Why I don’t play the “what if” game (4-minute read)

My husband, Bryon passed away in 2016.

His illness had come as a shock.  His body went into shock and he almost died at the beginning but he survived.

He did have an uphill battle ahead of him.  He spent 5 months in the ICU fighting for his life.

I knew death was a potential outcome but I really thought he was going to make it through.  But it didn’t work out that way.

After Bryon died, my mind tried to make sense of what had just happened.

I was trying to figure out what my “new normal” was.

As I was trying to figure out my new life, I kept comparing it to my old life.  My old life was the only point of reference I knew.

And every time I would have to make any sort of decision, I would imagine what Bryon would think of the situation.  After all, we spent almost every day together for the past 8 years and he wasn’t only my spouse.  He was my best friend.  We talked about everything.

Bryon was on my mind a lot.

 

While one is never free of grief, the emotions usually ease up over time.  Some say time heals all wounds.  I don’t discount that theory but I think that the easing of emotions over time can be attributed to the fact that you begin to get used to them being gone.

But in those early days, I was wondering what the *bleep* had just happened to my life.

I found myself wondering what if Bryon were still alive.  What would he say?  What would he do?  What would our life be like?

I would watch our TV shows and wonder what he’d think of the plotline.  Or how hard he’d laugh at one of the jokes.

As the Election of 2016 unfolded, I wondered what he would have thought of it all.

In the beginning, it was easy to bridge the gap from “new life” to “old life”.  I was in our house with our daughter (who was still a toddler) and our cat and I was among all our belongings.  Our friends were around.  I was essentially living our life…without him.

It was very easy to slip back into the past, even if it was only in my mind.

But over time, things began to change.

My daughter got older.  Even though my role as a mother changed when I went from co-parent to solo parent, my role as a mother changed as I observed my toddler turning into a pre-schooler.

I started to give away and donate items of his that I didn’t need or want.  Though this was a lengthy process as Bryon saved everything and there was a lot of sentiment attached to his possessions.

I got a new job where I could work from home.  If he was still alive, I couldn’t work from home.  He sometimes worked from home and he joked that we couldn’t both work from home.

Many friends drifted away.  I also learned that many of “our friends” were really just his friends and those friendships crumbled.

Over time, my home stopped feeling like home.  I began to feel as alien in New York then as I did when I moved there in 2009.

I realized “our life” no longer existed and that I was fooling myself thinking I could reconstruct a life out of the remnants of “our old life”.

I changed.  I grew.  I am not the same person I was.

My life has been a revolving door of change.

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Change has been the only constant.

I had to grieve the life I once knew.

But now my life path has meandered.  It is a lot harder to think “If Bryon was here…” because if Bryon were alive, I wouldn’t be where I was.

I know Bryon is always with me in that esoteric kind of way but I am very removed from the life we had.

I can’t wonder “what if” anymore.

The only thing wondering “what if” will accomplish is denying me happiness in my current life.

I can’t move forward if I am constantly looking back.

It doesn’t mean that I can’t appreciate our memories.

It doesn’t mean that I can’t cry when I miss him or that I can’t laugh when I think of a funny memory.

It doesn’t mean that I have to stop loving him.

I know that wherever Bryon is, he would want me to be happy.

After everything I have been through, the least I can do is let myself be happy.

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Weekly Gratitude #10: Three Years

Today is my blog’s birthday.

I started this blog as a way to process and cope with all the emotions I was feelings 5 months post-loss.  I was starting to “wake up” from the grief fog and I felt the need to share my emotions as I have noticed a dearth of information to help young widows.  I wanted my information out there so if another widow stumbled across it, they would know that they were not alone.

I also felt the need to share my story because I wanted others to understand the emotions that a widowed person felt, at least from my perspective.  After all, that is the only perspective I can honestly offer.

So much has changed since that time.

At that time I was somewhere between existing and surviving.

Now I am a survivor and on some days, I might even consider myself to be thriving.

Some locations in my story have changed.

Some characters in my story are the same, but some characters are different. I don’t doubt that all the characters in my life are there (or have been there) for a reason.

When I started this blog, my daughter was a toddler.  Now she is a kindergartener.

As I reread some of my earlier blog posts, I feel that strange dichotomy that widows feel.  The dichotomy where my old life and my old self feel current and they exist alongside my new life and new self.

My last two sentences of my first blog post really hit me hard.

“A part of me died with him that morning.  This is the story of the part of me that is still living.”

At that point in time, my soul was completely fractured.  I felt like an empty shell of who I was and I had no clue how I was going to move forward.

Now it is three years later.  I have survived.  I have grown.

