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.

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Be grateful

Today’s writing prompt came from Teresa’s Creations.  Two word prompt: “Be grateful

Be grateful.

That is what they say tell her.

She must not be grateful for what she has.

How would they even know?

Of course she is grateful.

For her daughter.

For her friends and family.

For her means.

For her health.

How dare they imply she isn’t grateful for that.

Can’t she just miss her husband?

She loves her friends, but they can’t fill the void he leaves.

She loves her daughter.  

Her daughter is young.  

It’s not fair to expect her to take the place of her father.  

People tell her to be grateful.

Do people even know what they are saying?

Do they not understand what she has been through?

Be grateful for what?

The pain?  

The agony?

The loneliness?

The loss of her dreams?

The lost plans?

The loss of security?

The loss of faith?

People think they are helping, but they don’t know.

Why can’t she just feel what she feels?

Why can’t she just be sad?

 

Just because I am a widow…

Just because I am a widow doesn’t mean that I can’t make my own decisions.  Please stop second guessing my choices.  

Just because I am a widow doesn’t mean I am helpless.  I am actually the opposite of helplessness.  I watched my spouse die.  I survived something that most people can’t even imagine.  I might need help with some tasks, but don’t misconstrue that as helpless.

Just because I am a widow doesn’t mean that you can ignore my feelings and dismiss them as part of grief.  Trust me, I have don’t more thinking in the past year than I did my previous 37 years.  My feelings are very well thought out.

Just because I am a widow doesn’t mean that I need to defend my feelings, especially those about God.  A widow is allowed to be mad at God.  It is not your place to scold her or re-educate her.  It’s up to the non-grieving to be supportive and understanding.  

Just because I am a widow, it doesn’t mean I need to put up with poor treatment.  I have been through something so horrendous that you probably can’t even comprehend.  I miss my spouse and I can be lonely.  But I am used to being lonely and I would choose that over being around people who treat me poorly.

Just because I am a widow doesn’t mean that I don’t have responsibilities.  I have a full and busy life.  I am not just sitting around my house.

Just because I am a widow doesn’t mean you can tell me how to raise my child.  I am capable, thank you.  My child is happy and well taken care of thank you.

Just because I am widow doesn’t mean I am desperate for love.  (This one is directed to all the scam Twitter accounts that started following me.  The ones that when you look at who they follow and they are all widows).  Trust me, I had the love of my life and I lost it.  When I decide to date again, it isn’t going to be with some random, bogus Twitter account.

 

An epiphany

There have been two feelings I have had my whole life.

The first feeling of restlessness.  I have always felt that there is a whole world out there to see.  So much history and culture to absorb.  Different people with different routines and traditions.  

I had only left New England seven times before I went to study in England the fall of my junior year in college.  Three of those times had been to Canada (New Brunswick, Quebec City and Montreal), two had been to New York (NYC and Niagara Falls with a side trip to the Canadian side) and one trip to Gettysburg, PA and one trip to Washington D.C.  The flight from Boston to London at the age of 21 was my first time flying on an airplane.  I have since seen more of the U.S. between my involvement in the Young Republican National Federation and my parents purchasing an RV.  I have seen more of the world due to Bryon and my love for cruising.  And I don’t plan on stopping.  I promised Bryon I wouldn’t stop.

Don’t get me wrong.  I do love my small Maine town.  I miss Maine, especially the people and the ocean.  But I always felt like there was more in the world and I wanted to experience it.  Maine did feel so isolated.  The only cities you could travel to easily by car was Boston and Quebec City.  I always wanted to be close to more US cities.  I love Boston (my birthplace) and Quebec City but I love having the option to do weekend trips to other cities.  

I still feel that urge to see the world.  It doesn’t matter if it is a back country road or a big city.  I just love to see new places.  I love historical sites and museums.  I love trying local food.  I love shops.  I love scenery.  I want to see it all.

The second feeling I have had my whole life is that I have always felt like an outsider. That I am on the outside looking in.  I never felt included despite being involved in sports, clubs, and later politics.

This brings me back to high school and college.  I always worried where I fit in.  I wasn’t cool but I wasn’t uncool either.  I wasn’t particularly included but I wasn’t excluded.  I had friends but I wasn’t invited to the cool parties.  Though looking back, I am sure some of that was me.  I didn’t have the wisdom to know how to be as open to friendships.  Being open to friendship is something I only started to do when Bryon got sick.  

