk.  We don’t get close to each other.

When I woke up, I remembered about the time we met.  It was during the Northeast Caucus of the Fall 2006 Young Republican National Federation Meeting in Louisville, Kentucky.   The room was filled with a large New York delegation and I was the lone Maine representative.  I was trying to give my report on Maine and there was a New Yorker who kept interrupting me.  That was my first impression of Bryon.  Bryon always maintained that no one in the room cared about what was going on in Maine.  So after that dream, I just thought something along the lines of “of course he would interrupt me on the way to a Maine presentation.”

The fifth dream was three nights ago.   We were with a group of friends, but we were living separate lives and we were okay with that.  It was bizarre.  There was a lot more to it, but my daughter had woken me up and I didn’t get to think about the dream before I forgot most of it.

The sixth dream happened yesterday.  My daughter and I didn’t go anywhere.  It was one of those days where just existing had been too exhausting.  They still happen.  My daughter goes to take a nap. I knew I should be cleaning since her birthday is this week.  But instead, I sit on the couch and watch Pioneer Woman.  Three different chocolate desserts and cheesy corn chowder.  I fell asleep.  What can I say?  I caught onto the “sleep when the baby sleeps” about three years too late.

This sixth dream was really weird.  I am aware that Bryon is dead.  And then Bryon is there and he is alive and he tells me we need to do drop campaign literature in the next town over. Now if Bryon were to return from the dead, I really hope he doesn’t want our first date post resurrection to be dropping campaign literature but in the dream, I am okay with it.

So in the dream, we are on our way to meet up with the campaign and it dawns on me-  how can I be with Bryon right now?  He’s dead.  I was then confused, not knowing if Bryon was dead or not.  But I didn’t get to sort it out in the dream because my daughter woke me up.

 

 

I so wanted him to be a motivational speaker

 

Written on my Facebook wall one year ago.

Names have been edited out.

Last night when I went to sleep on the little couch in Bryon’s room, I wasn’t sure he was going to make it through the night. He did but he was in rough shape. Then I wasn’t sure he was going to make it through the day. But Bryon is a fighter. I don’t know what the outcome is going to be but we all know that Bryon isn’t going down without a fight and he is going to give his all. This morning I told him that if he still had fight in him to please keep fighting. I want our daughter to grow up knowing firsthand how amazing her father is. But I told Bryon that I would love him no matter what even if he couldn’t win this fight. And thank God he is still fighting.

Bryon’s current health status is very critical at this point and we are pretty much back where we started. It was a miracle that kept him alive back in March and I don’t know if double miracles happen. However his labs and blood pressure have improved since this morning. But my friend says if the double miracle does happen it will be awesome because Bryon can become a motivational speaker and he would be funny.

 

*  *  *

The minutes crept at an unnaturally slow pace.

I will never forget how I felt as he clung onto his life.

Desperation.  Exhaustion. Frustration.  Helplessness.  Hopefulness.  Anger.  Betrayal. Gratitude.

And love.

 

 

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.

Nine months

Today I had the honor to write a guest post on Mohamad’s Around the World series. It was a lot of fun to write about New York’s Capital District.  You can check it out here.  

And if you are visiting here from Mohamad’s blog, I just want to say welcome and I hope you stay awhile!

*  *  *

Bryon has been gone for nine months. The world is moving on without him and each day the world moves on, I feel a little bit more alone in my grief.  Widowhood is emotionally lonely even if you aren’t physically lonely.

I barely noticed Spring and Summer last year because I was sitting in the ICU with him. This year I am determined to enjoy Spring and Summer but when I sit on the front deck with our daughter, his absence is pronounced.

I miss him when I see other couples.  I am no longer whole. He was my other half and he has been ripped away along with my dreams and my future.  I don’t know why everyone else gets to be happy except me.

I work so hard at trying to stay positive and strong.  I know it’s what he would have wanted.  But sometimes I have to pretend I am positive and strong.  It’s what people have come to expect and I feel like they don’t want to know the truth.  And it can be exhausting.

No matter how much people try to understand, there is always some level of disconnect. People don’t understand how something as simple as a song can trigger sadness.

Sometimes I get tired of having to explain why certain things make me sad.

Sometimes I wish people would let me just be sad without making suggestions on how to fix my sad mood.  My husband is dead.  Why can’t I just be sad?  I’ve accepted that my sadness is now a part of who I am and why can’t people just accept that it is a part of me now?

