Shadow of a dead man

Sometimes I feel invisible.

Despite pouring my heart out over 165 posts and approx 165,000 words, I feel like no one sees the real me.

They just see Bryon’s widow.

It might be hard to imagine, but I am a complete person. Bryon saw me a complete, real person.

I told a really good friend of mine (and Bryon’s when he was alive) that I had a nagging feeling that some people only read my blog because they wanted about happened with Bryon.

As if because I have chosen to share the parts of the story that I feel comfortable about sharing that that someone entitles everyone to the complete story.

I have not told the complete story. I will tell it when I am ready to tell it.
Yes, I am aware that I have chosen to share my story on a very public forum. I did that so other widows, grievers and anyone else struggling with the cruelties of life can be helped by reading about my healing process.

I put my story out there so people can feel a little less alone.

If one widow feels a little less alone, then it was worth it.

Just because I share my story does not mean that I give up the right to keep private what I wish to keep private.
I share what I feel like sharing, when I feel like sharing it.

No one is entitled to more.

When I shared these feeling with my close friend, she wisely said that she thinks that people forget that I am not just Bryon’s widow, but that I am my own complete person.

I am not just a widow.

I am a complete person.

I understand that life circumstances have made me a widow and since I have to be a widow, I am glad that I get to be Bryon’s widow. He was a great man and I got to be his wife. And I loved being his wife.

Life made me a widow and I am glad I get to be Bryon’s widow.

I have accepted that.

But I am more than just a widow.

I am a complete person.

Bryon died and I had no say in that. Even though I tried to prevent it. I will always think about those 5 months. I will always think about the “what ifs” and I will always be haunted by the dreams of what could have been.

That is a lot of live with.

I have been punished enough.

You are going to have to trust me on that.

Now I am in my 30s and I am expected to resign myself to wear a black veil and mourn for the rest of my life.

It doesn’t matter that I am a complete person and I still have decades more living to do.

I am tired of being viewed as just Bryon’s widow.

It’s bad enough actually being a widow.

I find myself in a place where I can’t move forward because everyone views me as just a widow.

Very few people understand.

Acknowledging that I am a complete person and I deserve to move forward from my husband’s death makes people uncomfortable.

My reality makes people uncomfortable.

The reality that I live with every single day makes people uncomfortable.

So I need to keep being “just a widow” to keep people happy.

Too bad it doesn’t work that way.

When Bryon was alive, he was very popular and well-liked. He was an amazing man. He was the center of my world.

And I lived in his shadow. But that was okay because I knew I was the center of his world. And that was all that matters.

But now he is dead.

And I live in the shadow of a dead man.

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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.

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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.

Holidays 2017- the condensed version

This Christmas Season, I started ahead of the game but ended up getting bronchitis and it took me two weeks to feel better.  I used to get bronchitis every year or every other year through my teens and 20’s.  The last time I had bronchitis was in 2010 so I was long overdue.  It was a good run.  I didn’t remember bronchitis being so hard to get over but back then, I wasn’t chasing a little human.

Despite being sick, my daughter and I saw the Nutcracker.  Not the Russian Nutcracker (those who saw Bad Moms 2 will understand.)  My daughter loved it.  Well…except for the mice.  She is still talking about when she saw the ballerinas.

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Santa came to the daycare party.

We took the train to Christmas Town (formerly the Polar Express).  The boy with us is the son of Bryon’s best friend.  His mother and I had been talking about taking the kids on the Polar Express since we were pregnant and we felt that they were old enough to enjoy it this year.

A friend of ours graciously invited us to see Disney on Ice presents Frozen.  She had tickets in the first row. I am not going to lie.  Even as an adult, it was amazing.

We decorated cookies.  Last year the kids were two and not into it at all.  This year we just used kits and it worked out well.  Maybe next year we will bake and decorate.

We spent Christmas Eve Eve with my daughters Godmother and her family.

On Christmas Eve we had our second annual Feliz Navidad Lunch.

We spent Christmas Eve with some close friends and Elsa.  My friend gave me Red Sox wine.  She so gets me.

Someone stopped by.

We woke up to a White Christmas outside and a Barbie House in our living room.  Thanks Santa!

We had dinner with good friends.

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Boxing Day was low-key.  My daughter wanted to go to school so I brought her even though I had the day off.  I hit some after Christmas sales and a friend came over.

One the 27th, we had an amazing dinner at my daughter’s Godmother’s house.

My parents came the 28th.  I put my Dad to work and he assembled various items.  There visit ended up being cut short because I decided to go to Maine to attend the funeral of a friend.  They didn’t mind because they still got to spend time with my daughter…just in Maine,  not NY.

I spent New Years with good friends playing Cards Against Humanity.  My friend has an amazing brunch on New Years Day.  I really look forward to the event.  I love nothing more than to start the new year with my closest friends.

Their you have it.  Each of these events deserved their own post but I was too exhausted to write them.  I wanted to have one post at least documenting all the goodness that went on.  I went into the Christmas season feeling sad and while that is a totally normal feeling for a grieving person at this time of the year, I didn’t want to be sad.

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When I was writing my recent post about the last Christmas with Bryon, I had had an epiphany.  My daughter won’t remember that last Christmas (or Bryon for that matter- which breaks my heart) but she will probably remember this Christmas albeit vaguely.

It is up to me to give her amazing Christmas memories.  Bryon is gone and even though my heart aches, life is about the living and my daughter is living.  My friends and family are living.

It is up to me to try to push through my sadness and create happy memories for my daughter as well as my family and friends.  Because someday they will look back at their last Christmas me.

When someone experiences a profound loss, you realize just how temporary life is.  We need to embrace the now because someday we will only exist in a loved one’s memory.