I followed my same social patterns in college.  There were two major groups in my college dorms.  The theater/art/music majors sat on the left side of the cafeteria and the athletic and Greeks sat on the right hand side.  There was one row of tables that was right in the middle near the salad bar and an ice cream cart.  I was friends with people on both sides and would sit on either side.  If I was by myself (something that didn’t phase me, especially after studying abroad and going to Paris by myself) and I didn’t see any of my friends, I would just sit in the middle.

When it comes to my writing and purpose, I come back to these two feelings that have plagued me my whole life.  

I have so many ideas for blog posts in my head and no idea where to start. I have so many ideas of what I want to accomplish, but I don’t know how to get there.  Now I have Paul Simon’s Me and Julio Down by the Schoolyard stuck in my head.

I think about the concept of having a niche when writing.  What kind of blogger and writer am I?  Trying to find what writing niche reminds me of my high school and college years where I was trying to find the right table to sit at in the cafeteria.  My half-marathon training has been suffering due to my poor time management skills so I am definitely not a running blogger.  I don’t travel enough to be a travel blogger.  I write about life, but I am not a lifestyle blogger.  Trust me, if you could see how messy my living room is, you would know why I don’t post pictures of my house.  I write about death and grief.  It is important for me to share that part of my story as our society has a twisted view on death and grieving and we need to talk about it.  But I don’t want Bryon’s death and grief to define me.  I am still a person who has a lot of living left to do.

I need to make a difference.  I need to help people.  

I need to talk about grief to help widows, especially young widows because the world thinks of widows as being elderly.  

I need to talk about grief to help those who have lost loved ones, not just widows, but anyone who has lost a child, family member or friend.  

I need to talk about rebuilding my life to help those whose life and sense of security  was shattered, whether it was by death, divorce or job loss.  

I need to talk about my struggles in parenting to help those who are single parents.

I need to tell my story of surviving to give hope to those who are struggling to carry on.

I need to talk about the problems in our healthcare system so people can advocate for themselves and their families.

It dawned on me today that instead of worrying where I fit in, I need to just blaze my own trail.  Not just with my writing, but in my life in general.  If I truly want to be open to new people and new experiences, then I shouldn’t be focusing on trying to put place myself in a niche or group.  If I do that, then I inadvertently narrow down who I meet and my opportunities to make a difference.  I have spent my whole life waiting for others to define the path I am to take.  That is silly because no one other than myself can know my true life purpose.  No one else can understand what I hope to get out of life.  If I wait for others to define my path, then I am limiting my potential.  

I need to blaze that trail even if I don’t know where I am going.  Besides being a wife and mother, the other two times I felt accomplished in my life where when I took risks and did something scary.  The first was my semester in the UK and the second was my years in politics.  They were the two times in my life when I felt like I was out experiencing life the most and my experiences were the most rewarding.  I pushed ahead and did things out of my comfort zone.  I didn’t let fear stop me.  I need to remember this as I blaze a trail forward.

Existing

I haven’t been myself for the past month.  You may be thinking, “well Kerry, you’re husband died not that long ago” and perhaps that is it.  But it’s different.

For the first couple of months of widowhood, I was in survival mode.  I was in a fog and just going through the motions of my routine.  I had spent 5 months sitting in an ICU and I was getting re-acclimated to life outside.  I wasn’t working as Bryon spent a large part of his illness at the hospital where I had worked and I could not go back.  I trained for a half marathon and binge watched the Gilmore Girls. The holidays came and went.  It was hard to celebrate but I tried my best to go through with the festivities for my daughter’s sake.

The next quarter was when the fog started to lift and reality started to set in.  I needed income and health insurance so I got a new job.  As my life started to stabilize and the amount of people around started to thin out, the reality of Bryon’s absence started to hit.

The third quarter was actually a sweet spot.  I was starting to get used to my new life and start getting used to Bryon being gone.  My daughter and I traveled to Las Vegas, Ann Arbor, Michigan and Philadelphia. I was starting to get used to Bryon being gone and I was starting to get used to my new life. I was actually starting to look forward to getting to know who I was as an individual.

But now in the last quarter of my first year of widowhood, I just feel like I am existing.  I am no longer in thick fog but I know that I am still in active grieving.  Grief is exhausting.  I feel drained most of the time.  And I feel like it’s time to tackle all the tasks that I kept putting off because they were painful.  Those tasks aren’t going away.  But I can’t seem to bring myself to call Verizon to shut of his phone.  I don’t call his cell phone to hear the greeting like Hilary Swank’s character does P.S. I Love You.  But his voicemail greeting is there.  To shut off his phone and know that if anyone calls it, they are going to get a “this number has been disconnected” message just seems to final. Like the proverbial nail in the coffin.