I get tired of having to listen to platitudes and insensitive remarks.  I know people mean well but sometimes I get tired of the fact that it gets put on me that I have to accept that this is just how people are.  Why can’t it be other peoples responsibility to think before they speak and be a little bit more sensitive?  Is it really that hard?  Or am I really just expecting too much?

People seem to only like to hear about my grief when it’s empowering and inspiring.  The negative emotions of my grief make people uncomfortable and I get tired of feeling like I have to apologize for my emotions.  I envy those people because I wish I lived in a world where talk about grief makes me uncomfortable and I can avoid it.  I can’t avoid grief.  It’s my life.

I hate the fact that some days, I am almost used to Bryon being gone.  Each day that passes, he slips a little further away.   

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.

Rest in Peace Rev. Malcolm Stephens

You are probably wondering “Who is Malcolm Stephens?’’

I was asking myself that very question the other night.

I was looking at my Facebook newsfeed and there was a post from Malcolm Stephens. It was actually written by his wife and it was stating that he had passed away unexpectedly and that the funeral service will be Saturday.  This immediately grabs my attention because widowhood gives you a sick fascination with death.

He was a Facebook friend of mine and yet I had no idea who he was.  The fact that I didn’t know how I knew him didn’t concern me.  I have a lot of Facebook friends I don’t really know.  A lot of people had sent me friend requests when Bryon got sick and I assumed he was a friend of Bryon’s.

I clicked on Rev. Stephen’s facebook profile looking for clues as to how Bryon knew him.  Our mutual friends would reveal how he knew Bryon.  I would learn if they were connected through politics, or college, or law school, or the Masons based on mutual friends.  But Bryon was our only mutual friend.  I could see that Rev. Stephens was the minister of an African Methodist Episcopal church and that he lived in Atlanta, GA.  We are Catholic from New York so I have no idea how their paths crossed.

I message my daughter’s Godmother to tell her about this.  She could not place Rev. Stephens name and she knows a lot of people too.  We both discussed how Bryon knew so many people.  We pondered a few possibilities but we were still stumped.

Now it was starting to bother me.  How did Bryon know Malcolm Stephens?  Did they meet on an on cruise or on an internet cruise forum?  Did they meet on a train?  At a conference?  I looked through Bryon’s Facebook for clues.  Looked at the “see friendship” option and there were only brief but sincere messages of friendship between the two.  I still couldn’t figure it out.

Then I investigate Rev. Stephen’s on my own Facebook.  We had become friends when Bryon got sick.  Turned out he messaged me twice and I never responded to either.  First was in April and in that message he explained to me that he was Bryon’s manager when he worked at Disney.  That explained it.  The second message was in August when Bryon was in NYC.  Rev. Stephens told me that his sister who lived in NYC would like to stop in and pray with him.  And for whatever reason, I never responded.  I know I was overwhelmed, but was I that overwhelmed?

I cried.  I cried for his wife, his family and his community.  This man was clearly a caring man and he had touched many lives.

I cried because I started thinking about how this past spring he was worried about his friend and all he really had was my facebook status updates.  I was too overwhelmed to answer texts and facebook messages.  Among our close friends, they had created their own hierarchy of information.  His best friend would communicate with his college friends, another friend communicated with his political contacts.  But unfortunately I did not delegate anyone to be a contact for people Bryon knew that did not fit into one of this many groups.

I cried because I thought about all the lives that Bryon had touched.  So many that even I, his other half and best friend did not know to what extent that Bryon’s touched people.

I cried because I thought that even if they hadn’t seen each other in ten years, they probably had already met up, two old friends in Heaven.

I am beginning to think that Bryon touched so many lives that there was no way that the average person could process all his friendships.  Whenever I take those psychology tests online, my results are either introvert or ambivert (which means I fall exactly in the middle of the introvert-extrovert scale).  I like the company of others but it does wear me out.  If I seem like I am outgoing, it is because I worked hard to develop those social skills.  Being outgoing doesn’t come naturally to me.  Bryon, as we know, was an extreme extrovert and I still am amazed at how many friends he had. I have no idea how he managed to keep all these friendships alive because he spent so much time with my daughter and me and he was always focused on us.  I never felt cheated or like I was second place.  He also got a full nights sleep every night.  I truly have no idea how he did it.  It was like he had a superpower.

Rest in Peace, Rev Malcolm Stephens.  I am sorry I didn’t know you but if you were friend of Bryon’s, you must have been a good person.