Yes, a part of me may have died the same morning Bryon did but the part of me that is still living has forged ahead.

She has grown back into a whole, albeit different, person.

I want to thank all of you who have been a part of this ride.  As I said the other day, nothing ever lasts forever.  But I appreciate all of you who continue to travel this journey with me.

Weekly Gratitude #5: When grief turns into joy

The holidays are in full swing around here.

Last week we attended the Christmas Tree lighting in the next town over.  We had missed our towns tree lighting due to it being on the same night as gymnastics and swim.

There were crafts and treats and even a visit with Santa.

 

We saw the Grinch as performed by the Frogtown Puppeteers at our local (and historic) theater.

My daughter was in our local holiday parade with her Girl Scout Troop.

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We went to the Downeast Festival of Trees.  I had never been before.  I learned that the trees all have prizes and you put raffle tickets in the buckets of the trees you wanted.  My daughter took my tickets and put them into the buckets of all the trees with toys.

She also saw Santa again and told him she wanted a Barbie.  Because the 30ish she has now isn’t enough.

On Sunday my daughter’s Girl Scout Troop took part in the Wreaths Across America Ceremony.  My father, Local and District VFW Commander was a part of the ceremony.

This week we also had my daughter’s first school Holiday concert.  I am bummed out the Prime Minister didn’t attend but I guess he’s busy with the elections in UK that are wrapping up as I am typing this.  I am also disappointed that I didn’t get to dress her up as a Christmas Lobster.

(Bonus points if you got the Love Actually Reference)

The excitement isn’t ending any time soon.

But this week it dawned on me.

I spend so much time thinking about Bryon isn’t here to see our daughter grow up.

I don’t think about what a blessing it is that I get to our daughter grow up.

It doesn’t mean that it isn’t sad that Bryon isn’t here.

We will never forget him.  Never.

I will always think about the fact that he is missing whatever milestone we are celebrating or what fun event we are doing.

But maybe it’s okay to stop dwelling on it so much.

My daughter and I have many years ahead of us.  Years filled with busy, hectic weekends.

My daughter’s joy has always been my biggest priority.

My second priority has been thinking about Bryon, being sad and dwelling on his death and absence.

And my happiness comes last.

But maybe it’s time to swap the second and third.  It’s a hard thing to admit but being sad all the time is exhausting.

And I can’t believe that Bryon would want that.

My daughter and I are still living on this Earth and it is time to embrace life for what it is and enjoy it.

Weekly Gratitude #4: Luckiest Girl in the World

This morning I looked out at the ocean and I felt like luckiest girl in the world.

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I can think of a million reasons why I am not the luckiest girl in the world.  I have definitely had my share of bad luck.

But this morning as I looked out at the ocean, drinking my peppermint bark iced coffee, I feel like the luckiest girl in the world.

Maybe it is because I am still here.   I survived.

Maybe it is because I have an awesome daughter and I enjoy all the time I spend with here.  Even if she does try to push my buttons sometimes.

Maybe it is because I live in such a beautiful place with four very distinct seasons.  I see the cycle of life every year.

Maybe it’s because of the peppermint bark iced coffee.  It is the Christmas Season after all.

For ever reason I can think of that I am unlucky, I can think of another reason for which I am lucky.  It is just about what perspective you choose to take.

 

Survivor’s guilt and forgiveness

I have been on this planet for 41 and a quarter years.

I have had lots of experiences throughout my life.  I have had the opportunity of education in two very different areas of study.  If you told 18-year-old Kerry that she would go back to school in her thirties and take classes such as “Anatomy and Physiology,” “Pharmacology”  and “Pathophysiology”, she probably would have laughed at you.

Though truthfully, 18-year-old Kerry did not know what pathophysiology was, so she would not have had any business laughing at you.

(Pathophysiology is basically the functional changes a body has to an illness.)

I have been lucky to have had met some great people and have traveled to some great places.

I ate some fancy dinners and listened to some very important people talk.

The dinners themselves were not that interesting.  It was almost always some form of chicken.

I have been lucky to have a career and own a home.

And most importantly, I have experienced love within marriage and motherhood.

I know I often lament about how I did not realize how great my life was during those years.

My life was great during those years.  And I should cut myself slack for not appreciating it.

Because that was Before.

Before IT all happened.

Before my life changed forever.

That version of myself stopped existing on March 23, 2016.

But after I lost everything- after I hit my rock bottom- it was impossible not to think about my years with Bryon and regret that I did not make the most of those years.

I took him, our marriage and our love for granted.

And I took our future for granted.  We were supposed to grow old together.

But we all know that life had other plans.  The proverbial curve ball.