All around me I see all the things that I am missing.  Happy couples.  Complete families. I am no longer a wife.  I am a widow. I was called “Mrs. McKim” the other day and it took me by surprise.  I was sad that it took me by surprise.  It means my life with Bryon is slipping away.  As time passes, I feel less like the wife I was and more like a widow. I miss being a wife.  I miss being part of a complete family.  I miss being part of a couple.  Finding out who I am now seems like a chore, not something I am excited about.  I want my old life back.

The years stretch out in front of me, long and lonely.   They say it gets easier with time.  But until that time comes, it just feels like I am existing.

Bryon is still dead

The leaves are starting to appear on the trees.  The tulips have been blooming.  The ice cream truck is starting to make its rounds.  Kay’s pizza is open but Bryon won’t be eating any sausage, pepperoni and onion pizza.  Because Bryon is dead.

Summer will come.  Bryon won’t be going to any baseball games.  Bryon won’t be watching any  fireworks.  Because Bryon is dead.

Our birthdays will come and go.  But Bryon won’t be here to celebrate.  He won’t be buying a ridiculous toy for our daughter and he will not be here to scheme on how to bring a three-year-old’s birthday party to the next level.  Because Bryon is dead.

Our anniversary will pass and Bryon and I won’t celebrate.  Because Bryon is dead.

Fall will come.  My favorite season.  Leaves will change color.  But Bryon won’t eat any apple cider donuts or take our daughter trick or treating.  Bryon won’t be here to cheer for his Buffalo Bills.  Because Bryon is dead.

The air will get colder and snow will fall.  Christmas cards will be sent.  But Bryon won’t be attending any Christmas parties or watching our daughter open any Christmas presents.  Because Bryon is dead.

Our daughter is talking up a storm.  She has graduated from the “No” stage into the “Why?” stage.  “I do myself” has been appearing in her vocabulary and it should be no surprise that it takes five times as long to leave the house.  And Bryon isn’t here to talk to her because he is dead.

Three weddings are coming up.  And Bryon won’t be here to celebrate them.  He won’t be making friends with bartender and he won’t be grumbling as I drag him out for a slow dance. He won’t be ranting to me if 1 Corinthians is read.  Because Bryon is dead.

All of our TV shows are in the next season and are sitting on our DVR unwatched because Bryon is dead.

Friends continue to get together.  But Bryon isn’t there to tell funny stories and make us laugh.  Because Bryon is dead.

My clothes have taken over the closet.  Bryon’s clothes are no longer hanging up.  They sit in garbage bags in the garage waiting to be brought to Goodwill.  Because Bryon is dead.

The world will continue to go on without Bryon.  People will get married.  Babies will be born.  People will fall in love.  People will fall out of love.  Houses will be bought and sold.  People will get promoted and switch jobs.  People will travel to far off places.  Sports teams will win and lose.  Elections will happen.  And Bryon will still be dead.

Our daughter will start school.  She will become who she is going to be and hopefully be ready for adulthood.  She will find out what interests her.  She will fall in love.  She will travel to far off places.  She will hopefully attain a higher level of education.   Hopefully she will become a productive member of society.  And Bryon will still be dead.

The world goes on and Bryon is still dead.

My dirty little secret

Being a widow is hard.  We have to navigate a world that is not designed for us.  One of my online widow friends, Michelle, wrote a blog post about being Wonder Widow and Widow Super Powers.  (Check out her blog, she doesn’t bite).  Michelle writes about her experience when she was newly widowed and she was at a party and once people learned that she was a widow, they ignored her.  She says that a widow may feel invisible when around the NORMS. The NORMS being “Normal people living normal, non-traumatized lives.”  She and I had an exchange on Facebook where I may have ranted a little bit about the course of events in my life.  I apologized and she said not to apologize because ranting is good for the soul and I should just let it out.

So I am going to let it all out.

I will let you in on a dirty little secret of mine.  I am jealous of the NORMS.

I am jealous of people who have their spouses and are living a normal life.  I am jealous when I see anniversary posts on social media, especially for any anniversary after the 3 year mark because Bryon and I never got to celebrate our fourth anniversary.  I am jealous that happily married couples who get have the support of their best friends because my best friend is gone.  I am jealous of their intimacy.  I am not talking about sex though I am jealous of that too.  I am referring to the day to day comfortable intimacy that happily married couples have.

