Lessons learned: 17 months into widowhood

New Years Eve 2016, Bryon and I stayed in.  We figured it would have been too hard to get a baby-sitter that night.  Bryon made Beef Wellington.  I never got my kiss that night because I looked over at him at 11:53pm and he was snoring in his chair.

Life was good.  We had our routine.  Our jobs were going well and things were going well at home.  Our daughter was 16 months old and Bryon loved playing with her.

Bryon was preparing for weight loss surgery.  I decided that I was going to get healthy alongside Bryon and I started Couch to 5k and I was going to run a half marathon in the fall.

12657440_10154274483622841_9017884093105764695_o

In Feb 2016, we went on our last cruise with a few days in Florida beforehand.  We went to the Tampa Zoo and we spent the day at Epcot with my cousin and her husband and we had dinner with Bryon’s Godmother and her family.  On our cruise we visited Bryon’s two favorite ports, St. Thomas and St. Maarten.  We had a few fancy dinners on our last cruise and those were probably our last date nights.

In March Bryon had his weight loss surgery and it went well.  Bryon’s recovery started off well.  He was looking forward to being cleared to re-institute solid food and being cleared to exercise.  He wanted to start Couch to 5k and wanted to run a 5k.  We were looking forward to the rest of our lives.

Then in an instant everything changed.

Bryon was critically ill in the ICU where he clung to his life for 5 months.

For 5 months I was exhausted and ran on adrenaline and caffeine, desperately pleading to God to heal Bryon.  At the beginning of August, I had him transferred to New York City and for two weeks, things were starting to look up.

Until his body started to shut down.

On August 20, 2016 I was told that Bryon’s heart was going to stop beating.

He died the next morning.

For the following month, I was in total shock.  That shock turned into fog.  That heavy fog stayed for six months and then began to lift.  I started noticing things about how I felt and how I was treated.

The fog has slowly been lifting.

I was a happily married wife and mother of a one year old and now I am a 39-year-old widowed mother of a three year old.   Sometimes it feels like I was living my old life yesterday and other times it feels like a lifetime ago.

I feel that the fog is gone.  I feel like my present is a combination of that moment on every episode of Saved by the Bell where the chaos is ensuing and Mr. Belding comes in and says “Hey, hey, hey!  What is going on  here?” and that episode of How I Met Your Mother when the glass kept shattering.

I have spent the last 22 months thinking.  Thinking about so many things.

Things I have thought about over the last 22 months.  (Disclaimer: This is not an exhaustive list)

My Marriage with Bryon.
How does his death affect our daughter?  She won’t remember him.
The meaning of life.
My life from beginning to present.
Tacos.
What happens after we die?
My relationship with God.
How do I want to spend my remaining years?
The fact that I need to watch all those episodes of This Is Us on my DVR.
The Fuller House storyline and the fact that John Stamos is still hot after all these years.
What do I want out of life?
Can I ever love again?
What have I learned from all of this?
How can I make this horrible event positive?
My relationships.

I have decided to share with you some of the lessons I have learned so far.  These lessons aren’t in any particular order. This is from my current perspective and may change after I spend more time thinking.

1)  Grief takes time and can’t be rushed.

2) Only YOU know what’s best for YOU.  Most people don’t have a clue what you need.

3) It is up to you to decide when you or if you are ready to live again.

4) You can’t change how people treat you.  You can only change how you respond and set boundaries.

5) People will project their feelings onto you.  Don’t take it personally.  If someone is tearing you down, it is likely that they are the ones who are insecure and they tear you down to make themselves feel better.

6) Be open to others but beware of their intentions.  People are not always who they project themselves to be.

7) Love yourself.  You deserve it.

8) Surround yourself with loving, supportive people.  Life is too short to be around toxic people.

9) There is always beauty in this world.  You just need to make sure your blinders aren’t on.

10) People generally mean well.  They don’t mean to say painful things.  They are just products of a society that doesn’t know how to handle death and grief.

Advertisements

The last Christmas

Christmas 2015 was my favorite Christmas with you.

You were the Clark Griswold of our street.

I even got you a Clark Griswold-esque mug that you loved.  You drank the Starbucks 2015 Holiday blend in it.  You are missing the 2017 blend.  It’s pretty good.

15589891_10155121075297841_7187325922574166817_n

In early December, you found a light up nativity on Craigslist and you had to buy it.  It didn’t matter that it was in Scranton, PA.  You had to have it.

