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

My husband, Bryon passed away in 2016.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Bryon was on my mind a lot.

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

But over time, things began to change.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

My life has been a revolving door of change.

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Change has been the only constant.

I had to grieve the life I once knew.

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

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

I can’t wonder “what if” anymore.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Weekly Gratitude #5: When grief turns into joy

The holidays are in full swing around here.

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

(Bonus points if you got the Love Actually Reference)

The excitement isn’t ending any time soon.

But this week it dawned on me.

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

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

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

We will never forget him.  Never.

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

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

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

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

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

And my happiness comes last.

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

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

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

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

Here we are.

Another 365 days later.

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

The shock is gone but I still feel the void.

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

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

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

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

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

I’m doing okay.

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

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

You would be so proud.

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

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

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

The first year without you was about survival.

The second year was about existing.

This third year has been about living again.

I have made some big life changes.

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

But the more time passes, the harder it became.

Shit had to go.

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

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

Because you would have never tolerated it.

Not on this planet. Not on any planet.

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

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

You always had my back.

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

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

My only regret is not walking away sooner.

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

Those people can fuck off.

I say that with love, of course.

Things are almost never what they seem.

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

As time marches forward, I struggle with guilt.

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

It’s so unfair.

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

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

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

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

That seems harsh but it makes me sad.

Very, very sad.

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

Nothing can take that away from us.

I will carry them forever.

Why Father’s Day can be painful.

For along time after Bryon died, I felt like I had to be both a Mother and Father to my daughter.

And if there is anything I can tell you from personal experience-

Being a parent is hard. Even if you have an active co-parent.

Being both a mother and a father is harder.

Being both a mother and father while grieving is super hard.

“Super hard” might be a lame adjective. I am sure my seventh grade English teacher would be pissed if she read that.

But on this morning, two days before the third Father’s Day without my daughter’s Father, I am grumpy.

“Super Hard” is the best descriptor I can think of in this comparison.

Other adjectives can include-

Exhausting- Being two parents is exhausting.

Lonely- Bryon isn’t here to share my daughters moments with.

Unfair- That feeling I try to ignore when I see other kids with their Dad’s and I know my daughter doesn’t have that.

Empty- That feeling I have when I had to write “deceased” next to her Father’s name on her kindergarten registration forms.

Annoyance: Every time I have to explain that her father is dead. My life used to be so f*cking normal and now it’s not. Now I am a square peg in a world full of round holes. And I didn’t ask for any of this.

Resentment- For the fact that I have to brush off other’s insensitivity. Why is that my job? Why can’t people just take a few seconds and think and be a little more considerate?

Maybe “pissy” might be a better descriptor.

Most days I don’t dwell on it, but I can’t ignore any of this on Father’s Day weekend.

For some reason Father’s Day bothers me much more than Mother’s Day.

Bryon was the one who bought me gifts but he made it clear that they were from my daughter, not him. Bryon liked to add they were not from him because I wasn’t his mother. Though I know he said it because it annoyed me.

It seems kind of ironic.

By Bryon’s logic, Father’s Day shouldn’t bother me.

After all, he wasn’t MY father. My father is alive. And my Dad is awesome too.

My daughter doesn’t seem fazed. But maybe she will when she gets older and reflects. Or maybe not. I can’t dictate how her father’s death may or may not affect her.

Father’s day stirs up so many emotions for me.

It reminds me of Bryon’s absence.

It reminds me of all the dreams we didn’t accomplish as a family.

It reminds me that my daughter was supposed to have a sibling.

It reminds me that Bryon will never get to see his daughter grow up. He won’t see her get on the school bus when she goes to kindergarten or see her walk across the stage at her high school and college graduations. He won’t get to walk her down the aisle when she get’s married.

It reminds me that my daughter was cheated out of her years with her Father. She was cheated out of the one of the most important relationships a girl ever has.

Since Bryon died, I felt I had to be both parents for my daughter.

