Happy second birthday in Heaven

Today was Bryon’s second birthday in Heaven.  You might have read my blog yesterday when I wrote about how it was one year since the funeral and you must be confused as to why I am writing about his birthday.  It’s true.  His funeral was a day before his birthday.  I had to experience a painful first the very next day after the funeral.  And the firsts just kept coming.  My birthday is in two days, my daughters is next month and our wedding anniversary is at the end of September. This corner of the year will probably always be the roughest five weeks of the year for me.

It seems so unreal that we are celebrating Bryon’s second birthday in Heaven.  At times, I am still stunned that this all happened. But I decided that last week that the anniversary of his death will be the sad day.  His birthday will be a happy day. So I decided to have a party for our friends to get together and share stories. Instead of dwelling on Bryon’s death, it was time to celebrate that he had lived.

Last year, the day after his funeral, a few of us had dinner at hibachi because that is what we had done for his last living birthday.  I was thinking of doing that again but I wanted to include more people and it would be hard to have a lot of people at a hibachi table.

I decided that I wanted to release balloons at the cemetery and then have funfetti cheesecake at my house.  I wanted to buy a whole cheesecake from Cheesecake Factory.  Bryon would have loved that.  He loved funfetti cake and cheesecake.  It would be perfect.  But my friend called the local Cheesecake Factory, they said they couldn’t sell whole funfetti cheesecakes.  But that’s okay.  I found a recipe online that worked well.

A few of my friends met at the cemetery.  One of our friends brought a pennant from Siena College to decorate the grave.  The same friend read the prayer of St. Francis which worked well because I did not prepare anything to be said.  St. Francis was Bryon’s favorite Saint so he would approve.

My daughter and I brought a bundle of balloons to release.  I was very impressed with my daughter.  She is not yet three but she understood that the balloons were going to be released and sent to Heaven for Bryon.  I was worried that she wasn’t going to understand the concept and that she would get upset but she let the balloons go and seemed happy that they were going to Heaven.  

After the cemetery, we went back to my house for pizza, funfetti cheesecake and stories.  There also may have been some Moxie tasting.  Kimmy Gibber did not like it.

This might be the start of a new tradition.  Maybe it won’t.  But for the time being, it is comforting to know that I have a group of friends who are like family who want to  remember Bryon’s life.  And I hold my Albany family close to my heart.

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I wasn’t done loving you

I could think of a million reasons why you couldn’t die.

Our daughter wasn’t old enough to ride a bike.  She needed  you to teach her.  You needed to see her go to Kindergarten and graduate from high school.  You needed to scare any boy she brought home.  You needed to walk her down the aisle when she got married.

You still had more to accomplish in your career.  You wanted to write a book.  I still hear about how much people miss your knowledge and expertise.

We had a cruise booked.  It was going to stop in Aruba.  We had so many other cruises we wanted to go on.  Except you didn’t want to go on an Alaskan cruise, but I knew you would eventually give into me.

All the other places we were supposed to go to.  You wanted to go to Texas and attend a high school football game because you loved Friday Night Lights.  You wanted to go to San Diego and see all the Top Gun sights.  And you wanted to go to Branson, Missouri.  I still don’t understand why you wanted to go to Branson, Missouri so badly.  Even if it’s the Nashville of the Ozarks.  I didn’t want to go, but eventually I would have given in.

We were supposed to have another baby. Our daughter was supposed to be a big sister.

You needed to leave to meet your best friend’s new son and all the other babies that have been born since you have passed.  It still hurts my heart to think that they have all been born into a “post-Bryon” world.

Some of the reasons that I didn’t want you to die were self serving.  You always took care of everything.  I didn’t know how I was going to do it without you.  I was pretty helpless before all this happened.  I wanted things to go back to normal.

I had to be strong during this trauma. I found out I was much stronger than I ever knew. I wanted you to know how well I handled everything.  I thought you would be proud of me.

But the major reason I didn’t want you to die was because I wasn’t done loving you.

We only got three anniversaries. We celebrated our first and third. Our second anniversary was nine days after our daughter was born and we forgot to celebrate it that year. I remember we were lying in bed and you said “Hey, it’s our anniversary today.” We never could have known that we would only have three anniversaries.  Maybe we would have found a way to celebrate that anniversary if we knew we were only going to have a few.

I thought about all the stupid fights we had.  I thought about all the times I got annoyed with you over stupid things.  I thought about all the times I didn’t appreciate all that you did for me.   You couldn’t die because I needed time to prove that I could be a better wife.

