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.
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.
I feel like I have just come off some sort of grief bender.
I thought I was in a good spot when I was coming up to Bryon’s deathaversary. (My widow blog friend Lisa says it perfectly when she refused to call it an angelversary. She said that even if you sugar coat a turd, it’s still a turd.)
But August 21st came and I was pulled into the strongest period of grief I had felt. Sure, a year had passed but the fog had lifted. So the deathaversary made me relive those memories of Bryon’s death without having to fog to soften the pain.
The grief cycle was further exacerbated by the fact that his birthday was a week later, my birthday two days after that and our daughter’s birthday a month later.
There also was our engagaversary and the excitement of my daughter starting her preschool year and a new year of gymnastics and dance.
I tried hard to stay positive during these events because they are happy occasions. But it’s exhausting. Grief is exhausting, period. Especially raw grief. It takes a lot of effort just to focus on life in front of you and not think about what happened.
For five weeks I have been in this deep form of grief. I haven’t written much in this blog because I didn’t know how to articulate this grief.
September 29 would have been our fifth wedding anniversary. It would have been our first milestone anniversary.
I figured it was my anniversary and I still deserved steak. So I took Kimmy Gibbler out for lunch.
The meal still looked pretty good in leftover toddler dinner form.
Now I want to spend the rest of year two focusing on myself and healing. Not just healing from Bryon’s death but healing all of me. I have always suffered from low self esteem and have always hated myself. Bryon used to tell me that it hurt him to listen to me talk about myself the way I did. But it was more important for me to keep hating myself than it was to stop talking about how much I hate myself in front of Bryon.
So it is going to stop. I need to do this for me. For Bryon’s memory. For my daughter. I am her primary influence and I don’t want her to pick this up.
I do think I am off to a good start. I have been surrounding myself with positive people who make me (and each other) feel good. There is no law stating that if you have a negative person in your life that you need to keep those people in your life. If someone tears you apart- set them lose. If you spend more time fuming about something a friend did than having positive experiences, then they may not be a friend after all. Focus on your real friends. There is no room for toxicity in your life.
I am spending the rest of year two focusing on healing, gratitude and positivity.
I am also embarking on some physical goals. I recently joined an amazing new gym. Running was stressing me out so I am on sabbatical but will restart after I lose some weight and become stronger. I also signed up for Macro (macronutrient) coaching. I decided that in order to love myself, I need to take care of myself.
So if you see annoying fitness posts here and on my Instagram and Facebook, I am sorry. Actually I am not sorry. I need to be holding myself accountable.
I also need to do the things that I need to do to be happy. I need to learn new things, try new recipes, be creative, spend time with my friends and family and travel to at least one new place a year.
I need to do this.
I am a girl of a lot of contradictions. I am part city girl and I am part small town girl. I am a quiet introvert but I am also social. I am part girly girl and I am part tomboy. I am part homebody and part world traveler. I attributed my contradictions to the fact that I spent part of my childhood near Boston and part in rural Maine. But I have also learned that it is typical of my INFJ personality type.
Due to the contradicting nature of my personality, I found that I clung to the aspects of my personality that were more absolute. I might not know if I am a city girl or a country girl, but I am a New England Girl. I love the Boston Red Sox and fried clams. My heritage and religion stayed the same so I clung to the fact that I am an Irish Catholic. I created an identity for myself and I stayed strong and true to this identity. I have seen this referred to as a fixed identity.
I also liked to live within my comfort zone. I did not take risks in my personal or professional life. I worked hard and moved up in my career, but I never pushed myself to try something unknown. I never was one to let my guard down in my love life and I would never dream of telling anyone how I felt. I never would have wound up with Bryon if he didn’t take a risk on me.
I lived my life with my strong fixed identity in my comfort zone. I never challenged why I believed certain things. I never left my comfort zone and therefore I inhibited my own personal growth. I clung to my likes and dislikes without revisiting them to see if they changed. I also chose friendships based on how they fit into my fixed identity.
I was a wife and mother. I worked in healthcare data. I was an Irish Catholic. I knew there was a God and that God was loving. I knew where I stood on the political spectrum. I knew who my friends were. Bryon and I lived a life where we had a modern view of traditional gender roles where we both worked, but Bryon did the work around the house and the yard and killed bugs and I changed diapers, made sure there was milk in the fridge and unsuccessfully tried to keep up with the laundry. Bryon was a proud husband and father. He worked hard to provide and he didn’t want me to worry about anything. I worried about things that weren’t really problems, but Bryon always assured me that everything was going to be okay. I lived a very safe and secure life. I was happy with my life and felt no need to question my identity or push myself out of my comfort zone.
Then the crisis hit.
In a five day period my husband went from recovering from a minimally invasive surgery to clinging for his life in the ICU. I was not prepared for this outcome. We were at a large regional medical center. Up until this point, I believed in the healthcare system and that it worked. This wasn’t supposed to be happening.