True to my Boston-Irish-Catholic upbringing, guilt is one of the few emotions that my upbringing taught me that it was okay to express (anger and restrained amusement are okay too).

The first place my mind went was that Bryon’s death was some sort of punishment.

God was clearly punishing me for something.

Either that or he was punishing my daughter.  She wasn’t even two at that point, so I really don’t think she could have committed an infraction so bad that it would warrant losing her father.

I could write another whole post on my thoughts on God so I will save that for another time.

For another time when I feel like being preached at….

So God, or the Universe, or Whoever is in charge decided that Bryon’s life was over.

And my mind immediately starts searching for any reason that it could have happened.

Because Bryon dying did not make sense.

So I turned inward and figured this must have been some sort of punishment from God for something I did.

Who knows, maybe I did something in a past life to deserve this because I really do try to be a good person.

To this day, I will never understand why Bryon had to die.

I have accepted that I will probably never know that answer.

Maye God is just cruel.

Why do some people get to live long lives and why do some people have to die young?

But one thing I can tell you with all certainty is that survivor’s guilt is real.

I once heard that survivor’s guilt is your psyche’s way of trying to assume control in a situation where you did not have any control.

That makes sense to me.  When Bryon was sick, I never felt so helpless in my life.  All I could do was wait and hope for the best.  Luckily we had visitors but there was a lot of time where I read some fluffy books, said some rosaries and I organized all my pinterest boards.

For years, I beat myself up for taking Bryon for granted.  Maybe if I appreciated him more, he wouldn’t have had to die.

But it wasn’t until recently that I decided to cut “Before Kerry” some slack.

I have suffered from survivors guilt for over three years and I realize that it is time that I have to forgive myself.

There was no way I could have known.

I had a husband who loved me very much.  Sure we could argue.  We were two people who both had Mercury in Leo.  But we loved each other fiercely.

Frankly, there were times Bryon took me for granted too.

Our love and our bond was strong.  There was enough trust for us to be able to take each other for granted.

Isn’t this what life is supposed to be about- taking what we learn from life’s difficult moments and use them to be a better person.

I don’t recommend taking people for granted.

But “Before Kerry” was doing the best she could with what she knew at the time.

Aren’t we all just trying to do our best?

I remember one day just feeling completely beside myself.  Bryon couldn’t speak because he was on a trach.  I remember saying to him, out of complete desperation, that I wish I could have switched places with him.  As if that was even an option.  It wasn’t an option but yet it seemed like the best option.  He just looked at me and shook his head no.

I know he wouldn’t want me to feel this way.

I need to forgive myself so I can move forward.

Homeostasis

Have you ever had an event that kicked you on your ass?

Or at the very least, knocked you off-balance a bit? It could be a death of a loved one, a divorce or breakup or a job loss.

You may find yourself in a situation where you want to do whatever you can to get back to “normal.”


There is actually a scientific process that describes this.

Homeostasis

Ho * me * o * sta * sis /noun/ the tendency toward a relatively stable equilibrium between interdependent elements, especially as maintained by physiological process.

I had never heard of the concept of homeostasis until Spring of 2009. I had gone back to school for Health Information Technology and had to take the required Anatomy and Physiology courses. I had spent my 20s underemployed and I started working in a billing office at a local hospital. One of my bosses (and mentors) recommended I go back to school so I could advance my career.

So there I was, looking at an online bulletin board trying to come up with 3 discussion posts on Homeostasis.


After that course concluded, I did not think about homeostasis for a very long time.

Not for another 7 years and three months.

I remember seeing Bryon, critically ill and clinging to his life. Despite unfathomable injury and illness, I could see his body trying to heal.


Even in his fragile state, his body was trying it’s hardest to achieve homeostasis. Of course we know his body was not successful in that feat.


After Bryon died, I looked at the shattered remains of what had been my life and wondered what I needed to do to put those pieces together.


I desperately wanted my life to achieve a state of homeostasis.


Of course, my primary identity was that of wife and mother and without Bryon, homeostasis would not be possible.


I wondered what I needed to do to achieve homeostasis. This seems ridiculous to look back on because my life was in shambles.

At that time, I felt that homeostasis involved being a wife so I figured that after an acceptable amount of time, I would find the next love of my life.

This works for some people but raw, profound grief takes a lot out of you and takes longer than expected.

I was a mess for awhile and I believe that like attracts like so I didn’t want to attract a mess.


I was looking at my Facebook memories the other day. There was a memory from 2017 where I said that when I feel in love again that I wanted it to be at Christmas. While I would love for my life to be a Hallmark movie, it dawned on me that as time goes by, I believe in love a little less each day. But that’s another blog post for another time.