We were always so busy, caught up in our day to day lives.  I didn’t take the time to show I loved you.  We can’t get that time back.

I wasn’t ready to let you go. I wasn’t ready for you to die. I wanted a chance to do it better. I wasn’t done loving you.

You held on for five months in the ICU.  You survived septic shock many times.  Your organs shut down and you kept fighting.  No one can say that you didn’t fight.  You fought until the bitter end.

I knew you were fighting.  After sitting by your side for five months, I know you fought harder than anyone else in your situation would have.  Most people would have given up. You didn’t want to be done.  You wanted to accomplish more in your career.  You wanted to have more time with your friends.  You wanted to raise your daughter.

And maybe you weren’t done loving me either.

A Widow’s Rage Defense of Patton Oswalt’s Engagement — Erica Roman Blog

I have never shared another blog on my blog but this is a must read.  While I myself am not ready to give my heart to someone else, I hope I will someday.  NO ONE has the right to judge a widow or widower when they choose to love again.  Erica nails it.

Yesterday I was very excited to see that the comedian Patton Oswalt had announced his engagement to Meredith Salenger. Now, anyone who know’s me knows that I don’t follow the lives of celebrities at all. I’ve made an exception for him. Our spouses both unexpectedly died within 3 days of each other and both of […]

via A Widow’s Rage Defense of Patton Oswalt’s Engagement — Erica Roman Blog

The last first holiday

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.  

For my daughter: what your father taught me about love

For my daughter:

They say that a girl learns how she is supposed to be treated by observing how her father treats her mother.  Unfortunately, you will not see this firsthand.  You will learn about other kind of love from all the people in your life that love you.  But you will not see how your father and I loved each other.  So this is my attempt to write down, the best I can, what I learned from your father’s and my love.

  1. True love does exist.   You might have to wait for it, but it exists.  I had given up on the idea of falling in love.  Part of that was my own fault.  We come from an Irish family and showing affection and love is not our strength.  We are not usually warm and fuzzy.  I never let my guard down.  I still don’t know why your father thought I was special and worked for my affections but I am happy he did. 
  2. It’s okay to have standards but still keep your heart open.  I had a list of ten items.  The top three were Republican, Catholic and a Red Sox fan.  Almost everyone thought I was nuts and told me I was being unreasonable. (The irony is now the only one of those three I can say I am with any certainty is a Red Sox fan.  These days I feel “meh” about religion and politics.)  The fourth item was being Irish which your father was ⅛ Irish so that might be stretching it.  I can’t remember much of the rest of the list except I wanted a man that could provide intelligent conversation (check),  a man who like to travel (check) and a man who had depth to his personality (check).  I wanted a man who could to the symphony and wine tasting one night and go to a baseball game, drink beer and eat hot dogs the next.  I was told that one was unreasonable but it described your father perfectly.   I also wanted an older man.  I almost didn’t give your father a chance because I was stuck on the age issue.   You have to be honest in what you are looking for but you also have to know when to be open. 
  3. If it’s meant to be, it will happen.  Your father and I were not a likely pair.  I was 7 years (actually 6 years and 363 days) older than him.  We also lived 7 hours apart.  I was not looking for a younger man or for a long distance relationship.  Your father wasn’t initially looking for a long distance relationship either.  Your father would text me and say he liked older woman and I pretty much would text back with “well, good for you.” Your father pursued and I resisted but in the end, it happened and there was nothing to stop it.  We fell in love.  We fell hard and we fell fast. It was meant to be. 
  4. You are worthy of a nice dinner.  It’s not about the money, it’s about the effort.  A friend of mine who is like a big brother to me once said that if a guy takes you to a chain restaurant on your first date, then there shouldn’t be a second.  I told this to your father and he agreed 100%.  Granted, your father generally had a disdain for all chain restaurants (except Texas Roadhouse and Chili’s) but you are unique and he should not take you to a generic place. 
  5. Love brings out the best in you.  The right one will make you want to be the best version of yourself. They will see the best in you.  You will strive to be a better person when in love. 
  6. Love with care- choose your words wisely.  Your father and I were/are both passionate people and we had some heated disagreements.  We were both guilty of saying things that we didn’t mean.  Choose your words carefully.  Love can be strong but life is fragile.   Even though we were both guilty of it, I am haunted by those words.  Even if you forgive each other and make up, you can’t take words back. 
  7. You don’t know how much you love someone until they are at death’s door.  Your father and I lived a busy life and we didn’t always take time to enjoy our love quietly.  But there were many days that defined our love.  Days where I thought I couldn’t love your father more than I already did.  The evening we got engaged at Mahar’s.  Our wedding day.  The day you were born.  Each of these events made us realize greater depths of our love.  I remember being in labor and I was cursing everyone and everything (sorry but it was true, labor is no joke!)   I remember your father saying he loved me so much and that he never loved me more than he did at that moment.  My love reached its culminating point when he was at death’s door.  You don’t know how much you love someone until you realize that they could be gone at any moment.
  8. Love doesn’t die.  A person will die but the love that exists doesn’t die.  When your father and I made our wedding vows, we vowed to love and honor each other, all the days of our lives.  Your father may not be here anymore, but I still love him and honor him and I know wherever he is, he loves me too.