I am glad I was able to enjoy the holidays this year.  Well except for a brief meltdown on Christmas Eve morning where I said some choice words to God and decided not to go to Mass.  But other than that, I had an amazing Christmas filled with gatherings, good food and laughter.

I have come a long way.  When I think of Christmas 2016, I am grateful for those in life but there was a deep sadness that hung in the air.  But I will look back on Christmas 2017 as a warm and happy season.  I am grateful for the healing that has taken place to get me here.

And for that, I truly am blessed.

My 2018 goals

How is it already January 5th?  

Like, we are almost done with the first week.  And I haven’t even written a New Years 2018 post.

Why is that?  Well I attended a lovely wedding, put up my Christmas tree and then I got sick.  Bronchitis to be exact.  I was so sick for two weeks.  Then it was Christmas and New Years week.  And then I went to a funeral in Maine.  I will write more about the Holidays and the funeral next week.  I promise.

As the calendar year changed, I did some reflecting.

2016 had been the worst year of my life.  I really hope that that year keeps the title because I can’t imagine what could be worse my husband having surgical complications, spending 5 months in the ICU and then dying.  

2016 was a year of survival.

I was happy for the calendar to change to 2017.  I did a lot of healing that year.  Even though I spent a lot of that year still in a fog, I still tried to live my life.  Even if it was going through the motions.

I had a lot of ups and downs but I was in a better place at the end of 2017 than I was the beginning of 2017.

2017 was a year of healing.

I was excited to see 2018 come.  I hope to continue this year trajectory.  I also have a feeling that a lot of exciting things will happen this year.  Things are going to be very different by the end of the year and in a good way.

I want 2018 to be the year I start living again.

I have been working on some goals.  I am writing them down here to hold myself accountable.  I may visit these goals monthly or quarterly to make sure I am on the right track.

I also want to note that this isn’t a complete list.  This is just the highlights.  I am always adding goals all the time.

Home

My biggest goal for the home is a monstrously large goal.  I need to declutter my house. My late husband was a saver, I was a saver but not as bad and my daughter has a lot of toys.  I am always looking for lost items and tripping over stuff so it is time to clear out. Since my daughter is living, I feel that Barbies Dream House gets precedence over Bryon’s possessions that I don’t have a use for.  I have attempted to clear out some of his items but I am always overcome with sadness.  I know he doesn’t need these items anymore but every time I get rid of something of his, I am reminded that he is dead.   I have avoided this task.  But now it is time.

My minimal requirement for this goal is to donate on box or trash per week for a total of 52 bags/boxes.

Fitness

Before I got hit with the bronchitis/holidays/funeral trifecta, I was having success at a local gym called Metabolic Meltdown.  I hope to return to class 4-5 times a week.  

Bronchitis has also done a job on my lung capacity so I want to start Couch to 5k again and be running 5ks by the spring.  My stretch goal is a second half marathon in the Fall.

Writing

I lost my inspiration for awhile.  I think that was due to a funk that lasted from Bryon’s deathaversary in August until a few days before Christmas.  I think I have my inspiration back.

My writing goals are:

Write 2-3 blog posts a week.

Begin writing my book.

Submit at least 5 articles for publication.

1-2 YouTube videos each week.

Spirituality

I want to continue my journey on learning how to love myself and others.  I can’t fully give to others until I take care of myself.  I would love to fall in love again but I want to be in a good place before I make any commitment.

I want to read one book a month on self love.

I want to learn how to meditate this year.  I have trouble focusing on nothing.

I want to read at least one book a month on spirituality.

Write in my gratitude journal daily.

I am hoping by the end of 2018 that I will be less angry with God.  Less angry enough that I may start going back to Sunday Mass.  I miss the traditions.  Faith was a huge part of my Bryon and my relationship and I miss it.  I also want my daughter to be raised in the same faith that I was and the same faith that Bryon and I had intended that she be raised in.  But I am still very, very mad at God right now.  Maybe it is time to delve into the religious based grief books that have sat unread on my nightstand.

Interpersonal/Self Respect

It’s sad that these two are lumped together, but for me that is how it is.  

My biggest Interpersonal/Self Respect goal is to continue to remove toxic people and situations from my life and to be open to positive, supportive and loving relationships.  Life is too short to be hanging out with the wrong crowd.

I am done tolerating people saying insensitive things to me.  In the past, I have tried to brush hurtful comments off.  I have rationalized that the people who make these comments don’t know a clue to the magnitude of my loss though many think they do.

I am also done with people who tell me how to live my life.

Widows are not weak.  They are not dumb.  

Widows DO NOT need to be told how to do any of the following:

Parent their children.

Manage their money.

What they should do with their house.

When they should date.

When they should have sex.

And most importantly, widows DO NOT need to be told how to grieve and how to cope.  A large part of a widow’s life is grieving and coping.  They don’t need to be told how, especially by someone who has not lost a spouse.

I will be distancing myself from people who try to tell me how to live my life.  I have been through Hell and survived.  I am not a delicate flower.

I also don’t like drama. I thought I left it behind when I graduated from high school 20 years ago. It ruins my Zen.  So I will also continue to steer clear of drama because it is a waste of time and life is too short.

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.

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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.

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We packed them in.  Complete with two bonus nutcrackers.

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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

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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.

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

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

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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.

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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.)

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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.

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

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

The second year is a b*tch

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Anger at how the events transpired.

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

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

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

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

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

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

For my daughter: Your father was a GOOFBALL!

Fun times with your Dad.

BRU= Babies ‘R Us.

I think this post got almost as much likes as the Hobby Lobby penis picture. That should be coming up in my Facebook memories later this month.  Something to look forward to.