So we drove to Scranton.

12345564_10154154295647841_8264781146018858352_n

We packed them in.  Complete with two bonus nutcrackers.

12299266_10154154295802841_7521603975509627663_n12345634_10154154295707841_8793261505135703171_n12316624_10154154295917841_7389075887149503354_n

Of course on the ride home Joseph fell over and he wound up face to face with our daughter.  She did not like it at all.  I would have been freaked out too.

But it was all worth it in the end.  #takethatgriswold

12311073_10100156219247523_7441759222562476240_n

You had researched which streets in the Capital District had the best lights and we drove there.

We attended as many Holiday parties as we could.

Our daughter wanted nothing to do with Santa.

12360267_10100158643668963_5472760721937530934_n

Christmas Eve was a bizarre 74 degree day in Upstate, NY.  You insisted we drive with the sunroof open.

1931549_10154191733517841_8079060129092751549_n

We spent the afternoon with our Christmas Eve crew at a local establishment.  As usual, I brought buffalo chicken dip.  

12410582_10154191770247841_8888349530553726662_n

14051836_10100238139917843_8238596665535206044_n (1)

We went to four pm Mass with one of our bestest couple friends.

Mass was uneventful until after communion.  The four of us sat down in our pew.  

A loud cracking sound filled the church as our butts hit the floor.  

We looked at the pew which was split lengthwise.

Everyone else in the church looked at us.

You lean over to our friends and me and say “Sh*t.  We need Jesus the carpenter, not Jesus the Baby.”

We stand there as we wait for Mass to end to for the church to empty.  People continue to look at us as they are leaving. After the church was empty, you put that broken portion of the pew up over your shoulder and march up to the altar and you explained to Father Bradley what had happened.  Father Bradley listens and doesn’t seem phased at all.  I guess after 40 years in the priesthood, he has seen it all.  I wished I wasn’t so mortified and that I thought to take a picture but the mental picture will always be in my mind.

After Mass, we went home and you made Chicken Parm.  After our daughter went to sleep, we opened our presents that we got each other.

That Christmas you and I went crazy.  The previous year you surprised me by putting the confirmation from a cruise you booked in a box for me to open.  You assured me that there was no cruise surprise.  I didn’t mind especially you already booked our 2017 cruise.  Though neither of us would go on that cruise.

10846355_954131515983_4826031566878261367_n

You were very concerned that you couldn’t live up to the previous year so you finally bought me the sewing machine I wanted for years.

For years we couldn’t afford to buy each other presents after we shopped for everyone else. I was having fun making up for those years.  

You told me that the $600 shoes you wanted were on sale for $445.  Hint, hint.  I took the hint.

(For those who might be side-eyeing the price, these would be shoes would have been resoled.  He was planning to use them for the rest of his life, and ironically he did.  But when they we were bought, we were envisioning decades of use.)

10438485_10100160751669513_7150300019968774900_n

You admitted to me after the fact that you were worried I was going to buy you more gifts and your competitive nature couldn’t handle that so you did more shopping.

After the fact, we admitted that we were ridiculous and that this would be the last Christmas were we would do this.  Even if it was fun.

I am beginning to have this theory that our souls know more than we do in our human form.  I think our souls knew that this was our last Christmas and that we needed to have fun and do what we felt we needed to do to show love to each other.

Of course you insisted we leave out something for Santa.

10170814_10100160680087963_487510110986158133_n

Christmas morning was spent with our daughter opening up Christmas presents.  

1915408_10154193470097841_1808185122003530340_n1913937_10154193470127841_2125681273055581684_n10644842_10154193470237841_8999599225188487928_n

You also bought her a Barbie Power Wheels Jeep because you saw a good deal on Amazon.  I told you that she was too young.  You called me a “Miss No Fun.”   We decided to save it for the following Christmas.  You never got to see her ride it.  My father and I did assemble it for her second birthday a month after you died as one last present to her from you.  And I was right because even then, her feet didn’t reach the pedal.

We spent Christmas Day with our daughter’s Godmother, her now husband and their family.