I didn’t know what to do. Bryon always made sure everything was alright and now I had to be the strong one. I wanted to curl up and pretend it was all a bad dream because it didn’t feel real. But I had to stay strong for him. How could I expect him to survive if I gave up on him? I felt helpless. I was at the mercy of the doctors and God, both of which failed us.
I vowed to myself that if Bryon had survived, I was going to be a better wife. I wasn’t going to take him for granted. I knew that if Bryon was to survive that he would likely have some permanent damage to his body. I started to think research who the best doctors were in Boston and New York. Life wasn’t going to be how we envisioned, but that didn’t matter. All that mattered was Bryon surviving.
For five months, I was at Bryon’s side while trying to make our daughter’s life as normal as possible. The latter I was able to do with the help of my parents, the staff at my daughter’s daycare and my friends who filled in any child care gaps. For five months, I prayed for a miracle that wouldn’t happen and I watched him slowly die.
Widowhood is an ultimate game changer.
For five months, my life was mostly spent in an ICU room. For five months I listened to beeping machines and heard medical terms and jargon thrown around. When Bryon died, I had to get re-acquainted to living in the world again. It was a combination of widow fog and the re-entry shock that was similar to when I returned to the United States after studying in England for three months.
My life was permanently altered. I had held out hope that Bryon was going to survive and now that hope was crushed. It wasn’t like I went back to my old life. I couldn’t go back to my old life. Bryon wasn’t there. He wasn’t just a detail in my life. He was my rock and our life was built around that rock. The core of my life wasn’t just shattered, it was completely gone. All our hopes and dreams were gone. Bryon had spent years working on a career that would never progress past where he was in March 2016. We were never going to have our second child or buy a bigger house. We weren’t going to take the cruises we were planning. Our life was gone. My life was gone.
When Bryon was in the hospital, my only semblance of normalcy was my daughter. I still got up with her in the morning, I still took her to daycare, and when my parents would return to Maine periodically, I put her to bed at night. And after Bryon died, the only thing that kept me going was my daughter. I wanted nothing more than to stay in bed all day, but I had to get up and take care of my daughter. She gave me a purpose to live.
When you go through this kind of loss, it changes you. I learned that I was much, much stronger than I ever gave myself credit for. I learned that I am smarter and more resourceful than I thought I was. I also learned that my threshold for bull sh*t is lot lower than I thought it was.
I learned what it meant to have courage. Courage to wake up in the morning. Courage to move forward with my career with a new company. Courage to let people into my life. Courage to let go of negative people who were self serving and tore others down. Courage to share my story.
I have always been an introvert, but I learned that I needed people, more than I ever could have imagined. I am lucky because I learned that I had a strong support system who continues to be there for me. Before widowhood happened, I was content in my own thoughts. But since Bryon died, I can’t be left in my own thoughts for too long or they become dark and intensely sad. I need my relationships to keep me positive and hopeful of the future. I still think a lot and I read a lot but chatting with my friends keeps me balanced.
After a crisis such as this one, every core belief you had is questioned. How can I believe that a loving God would do this to me? I believe in God, or a higher power at the very least, but I no longer believe that He is a loving God. That opinion always upsets people but it upsets me that people don’t sincerely try to understand my point of view before defending God. I am beginning to read up on Buddhism and it makes a lot of sense to me. But I don’t think I will ever completely give up my title as Catholic girl.
While I don’t think I am going to switch political parties anytime soon, I get frustrated on my party’s view of healthcare. But I also get frustrated with the other party’s view too. Both parties play a proverbial tug of war. But the problems in healthcare are not on a linear spectrum. The problems run deeper than just access and cost. Who cares about if it’s accessible or how much it costs if there is no quality? But people can’t understand that unless they live through something like this.
I’ve stopped worrying about the small things. I take more risks. One of the worst possible things that could have happened to me did happen and I survived. The small things don’t matter. You can change your mind. Most decisions don’t have a lasting impact. Most things can be reversed or fixed.
My identity is not fixed. If I remain open, I might learn new things. I may meet new people who could change my life. I could open myself up to new experiences, new hobbies and new ideas. I could have undeveloped dimensions of my personality that I never would have developed before I was convinced I knew who I was and what my plan was. I was so concerned about the next five steps that I wasn’t truly living in the present.
Now there are very few things I can say with certainty. That I will live my life in the present and focus on what matters:
I need to live my life to the fullest. I owe Bryon that much. He gave me so much during his short time here and I need to learn from him.
I am going to make positive changes as the result of Bryon’s death.
And that I am going to be the best mother I can be and help my daughter be the best version of herself.
And I am going to love those around me as hard as possible.
One thing I have been told about grief is that the firsts are the hardest. I learned that quickly. I had the proverbial bandaid ripped off as your 31st birthday was the day after the funeral and my birthday came two days after that. The following month included our daughter’s second birthday and our 4th wedding anniversary.
Then the holidays followed.