To be her mother and to fill the void left by her father.

But I came to the realization that I can’t be both her mother and father.

I am just her mother.

I can try to be an awesome, kick ass mother.

But I am not, nor will I ever be her Father.

It is one of my parenting goals for my daughter to grow up and think that despite her Father dying, she had a good childhood. I hope that is what she thinks though I can’t control what she thinks about her childhood.

I can only try to be the best Mother I can and help my daughter realize her authentic self.

I can spend time with her.

I can read to her and encourage her to read books.

I can do fun activities with her.

I can travel with her.

I can play with her.

I can teach her things.

I can cook with her.

I can provide her with the best opportunities available.

I can take her to sports practices and go to her games.

I can take her shoe shopping. She loves shoe shopping.

One day I will have to teach her about all the things that come with being a woman.

But the one thing I can’t do is be her father.

Bryon gave her life and he loved her very much.

There will always be a hole there.

Good Vibrations Gratitude Friday #40

It’s Friday! You know what that means. Time for some good vibrations gratitude.

This week I am starting something new.

I am inviting you join me on Good Vibration Gratitude Fridays!

Exciting, right?

You are probably wondering how you get in on the action.

It’s easy! If you are grateful for something, please either comment below or share a pic of what you are grateful for on Instagram with the hashtag #goodvibrationsgratitude

Also feel free to follow me on Instragram at @kerrymckim

Here is what I am grateful for this week.

  1. Hallmark Christmas Movies

    Though I don’t advise actually playing this game.  You will be lucky if you make it 20 minutes.

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  2. Children’s Grief Awareness

    I did not know that there was a month dedicated to this but I am grateful that there is.  At first I thought that my daughter’s predicament was rare but then I thought about it.  First there was my daughter.

    And several friends who told me that they lost a parent at her age.

    And I have widow friends with children.

    And my mother lost her brother when she was a child so that would mean she and her siblings were affected (even though her youngest sibling wasn’t born yet, I do feel that siblings can feel a sense of loss even if the sibling died before they were born.)

    And my best friend lost her mother when she was a child.

    And the sad thing, I can go on with more examples of families within a first degree who have experienced loss.  This is much more common than we think.

    So if you are/were a child that is grieving or are close to a child that is grieving, they are not alone.

    Please be supportive to grieving children and their caregivers and families.

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  3. Attending a political rally

    Last weekend I took my daughter to her first political rally.  She enjoyed the experience though she told me that some people were too loud and hurt her ears.

  4. Voting

    While the New York elections did not go the way I wanted, I do appreciate that we have a right to vote.

    I have always brought my daughter to vote with me.  It is important for her to grow up seeing the process.  I voted around 5:30 pm and it looked like they were running low on stickers but we got one.  And I made sure to post this pic on social media because I heard votes only count if you post a picture with your sticker on social media.

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  5. My parents visit this week.

    My parents came out this week to help me pack up stuff and my Dad fixed a few things around the house.  Most importantly, the elevator on Barbie’s Dream House.

    I didn’t get any pictures except my instragram picture from the 99.  We always go to the 99 because we are #newenglandAF

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    What are you grateful for this week?

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Happy third birthday in Heaven

Today’s post will be a quick post.  I just wanted to share a few photos on how we celebrated Bryon’s birthday.

His birthday is exactly one week after his deathaversary but I try not to dwell too much on his deathaversary.  I prefer to celebrate the fact that he had lived.

My daughter and some friends released balloons at the cemetery.

“Table Top” in the grass.  Nice to see gymnastics class pay off.

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Balloon-Release!

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UP…

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…UP…

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…And AWAY!!!!

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I am sure he enjoyed them. Especially when I got in the car and one of his favorite songs came on.  He saves this one for birthdays and happy occasions.

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After the cemetery, we had dinner at one of Bryon’s favorite restaurants, Swifty’s.

I enjoyed my first Sam oktoberfest.