12391131_10154194594877841_4022959460815780171_n

14141727_10154286205247419_8053231837208362240_n

We bought each other a bottle of wine from the same winery although they were more generous than us.  We brought a peppermint pig and some coasters.  We were so excited about those coasters because they were custom made.  When our daughter was born, there was this mildly disturbing Georgia O’Keefe-esque artwork on the wall.   Our daughter’s Godmother and you were confused and disturbed by the artwork.  After she left, I suggested you take a picture and make it into artwork for her.  You loved the idea so much that you took credit for it but I didn’t mind.  Not a lot of people know that some of your material came from me.  You always said you were the funny one but sometimes I could be funny too.

6252

Ultimately you decided on coasters instead of wall art. The best part was that our friend forgot about the maternity room artwork and decided to be polite and say that they were lovely.  Of course, she had a good laugh when we told her where the artwork came from.

And this ended up being our last Christmas.  

There was no way we would know that this would be our last Christmas.  

There was no way that we could have foresaw that we would take one last cruise in February and then you would would unexpectedly become critically ill and spend five months in the ICU. 

We had no clue that we were so close to the end.

I have come to realize that unless someone is on their deathbed at Christmas that there is no way to know who will be there the next Christmas.  A lot can happen in 365 days.  My life changed 89 days after that Christmas and you were gone 240 days after that.  

Even if I could have known it would be your last Christmas, I wouldn’t have done it any different.  I was with you, our daughter and some of our closest friends.  And we had fun and ate some really good food. 

I am glad I didn’t know that it was going to be your last Christmas.  If I had known it was going to be your last Christmas, I would have been devastated and unable to enjoy it.

Now I am embarking on our second Christmas without you.  Some of the traditions have changed a little bit but I will be with the same friends.  Christmas 2017 will pretty much run nonstop from Fri until Wednesday with my parents coming for New Years.  So I won’t be alone without you.  

It’s hard to be sad around our daughter.  She is getting so much bigger and she is so excited for Christmas.  She’s warming up to Santa.  She won’t sit on his lap but she’ll at least stand next to him.  It just breaks my heart because you were looking forward to her being this age.  You were so excited about the kinds of conversations you were going to have.  Every happy memory that we create is also tainted with sadness because you are not here.

25348290_10156337989877841_5073368252561230400_n

Now I am reminiscing with the internet instead of with you.  Even though the internet and blogosphere is filled with great people, I would rather be recounting these memories with you.

But at the end of the day, I have to say I am grateful.  I am grateful that I have these happy memories.  Even though your death broke my heart, I am lucky that I have these memories that are filled with so much love and happiness.  These memories make me smile and laugh.  

It’s my job to push through my sadness and continue creating happy memories for our daughter and our friends so when I am gone, they can look back on those memories with love and happiness.

Wherever you are my love, I hope have a Merry Christmas.

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.

 

Why I think being a widow sucks

  1.  I have no one to kill bugs anymore. 

    When everything happened with Bryon, people kept telling me that I was so strong and that was because I had to be.  That applies in this scenario, albeit on a lesser scale.

  2. Car maintenance becomes my responsibility.

    Car maintenance is not my strong point.  One time when Bryon and I were dating, I half-jokingly said that whenever I heard my car make a noise, I would turn the radio up and hope it would go away.  Bryon was appalled by that answer and said that he was going to take care of the car maintenance.  I was glad to be relieved of that responsibility and I happily obliged.

  3. Actually everything is now my responsibility.  

    I have learned that Bryon did everything.  The car maintenance, killed the bugs, took care of the yard and the finances.  I pretty much changed diapers, made sure there was milk in the fridge and did a half assessed attempt to keep up with the laundry.

  4. The empty bed.

    Some nights I just hope my daughter crawls in just so I won’t be alone.

    Or the cat.

  5. No date nights with my love.

    No more romantic dinner.  No more dances at weddings.  While I have learned to be a more independent person, I do miss these nights with Bryon.  And sure, I could date but I am very “meh” at the thought of dating.

  6. Being the third/fifth/seventh/ninth wheel.

    While I am so happy that my friends still choose to keep me in their lives, I always feel like the odd person out.  It could not be any clearer that Bryon is missing.

  7. Lack of sex.

    I supposed I could fix that problem but the thought of some strange guy touching me just isn’t my style.

  8. Having to troubleshoot any electronic problem by myself. 

    My cell phone was possessed.  I ended up just buying a new one because it was easier.  (To be fair, it was overheating too which I took as a bad sign).