I am not marrying a Texas rancher.

Members of my Albany family often get together for dinner.  Witty banter is exchanged, like a real family.  My daughter fights with my best friend’s son as if they are siblings.  Last night dinner was at my house.  I made several dishes from The Homesick Texan’s cookbooks (yes, I have both.)  Anything I have ever made from her cookbooks is a hit.  I highly recommend them.  We started joking that my husband should be a Texas rancher.  Except I can’t move to Texas so he would have to set up a ranch in our suburban town.  

I may have posted a joke about this on social media as my sense of humor can be inappropriate at times.  Part of it is my personality.  If you follow the Meyers-Briggs philosophy, I am an INFJ.  My blog friend Jessica is an INFJ as well and she often writes about INFJ problems.  She so gets me.  One of her recent posts is about INFJ humor and our ability to tell jokes that make others uncomfortable.  The other part of my inappropriate sense of humor is dark humor, which is typical of widows.  The way I look at it is, if you have lived through dark times, then you can joke about it.

But I want to be clear,  I am not marrying a rancher from Texas.  

I am not marrying anyone.  

I am not dating anyone.  

I am not sleeping with anyone.  (Though it would not be anyone’s business if I was sleeping with anyone and no one’s place to judge.  I am just not interested.  Besides, I would probably start crying halfway through this activity and I am pretty sure that is not considered a turn-on. Though some people are into some weird stuff so you never know).

I am not marrying anyone.  I was married to a man who was the love of my life and my best friend.  I don’t know if there are even words to describe the love between us.  We were a team and we fit.  Sure, we had problems and arguments, but got through them.  We both had strong personalities and we had our groove.  We supported one another as individuals and as a part of our team.  Bryon was the first man I ever let my guard down too and he never let me down.  

My Grandma Sullivan was widowed when she was 76 and was never remarried before she died at the age of 90.  I remember her joking about two things with me.  One was that she was going to buy a pair of jeans (though she called them dungarees).  The second thing she joked about was getting a boyfriend.  I didn’t see a problem with it, but I remember my grandmother just saying that she could never find a man who would compare to my grandfather.  My grandmother was an Irish woman and she was not one to express emotions and my younger self didn’t detect any emotion in her comment but now I know that comment was full of emotion.  Now I totally understand exactly what she was saying.

Will I ever remarry? Possibly.  I was good at being a wife.  I can cook.  I am not bothered if dinner is interrupted by a work call. I don’t mind sports being on the TV.  Oh, and I will stay by your side when you are sick.  But I really hope that Bryon’s situation doesn’t happen to anyone again, especially anyone I know.  But right now I struggle to think anyone could capture my heart like Bryon did.  There was only one of him and he was perfect.  I doubt there is anyone out there that would be perfect for my broken heart or could understand what a widow goes through.

Will I ever date?  Someday, maybe, but right now I feel “meh” about it.  I have never been good at dating and I just don’t have any desire to enter the meat market.  Plus, I know that even the best relationships are work and right now I am not ready for that kind of work.  Especially when most guys would probably be mediocre.  I have spent my life trying to do well in all my roles- the good wife, the good mother, the good daughter, the good friend.  Those roles are important, but there was one area I was never concerned about and that was being good to myself.  I need to sort out who I really am as opposed to who I have been expected to be.

So I am not marrying anyone and I am not dating anyone and I don’t plan on doing either anytime soon.  Oh, and I am not sleeping with anyone and I don’t plan on doing that anytime soon either.  Until I am ready for any of those things, I have so many things to do.  I have a story I need to write.  I need to figure out where I stand with God and I need to decide if there is any point to being religious. I have a nightstand with three ridiculously tall piles of books I need to read.  I have races to train for.  I have places to travel to and weddings to attend.  I have a stack of cookbooks full of recipes that I need to try.  I have crime TV shows to watch even if they scare me and then I can’t sleep.  I have a garden to tend to.  I have a house to redecorate.  And all of this gets worked around my daughter’s schedule and spending time with my friends.  And once I know what my daughters dreams are, then some of our adventures will revolve around that.  Right now I know she likes gymnastics and aquariums.