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I don’t care if it’s still August.  It’s been a hot summer and the humidity has been wicked.  I am so over it.

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I love these people.  They have stayed with me through thick and thin.  Of course, a few were unable to attend and we missed them.

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I feel like I should write something more profound but between the fact that last week was Bryon’s deathaversary and this week is his birthday and my birthday tomorrow, my head kind of feels like it is going to explode.  I have been emotional and cried a lot but I am okay.

The good news is that I am leaving on a birthday girls trip tomorrow but I have a lot of things to do between now and then.

So this post is going to have to be enough.

Thanks for reading along.

Choices

Here it today’s bit of Kerry McKim Wisdom-

Your life is the aftereffect of all the choices you have made.

Boom.

The first major decision in my life was in the Spring of 1993.

It was a period of high fashion consisting of blazers, floral dresses, choker necklaces, boots and scrunchies.

(Okay, that kind of sounds like right now.)

An era was ending as Cheers had their last call.

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And Zack and the gang graduated from Bayside High.

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I was finishing up my eight grade year at Cyril D. Locke Middle School in Billerica, MA and I was preparing to begin my freshman year at Billerica Memorial High School.

My father had worked for the U.S. Postal Service since 1977, the year before I was born.  He had worked in Suburban Boston and he had been promoted to the position of Postmaster.

But there was a catch.

He would be the Postmaster of Little Deer Isle, ME.

So we were going to be moving five hours away to coastal Maine.

I would not be going to high school at Billerica Memorial High School.

I had been bullied in middle school so I wasn’t particularly sad about leaving.  But it was still a period of uncertainty.

The population of Billerica, MA in 1990 was 37,609 and the population of Little Deer Isle, ME in 2000 (couldn’t locate the number for 1990) was 251.

My father had to start his new position immediately so he would work in Maine during the week and come back to Massachusetts on the weekends to see us and to pack up and sell our house.

My father went to the local high school which was on the larger neighboring island of Deer Isle (connected to Little Deer Isle by a causeway) and the school was grades 7-12 with a school population of  about 150.  The guidance counselor of the school was up front with my father and said that there was a high chance that the students wouldn’t accept me because I was not a native of this island.  The guidance counselor recommended that he send me to a larger high school on the mainland because I would have a better chance of fitting in.  She gave my father the course catalogs for her high school as well as the three closest high schools on the mainland.

My father took my guidance counselors concerns seriously. He brought home those course catalogs and told me to look them over which I did.  Then I made my decision.  I told my father I wanted to go to Ellsworth High School.

My decision was based partly on intuition and partly because Ellsworth High School had the better catalog.  (Take away- listen to your gut and marketing matters).

The high school I chose was the furthest away geographically from Little Deer Isle but my mother also wanted to live closer to Ellsworth because there were more stores (i.e. civilization).

As my high school years passed, it was clear that I had made the right decision.  Each school had a reputation and I knew I wouldn’t have fit into schools labeled “crunchy” and “granola”.  (Not that there is anything wrong with that.  It just wasn’t me.)   I fit in the best at my high school, which had the reputation of being a “jock” school. I fit in, even though my classmates teased me (good-naturedly) for having a Boston accent.

My choice of high school affected the friends I made, some of which I am still friends with to this day.  My choice in high school affected my studies because I had some great teachers who exposed me to Broadway musicals, the French language and the concept that the world was a very large and fascinating place.  I also had some not so great teachers that turned me off to math and science.  (I don’t know what high school Kerry would think if she knew that in her 30s, she would go back to school for a degree that required Anatomy and Physiology.  I wish I could tell my younger self that she was smarter than she thought she was and capable of much more than she thought).

My choice in high school affected my social life.  I had to chose between staying busy with sports and work or hanging out in the Burger King parking lot.  Or partying in a gravel pit.  Though I wasn’t cool enough to party in a gravel pit.  I made the choice to run cross country and track, tutor students and participate in French Club.  I also made the choice to participate in class activities like prom committee and I raised money for the Chem-Free party on graduation night.  I also made the choice to work part-time at Shop N Save (now Hannaford).