Halloween came and went. Our daughter dressed up as a cheerleader. We were invited to go trick or treating with friends followed by some chili. We had a good time.
Thanksgiving came and went. We spent it with my family in New Hampshire. Four generations came together. I made most of dinner and baked three pies which you would think was a waste of time but I enjoy the process of baking. I squeezed in time in Maine and Boston.
Christmas came and went. It was spent with our Albany Family. Feliz Navidad Brunch and an Italian Feast that can’t be beat.
New Years came and went. I got to say good-bye to 2016 (literally the worst year of my life) and I welcomed 2017. We stayed up to see Mariah Carey make a fool of herself. Be glad you weren’t there to see that. The festivities continued the next day at the New Beginnings Brunch.
Valentine’s Day came and went. We celebrated at the Toddler 3 class party. Friends sent packages and our favorite golden retriever, Carter, told his parents to buy us roses which Carter’s father did.
Easter came and went. There were several Easter egg hunts, a ham dinner and dyeing of Easter eggs.
Mother’s Day and Father’s Day came and went. Holidays that I couldn’t distract myself with company.
And now it’s the Fourth of July.
The last first holiday without you.
Sure, there is Bastile Day but we didn’t celebrate that. I am sure you could come up with some other random holidays that we didn’t celebrate just to frustrate me and keep me from making my point.
The Fourth of July has always been one of my favorite holidays. If you were still alive, we’d spent the 3rd with your best friends family on the lake and on the 4th, we’d go to a baseball game. Because what is more American than baseball and fireworks? And I would get annoyed with you because you used to work at Disney and you knew how fireworks were choreographed. You knew every firework move before they happened.
Since your death, some traditions have changed.
I haven’t gone to any baseball games since you were gone. Part of the reason is that you had a friendship with the lady at the beer stand. She loved you and I don’t know if she knows if you have died. And I don’t want to have to tell her. I know she will be crushed if she doesn’t already know. I avoid people who may not have known. I just can’t do it. I don’t want to cry in public.
But some traditions will stay the same.
Our daughter and I will be with your best friends family at the lake. My heart hurts to think that you aren’t going to be there. We had a lot of memories at those parties. The fireworks, the boat rides and the amazing food. You always brought Sam Summer ale. And who can forget when I was 30 weeks pregnant and I pressed the wrong button on the bidet and for about 10 seconds I thought my water had broke.
There is no way around it, you will be missed. But I know that I am not the only person who will be missing you at the party. Your best friends family is an extension of our family. Last year when you were in the ICU and I was worried I wouldn’t be able to find a babysitter, they gladly took our daughter for the day so I could sit with you. We were hopeful that you were going to recover and be there with us today.
But as we all know, you won’t be there. Because you are dead.
The fact your best friend’s family still include us the same as they did when you were alive means more to me than I can ever express in spoken or written word. They are part of our family whether their son marries our daughter or not. (We are still taking pictures for the rehearsal dinner slide show just in case). Whether they get married or not, I think it is safe to say that they will grow up together.
We will try not to dwell on your absence too much. I know you wouldn’t want that.
And also, you will be there in spirit. At least that is what people tell me. Like, all the time. I think they mean well. I think they think that by saying it that makes me feel better but it doesn’t. Even if it’s true, we all know you are dead and that it’s not the same.
Part of me is relieved that all the first holidays will be done. But then I realize that there will still be a whole bunch of firsts.
Later this month I will go to my first wedding without you.
Weddings. I won’t have you to dance with me. We won’t be coordinating outfits. And I can’t just absentmindedly choose the chicken dish knowing that I can have a taste of your beef dish. You won’t be there getting enraged if someone chooses First Corinthians for their reading. I won’t hear you rant about how Paul wasn’t talking about romantic love, that he was talking about the love of The Church.
You won’t be there for all our daughter’s firsts. Her first day of kindergarten. Her first recital. Her first sports competition. Her first time riding a bike without training wheels. Her first date. (You might be dead, but I am sure your blood pressure just went up). You will miss all her big days. Her graduations. Her prom. Her wedding. You won’t be there to meet her children.
And then I think of all the firsts that I never thought I would ever have to repeat. Especially at this stage of my life. I don’t want to think about these firsts. Not yet. I miss you too much. But eventually I am going to have to think about it. I am not going to lie, I am kind of angry that I am in this position. I was happy with you. Sure, we had our problems, but I was happy. We were a good team. But you taught me how to love and you made me a better person so I know my story isn’t over yet. I also think it’s ironic. Loving you made me a better person and you don’t even get to experience it. Someone else might but not you. Seems like a twisted joke. This whole ordeal (crisis? nightmare? my life?) seems like a twisted joke.
So tomorrow (technically later today as I write this) we will miss you more than anyone can imagine. We will be comforted by each other’s company. And we know that you will be there, whether it’s “in spirit” as everyone tells me, or if it’s because you are a part of us now or a combination of the two.
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.