After I accomplish all of this, then we will see about the whole love bit.

My friend Stephanie

I have never met Stephanie in person but we both belong to a Facebook group which was formed in 2011.  It consisted of a bunch of ladies planning their September 2012 weddings.  We discussed many things in that group such as floral arrangements, wedding hairstyles and seating charts.  After our wedding, many of us stayed in that group and since then we have bought houses, gotten job promotions and welcomed babies into the world.  We also give each other fashion advice, share recipes and we talk about a LOT of things that, like Vegas, will stay in that group.

I am the first widow of the group.

Well, sort of.

My friend Stephanie really is the first widow of our group.

Stephanie and I had a lot in common.  We are both New England girls and we love the ocean.  We both root for the Boston Red Sox and the New England Patriots.  We have both run for public office.  Despite the fact that she is a Democrat and I was a Republican, we understood each other and we always refer to each other as our “sister from another party.”  However, I never thought we would share the bond of being widows.  At least not this soon.

While the members of our online group come from a variety of backgrounds and each had our own love story, Stephanie’s story was a bit different.  Like the rest of us, Stephanie was marrying her soulmate, Chris.  But unlike the rest of us, Stephanie had a heart breaking story that preceded her happily ever after.  Chris is Stephanie’s second soul-mate.  Her first soul mate was her fiancé Stephen and he drowned in a lake in New Hampshire in 2010.

Now, I am just going to stop here and state that just because Stephanie and Stephen were engaged and not married does not disqualify Stephanie from widow status.  As far as I am concerned, she lost the man she was planning to spend the rest of her life with and it doesn’t  matter if they had made it legal yet.  If anything, engaged widows have to deal with some major challenges, especially if they did not legally have their affairs sorted out beforehand.  And to be clear, I have no idea if Stephanie had those challenges.  I didn’t ask her because it is none of my (or your) business.

Stephanie was about my age when Stephen died.  And she had to face the dilemma that every widow must face- do you move forward or do you let this destroy you?

Stephanie chose to move forward.  She met her next soul mate Chris shortly thereafter.  Stephanie says that falling in love again was scary because you know that love can be ripped away.  Stephanie was so happy with Stephen and she never thought she would experience that kind of love again.  When she started to have those feelings again, she realized that she could let this new love pass her by or she can see where it goes.  I am sure Stephanie is glad that she decided to see where this love would go.

Chris was extremely supportive of Stephanie during her time of grief.  Chris also let her incorporate Stephen’s memory into their life.  Stephanie states that she and Chris were comfortable creating a bridge between the relationships.  It makes sense since there was not breakup.  It was more like a transition.  When Chris and Stephanie got engaged, the center stone of her engagement ring came from the solitaire from her engagement ring from Stephen.  And on their wedding day, Stephen’s dad walked Stephanie down the aisle.

If I ever fall in love again, I hope my man would be as understanding and supportive as Chris.

I did ask Stephanie if she had any advice for other widows.  Here is what she had to say-

  • Don’t live according to anyone else’s timeline.
  • Everyone grieves differently and no one has the right to judge any of your decisions
  • Lean on people.  Friends and family genuinely want to help you.  Take them up on offers, but don’t be afraid to say no as well.  If you are not ready to go to a movie, have girls night, etc., it’s okay not to force it.
  • People will surprise you.  You will definitely find out who your real friends are.
  • It’s okay to seek professional help.
  • There is also an opportunity to do things you might not have otherwise done that you’ve always wanted to do.  Once the “widow fog” lifts, do what you have always wanted to do whether it is learn to paint, take piano lessons or go to law school.
  • You will be caught off guard by PTSD even years later.  Stephanie states that she was watching a movie a few months ago where the husband died and the wife was in his closet, crying in his clothes.  Stephanie says she lost it.

Whether my great love story has a chapter 2 or not, I will continue to look up to Stephanie.  As I said, she was my age when she lost Stephen and she chose to be resilient.  She went on to finish her bachelors degree and she just completed her first year of law school proving that you can always follow your dreams.  I hope I can be like Stephanie.  Today she and Chris are going on a well-deserved vacation to somewhere that requires passports.  Let’s all wish for them to have a great time.

If you want to read more about Stephanie and Chris’s love story, click here.

If you want to read more about Stephen, you can view his obituary here.

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Stephanie and Stephen
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Stephanie and Chris