I definitely left high school with a certain set of experiences that my eight grade self would never have foreseen me having.

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“Mormons or Lobster” A sign in Ellsworth, Maine.

My next major decision was college.  I actually felt like I had less of a choice in choosing a college due to financial constraints.  My older brother had attended college at University of Maine at Orono (UMO) which was a little over an hour away.  I knew if I attended UMO that I would live there for a semester or two and then move home to save money.  I did not want that.

I wanted to be in the city.  Any city.  And if I couldn’t be in Boston, Portland was going to do.  That is how I wound up at the University of Southern Maine.  (USM)

High school had been a learning experience and a culture shock as I adjusted from Suburban Boston to Rural Maine.  But college was definitely more of a shock as I was exposed to so many different ideologies and lifestyles that I had not been used to.  Like high school, I made friends.  Some of which I am still friends with.

I made the choice to study abroad in England the Fall of my junior year.  I almost didn’t apply because I had had a rough year my sophomore year.  I remember telling my father that I couldn’t keep it together here so going to England was probably a bad idea.  My father said that he thought that three months away from USM might be exactly what I needed.  I chose to listen to him and listening to him was one of the best decisions of my life.

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Canada looks really good.  A sign we saw on our way to Ottawa in 2011.

My life had became a series of choices, even if they didn’t feel like choices at the time.

The choice to finish college.

The choice to enter a romantic relationship.

The choice to not return to England after graduation because I had a new boyfriend. (Stupid, stupid, stupid!)

The choice of employment.

The choice of friends and associations.

The choice of my living situations and roommates.

The choice to end my romantic relationships.

The choice to move back home.

The choice to pursue a new career.

The choice to go back to college.

The choice to get involved in politics.

The choice to join the Young Republicans.

The choice to start dating that younger guy in New York even if it didn’t make sense.

The choice to move to New York.

The choice to accept a marriage proposal.

The choice to buy a house.

The choice to start a family.

Where we are in life is based on the results of choices we have made.

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Everything in your life is based on a decision you have made or haven’t made.

However, these decisions have no guarantees.  Good decisions don’t always yield good results.  A good decision may have catastrophic results while a bad decision may surprisingly yield a very positive result.

Sometimes shitty things happen to good people.  We can’t control external factors.

But you always have to make the choice as to how you react to the shitty situation.

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This realization is overwhelming to me.  I used to view life as a series of events that happened to me and that everything was left to chance.

(So I guess Green Day was wrong in Good Riddance when they say that time grabs you by the wrist and directs you where to go…)

I did not realize how much of a role I played in my own life.

This realization comes to be at a time when my life in a crossroads.

In some ways, this scares the shit out of me.

The stable life that I knew is gone.  I have spent the last two years of my life reeling from what happened and I have been struggling to make sense of it.  I have been trying to figure out this “new normal” even though I yearned for the “old normal”.

I had always been one of those people who always had a “two-year plan”, a “five-year plan”, a “ten year plan” and a “twenty-five year plan.”  Now I barely have a “two-week” plan.

My need to have plans was because I didn’t like living in the present so escaped to the future.  But when the future became the present, I would escape further into the future.  I learned the hard lesson that the I need to be in the present because the future that you look forward to may not be there.

I do notice a change in how I choose to live in my life.  I choose to spent less time worrying.  I choose to surround myself with good people and let go of those who treat me poorly.

I choose to try to experience as much as a I can because we aren’t all guaranteed to make it to old age.   Bryon didn’t even make it to middle age.

But I have spent the last two years existing, trying to live even if, at times, I was just going through the motions.  I can’t stay in this state forever.  I am going to need to choose how I am going to live the remainder of my years.

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And I have no clue what the future is going to bring.