Bryon was my rock and he grounded me.

Bryon had a way of sizing up a situation and making sure things were okay.


If I were upset with people, Bryon would remind me that I was overestimating people and their intelligence and/or loyalty. Sometimes he said things people didn’t like to hear. At times I could find him harsh but he was usually correct. I miss his insight and his loyalty to me, our daughter and those closest to him.


So how could I stabilize my life when my rock was gone?


I am working towards it by making necessary life changes, removing toxic people from my life and doing inner work.


I have often reflected what Bryon would think about many situations going on from political scandals and other news as well as the shenanigans of people we knew.


It dawned on me recently that Bryon was the grounding force for many people. Many people sought his advice.


And it’s no wonder that in some circles I was in, things became off. Everyone is knocked off balance. Bryon isn’t here to ground things. To knock sense into people.


And most of us are probably going through life trying to achieve the elusive state of homeostasis.


But while we physically can achieve homeostasis (and even that is questionable because our bodies are always aging), we are not designed to achieve homeostasis in our psyche.

Our minds and hearts are meant to be expanding. We should be living our lives outside our comfort zones. We should be learning and growing.

True homeostasis is not possible.


So if you are struggling, remember that. You just need to find, as that cliche goes “your new normal.” And as long as you are trying to better yourself, then you will grow.


And you will wind up where you need to be.

Photo by Simon Migaj from Pexels

Year Three: I feel rage-ey (complete with cuss words) #sorrynotsorry

Here we are.

Another 365 days later.

The Earth has made another trip around the Sun since you left.

The shock is gone but I still feel the void.

“They” said it would get easier and that time heals all wounds.

Perhaps they are right. But I think it’s more like you get used to feeling the void.

And chances are “They”- whoever they are- are full of shit anyway.

People are full of opinions and are usually happy to give unsolicited advice.

And 99.98% of the time that unsolicited advice is shitty advice.

I’m doing okay.

Our daughter is doing well. Parenting her by myself was daunting at first but I think I got it figured out. Well, most of the time.

She’s a great kid. She is about to start kindergarten and she keeps busy with dance and swimming. She also played T-Ball last Spring and she will be doing soccer this Fall.

You would be so proud.

It makes me sad that she only has an interpretation of you based on stories about you and photographs. I wonder how much she knows about you. She saw the pictures of you making kissy faces at the baby turtles in Grand Cayman and laughed about it at another time. So she does think about you.

I talk about you often and I let her know that you love her very much.

The cat is still here. He is still cute even though he coughed up a hairball as I type this. But I still love him.

The first year without you was about survival.

The second year was about existing.

This third year has been about living again.

I have made some big life changes.

Moving forward without you is a struggle. For two years I tried to hold onto the life we had together.

But the more time passes, the harder it became.

Shit had to go.

I had to let go of unhealthy relationships. Toxic really.

I have had a lot of shit flung at me. Shit that never would have been flung at me if you were alive.

Because you would have never tolerated it.

Not on this planet. Not on any planet.

As life moves forward, it’s as if you remain frozen in time. I have come to accept that some people can compartmentalize you separately from how they treat me and your daughter. Or how they treated you when you were alive.

Our marriage had its struggles (all marriages do) but I never questioned your loyalty. You never gave me a reason too.

You always had my back.

I miss having you as an ally. At least, in human form.

But I have learned from it. I need people in my life who are loyal and deep and I finally think I have set healthier boundaries.

My only regret is not walking away sooner.

And people can say whatever they want to, or need to, to make themselves feel better. Even if a lot of it is probably shit.

Those people can fuck off.

I say that with love, of course.

Things are almost never what they seem.

I know it wasn’t practical to move forward with “our” dreams. Our dreams are empty without you. I have realized that it’s time to move forward with my dreams.

As time marches forward, I struggle with guilt.

Why do I get to live out my dreams when you can’t?

It’s so unfair.

And then I get scared because what if my dreams make me happy. Then I cycle back to feeling guilty at the idea that I could be happy in a life without you.

And it’s ridiculous because I know, with every fiber of my being, that you want me to be happy.

I am torn between knowing life is short and feeling guilty for living a full life.

You were such a big part of my life but the harsh reality is in my present life, you are no longer an active part of the equation.

That seems harsh but it makes me sad.

Very, very sad.

But we both know that no matter what my life brings in the future, we will always have those 8 years together. The good times and the bad. The Caribbean cruises and the nights at home, binge watching Breaking Bad, The West Wing, and Friday Night Lights.

Nothing can take that away from us.

I will carry them forever.