  9. Being an only parent is exhausting.

    I know every situation with a single parent is different and some non widowed single parents are only parents and can relate.  But when you are a widowed parent, you are the only parent.  You have your kids 24/7.  They don’t go to their other parent on the weekends.  Between parenting, full time work, blogging,  fitness, housework, and dealing with grief, I am exhausted.  Then you have to throw in the new responsibilities like killing bugs and car maintenance on top of it.  I am lucky to get more than 5 hours of sleep in a night.  It’s a good thing I don’t want to have sex.  I wouldn’t have time for it.

  10. Single parent judgement. 

    It doesn’t matter how many stories I read to her, how many places I take her to, how many cute outfits I put her in or the fact that I am able to have her in dance classes and gymnastics.  People begin to judge every parenting decision you make and talk to you like you are ignorant and uneducated.  It’s like one day I was like all the other parents- married, educated and successful and now I am viewed as “white trash”.

    Just to be clear, I didn’t ask nor plan to become a widowed mother.  I wish I could have Bryon back.  He would put all those Judgey McJudedgersons in their place.  (Bryon always did that.  If I was being grumpy, he would say “Someone is being a Grumpy McGrumperson”.)  Actually he probably wouldn’t have cared what they thought.

  11. PTSD

    I generally process everything okay, but I know that if I ever date or marry again, I will always worry that that man was going to die.  It happened once, it can happen again.  Will I ever get to be carefree again?

    And while I generally stay calm in situations and get ice or ibuprofen or whatever, I worry about cuts.  Bryon had one infection after another and went into septic shock many times.  So even though it’s unlikely, anytime my daughter or I gets a cut, I bring out the neosporin and the Frozen band-aids because I am paranoid about sepsis.

 

Daily Prompt: Surreal

Today’s WordPress writing prompt- Surreal
https://dailypost.wordpress.com/prompts/surreal/

Time stopped.

Nothing mattered.  Eating didn’t matter.  Showering didn’t matter.  Sleep didn’t matter.

Everything seemed like it was a million miles away.  My home.  My job.  The 2016 Presidential Election.

“Your husband has been transferred to the SICU.”

“Your husband might not survive this surgery.”

“Your husband’s heart will stop beating today.”

“Your husband is clinically dead.”

“Let’s look at the caskets we offer.”

The moment you give your credit card to the man at the cemetery to buy your second piece of property.

The moment you have to check the widow box on the marital status question on medical forms.

The moment you have to write deceased next to the father’s name on your child’s forms for school.

Those moments when life doesn’t feel real.

A rainy fall morning

It’s a rainy fall day and I usually love rainy days, especially rainy fall days.  The dreariness reminds me of when I lived in England. I like the contrast of the brightly covered leaves against the gray sky.

This weather is totally indicitive of my feelings as of late.

The sky represents my losses.

My loss of faith in God.

My loss of faith in the healthcare system.

My loss of identity.

My loss of my future that I planned and the life I was living.

The loss of belonging where I was supposed to be.  I was supposed to be a wife, not the odd widow in a group of married friends.  My daughter wasn’t supposed to be the kid with a dead father in a class full of kids with two living parents.

But underneath the dreariness is some beauty brought on by all the pain.

I appreciate things more. I am less likely to take things for granted.

I am better able to recieve the love from others.

Underneath all this sadness, there is still hope.

The first year

It was one year ago today that I watched the life leave Bryon’s body.

It was one year ago today that I left the hospital for the last time.  

Without Bryon.

It was the first day of the rest of my life.  

A life without Bryon.

365 days have passed since Bryon has left this world.  365 days without his legendary personality, his stories, his intelligent insight and his jokes.

365 nights that I have gone to bed knowing that Bryon won’t be there when I wake up.  365 nights that I lay in bed alone, not having him to argue about the TV being left on or who is the bigger bed hog. I lie in bed knowing I will never be held by Bryon again.

For those 365 days and nights, I have been surviving.  

This has been a year of survival.  It wasn’t about any long term plan.  It was about making it one day at a time.  Some days I didn’t want to get out of bed, but that wasn’t an option as the mother of a two year old.  I had to get up each day to take care of my daughter.  One day at a time.  I can’t worry about tomorrow when I have to get through today.