I am jealous of the families at my daughter’s daycare who are able to (or are planning on) giving their kids a little sibling. My daughter will never become an older sister.  We will never be the perfect family with a mom and a dad and 2.5 kids and a dog.  I am jealous that there are so many other families where the kids will grow up with their fathers because my daughter won’t have that.

I am jealous of new couples who get to embark on their life together, full of hope.  Jealous because I am not sure I will ever be healed enough to love again. I am jealous of the innocence other couples can have.  Maybe someday I will find a man that can look past my wounded heart and deal with all the complications that come with loving someone who has been through this kind of trauma.  But even if I let another man into my heart, I am always going live with the fear of him dying too.  The constant fear of “what if it happens again”?

I am jealous of older widows.  I am jealous that they got to spend decades with their spouses.  And I am jealous that all the widow resources in the community are geared towards them and not to young widows.  Older widows had decades to prepare for this, young widows have not.  And young widows oftentimes have small children to take care of on top of dealing with their grief but so much emphasis seems to be on older widows.

I even find myself jealous of other widows at times.  Sometimes I look at widows who lost their spouses suddenly and I am jealous because they didn’t have to watch their spouse suffer for five months like I did.  Sometimes I look at widows who lost their spouse after a long illness and I am jealous because they were able to talk to their spouses about dying.  Bryon was on a ventilator for the five months he was in the ICU and we weren’t able to discuss any of this.  We had so many things that went unsaid.  But I know deep down there is no good way to watch your spouse die.  It’s horrible no matter how it happens.

I am jealous of the NORMS who leave those comments on social media statuses.  The comments that are benign on the surface but stab a widow in the heart.  I am jealous that they get to live in a life where they don’t feel the need exercise that extra level of empathy.  I am jealous that they live in a world where they can be clueless to those suffering grief and heartbreak. Though part of me is glad that they can be clueless because it means they don’t know this pain.  And if someone is a repeat offender, I actually begin to feel sorry for them they can live their lives being oblivious to the feelings of other people.

I am jealous of people who have their faith.  I am jealous because my Catholic faith was a big part of my life and I lost that too when Bryon died.  I am jealous of those who have never had to have their faith tested.  And I am jealous of the people who have experienced trauma like I have and still have their faith.  Because right now I relate to C.S. Lewis in A Grief Observed where he asks where God is and why did God slam the door on him?  I am jealous of all the people that God did not slam the door on.  I am also jealous of the naivete of people who think I can just turn my faith back on, like it’s a simple light switch.

Why am I sharing this dirty little secret?  It’s human nature to want to put your best foot forward but my desire to be honest is stronger than my desire to put my best foot forward.  I need to be honest for everyone who thinks I am strong even if that means sharing feelings that portray myself in a less positive light.  I need to share my story as authentically as possible because other widows may be reading this and I want them to know that it is okay to feel this way.

But despite all these pangs of jealousy I feel, the happiness I feel is ten times as strong.  The joys greatly outweighs my jealous feelings.  Yes I have these jealous feelings but they  subside very quickly.  And my feelings of jealousy are not because I don’t want others to be happy.  I want everyone to be happy.  I don’t wish my situation or the feelings that come with being in my situation on even my worst enemy.  My feelings of jealousy are about the reality of what I have lost, mostly my lost dreams.  For the most part, my anger seems to have subsided so I will think occasional bouts of jealousy are an improvement to being full of anger as long as the bouts of jealousy don’t get out of hand.

My life didn’t turn out the way I wanted it to but I do have reasons to be grateful.  I have an amazing daughter.  I have friends and family who aren’t freaked out by my widow status and include me in their lives.  I have friends who aren’t going to be put off that I might be jealous of them because they are patient and understanding of my grief and stick by me as I weather all the ups and downs. At least the ones who really love me do.

I can’t complain because even nine months later, my core group of friends are still supportive of me.  They spent 5 months helping me survive when Bryon was in the ICU and they have spent the past 9 months holding me up.  I hope I am healed enough and can give back before the next big crisis in our group happens.

But until then, whether you are a NORM or not, please just remember to be kind and understanding.  It’s okay to talk to us.  Widows don’t bite.  We just might be sad.  We are dealing with some major emotions.  But we’d probably be the first one to be there to help you if something bad happens.