This has been a year of shock.  How did this happen? In 2016?  How is this my life? Why did this have to happen?  What was I supposed to do with my life now?  How am I supposed to carry on when my rock was gone? How am I going to raise my daughter alone?  How am I supposed to live an empty life?  Even a year later, I am still kind of stunned that all this happened.

This has been year of numbness.  My year as a widow began with binge watching Gilmore Girls.  I was living my life by just going through the motions.  I kept myself busy so I didn’t have to think about how horrible and empty my life is.  I may have run a half marathon, redecorated my living room and travelled to New Hampshire, Boston, Las Vegas, Philadelphia, Chicago and Maine. But I still have felt dead inside.

This has been a year of forced living.  I have done a lot this past year.  I have done it while feeling dead inside.  Every person that has gone through profound loss has to make a choice.  You have to decide whether you are going to let it destroy you or if you are going to continue to live.  I chose not to let it destroy me, but that still didn’t make living any easier.  If you choose not to let it destroy you, that path to keep living takes a lot of effort and energy.  It’s not an easy path.

This has been a year of transformation and growth.  When the foundation of your life has been completely destroyed, you begin to question every single thing that you believe or thought you have believed.  I have questioned every institution I believed in.  The Catholic Church and Christianity in general. I am still not feeling warm and fuzzy about the big guy upstairs.  The American political system- well, I don’t want to get into that.  I no longer trust the American healthcare system is looking out for my family.  It’s about money and not about people’s lives.  All I can do is try to do the best for myself, my daughter and my family.

I have learned so much about myself this year.  I have been figuring out who the true me is and I am trying to remain loyal to her.  I have gotten back in touch with the younger version of myself while simultaneously pushing myself to grow in new areas, all while trying to process the lessons of the present.   I have also had to accept that sometimes our life plans change and you don’t always get a choice in the change.  But you must adapt to these changes.

This has been a year of friendship and love.  I have gotten so much love from my daughter, my family and friends.  So many people have held me up (and continue to do so).  I have learned that family is not always blood.  I learned that I need people.  I am so lucky to have these people in my life and no words can possibly convey my true feelings.

This has been a year of truth and clarity.  I have had to deal with the harsh realities of life. I have also realized that some friendships are so thin that you can see right through them.   I also had friends and family who I didn’t hear from and their silence was deafening.   At least now I am clear on who my honest and true friends are.

Some of my friendships that I thought were true were not.  Many people tried to use my tragedy for their personal gain. I had people who I thought were friends try to manipulate me.  One of the biggest tidbits I can give is don’t mess with a widow or widower.  They have already been to hell and back.  They might be vulnerable, but vulnerable does not equal weak.  Underneath all that sadness and vulnerability is one of the strongest people you will ever know.  

This year I have removed toxic people from my life and I have not regretted it once.  Life is too short to deal with that.  

I have spent the year re-evaluating every aspect of my life.  There is truth to that cliche that dying is a part of life.  We are only here for a short time and life is meant to be lived.  You only have one life and it is up to you to make the most of it.  Bryon made his short life count and I don’t want to squander my time here.

I have to face the fact that I have a future and Bryon won’t be in that future.  He will only exist in the future as a memory.  I thought I had my life figured out but now I am travelling on an unknown path.  Now that I know how easily life can change, I want to make my future years matter.  I want to be the best person I can be and live the best life possible.

I miss Bryon so much.  There are no words in the English language to describe how much I miss him.  The one thing that keeps from being bitter is the fact that I know our love was real and I would never trade in those years.  No matter how brief they were.  I hold those years very close to my heart.

When I first became a widow, I joined a lot of online widow communities.  I remember reading from people that the second year is worse than the first year.  My grief was new and raw and I remember thinking that there was no way the second year could possibly be worse than the first year.  But now as I am about to embark on Year Two of widowhood, I get it.  During the first year, you are in a fog, which helps you survive.  But when you approach the second year, that fog lifts and you are left with the cold, harsh reality of life with no fog to dull the pain.  

I have heard that the first year of widowhood is about survival.  The second year of widowhood is about learning to really live again.  Living again is a scary prospect.  It is easy to get stuck in grief.  In some ways, grief is comforting.   As long as you are grieving, you are keeping your loved one close.  In order to move forward, one has to, to a certain degree, let go.  Obviously you never completely let go, but it’s still very scary.  

 I have survived the first year of widowhood.  And now it is time for me to try to live again.  But I know, without a doubt that it is what Bryon wants.