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.
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.
I have only had one serious relationship before I was with Bryon. I have referred to him as the Anti-Bryon because he is pretty much the opposite of Bryon.
Like, a complete 180. I had often said that Bryon was the over correction of this relationship.
Whether Bryon was an over correction or not, he was the right guy for me. The Anti-Bryon was intimidated by my strong personality, Bryon wasn’t fazed. He had an equally strong, if not stronger personality.
Anti-Bryon does have an actual name but I do feel the need to protect his privacy though I highly doubt that he reads this blog.
The last time I spoke to him was during an AOL Instant Messenger Conversation while I was campaigning for George W Bush in 2004. The conversation was just like our relationship- one sided. I ended that conversation thinking that if he and I were going to be friends, he could put in some effort.
And we haven’t spoken since.
The Anti-Bryon and I started dating at the end of Fall semester our senior year of college. Our relationship was not exciting and never progressed. Not even physically.
After two and a half years, I wanted that “je ne sais quoi” that was missing.
And I wanted a boyfriend who wanted to have sex with me. Or at least kissed open mouthed.
This might be TMI but this is my blog. If you don’t like it- don’t read it.
One night, two and a half years into our relationship, I had had enough. We were getting ready for bed and
I confronted the Anti-Bryon. Anti-Bryon wasn’t particularly religious but he said that the thought of having sex with me made him sick to his stomach.
We went to bed. To go to sleep. Just to be clear.
I regret not kicking him out but my self esteem was lacking during my early 20s.
The next day, he did his thing and I had a rare day off so I drove two hours to Boston to do some shopping and to see my Grandma.
As I drove down to Boston in my 1998 Saturn that did not have a tape deck or a CD player, I flipped through the radio stations and I kept hearing “All or Nothing” by O-Town.
It may have just been a coincidence since the song was popular at that time.
I went to the shops in Downtown Crossing despite the fact there were plenty of malls in suburbia. I wanted the distraction of being “in the city”.
And in each store, O-Town was playing.
At that stage of my life, I never thought much about the esoteric but it was clear that the Universe was trying to tell me something.
Usually when I ask for a sign, I get some sort of riddle in return. Or ignored completely. But this was one of the few times in my life that Universe, or God or whoever the *bleep* is in charge (Charles, maybe?) has sent me a clear sign that’s it’s oooooover, ooooooover.
We weren’t in love. We were just friends. And this is how it ends.
After I visited my Grandma that afternoon, I drove back to Maine and broke up with the Anti-Bryon. He wasn’t heartbroken.
And neither was I, though I felt that he led me on. He had the best of me but he didn’t want the rest of me. He got a good deal but he had no intention of having a future with me. But I never took the initiative to question his intentions or lack thereof.
So why am I thinking about the Anti-Bryon?
I have zero attachment to him. I hope he is well and happy. I hope he is living his best life possible.
I seldom think about those years and when I do, all I remember is boredom. I don’t remember the Anti-Bryon as being particularly funny. The only funny thing I remember was this one time we went to the Portland Museum of Art (free admission with a student ID from the University of Southern Maine) and he came up behind and whispered “I see naked people…”
Like that kid on Sixth Sense. You know…the one who saw dead people.
That is the only funny thing I remember about the Anti-Bryon. But maybe he was funny but I spent 8 years with Bryon who was one of the funniest people I have ever met.
I am thinking about this because O-Town has been stuck in my head.
Except this time the phrase I am pondering is “I’ve had the rest of you now I want the best of you.”
I don’t think anyone has ever had the “best of me”.
I was a very hyper kid. I began to learn at a very young age that I had to dial it back a notch or two or twelve to appease people.
I was shamed for being too loud, too hyper, too dramatic, too talkative.
So I tried my best to scale it down to fit in and to please people.
I kept my light from shining as bright as it could, so I could fit in with others.
Because I was too much for people.
As a parent of a child with a bright light, it pains me to see her get scolded for being her.
It’s why I took her out of her dance class when she kept being in trouble for being too talkative and “overbearing”.
I wasn’t going to pay $65 a month to have my daughters light dimmed, especially when I am sure in the upcoming years, people will try to dim her light and they will probably do it for free. She has plenty of other activities she attends and if she wants to continue to dance, I’ll find another school that’s a better fit.
When I was dating the Anti-Bryon, I tried to fit whatever mold I thought would appease him. Looking back, he never tried to fit my mold. I loved to travel and the one time he went to Boston (the actual city, not just visiting my family in the suburbs) he was pissed at me because he didn’t want to ride on the T (that’s the subway for the non-Bostonians).
Instead of saying that this relationship was a two way street and sometimes he needed to do the things I wanted, I tried harder to please him.
But during all these acts to try to please the Anti-Bryon, I lost my authentic self.
Or I should say, my authentic self became more lost and obscured.
My authentic self had been lost since I was a child.
My authentic self continued to stay lost until I realized all my co-workers, most of whom were a little older than me, were still going out and having fun. Friday nights with the Anti-Bryon consisted of watching America’s Funniest Home Videos or AFV as it had been shortened. AFV circa 2002/2003 didn’t have Bob Saget as a host so watching it felt completely pointless. You can only watch a cat leap in the air or a guy get hit in the nuts so many times before it just isn’t funny anymore.
My coworkers taught me that being an adult was not synonymous with being boring. I remember my coworker MaryBeth (I don’t know what happened to her) told me that she thought there was a more fun version of me inside and maybe if I wasn’t dating the Anti-Bryon that that side of myself could express itself.
MaryBeth saw my authentic self.
She saw something in me that I didn’t see.
I took those words to heart. The day in Boston with O-Town happened shortly thereafter.
This all happened in summer 2003.
So I decided to move home (further up the Maine coast) and I got into politics.
Politics taught me social skills and I felt a little less socially awkward though politics in itself can be socially awkward at times. I met a lot of great people (including my husband) who are still in my life but I also had to weed through a lot of narcissistic toolbags.
I learned what I needed to learn during my political years. I made some friends that I am still friends with today. I got to travel around the country and I have had some cool experiences. It was through politics where the etiquette of fine dining and other formalities became second nature.
But I found it hard to be authentic. I couldn’t take the scheming and games. So I retired. Or at the very least, I went on an indefinite sabbatical.
Bryon came into my life and when I got my political fix by tagging along to his events.
Bryon was good for my authentic self. We spent most of our free time together, engaged in intelligent and witty conversations. We traveled. We ate good food whether it was fine dining or from takeout windows.
He encouraged me not to sell myself short and to grow career-wise. He even made me read Sheryl Sandberg’s book Lean In.
I definitely grew during our years together.
But I still feel like he never got the best of me.
He got the best version available at that time but it still wasn’t the best of me.
Bryon and I both had strong personalities and I would go along with whatever he wanted sometimes because it was easier.
During those years, it never dawned on me that there was a better version of myself lurking underneath.
I don’t know if it fair to myself to feel guilty for not expressing a side of personality that I didn’t know was there.
Plus we live in a society that does not foster authenticity. We care more about how we appear on social media.
I just remember sitting by his side in the ICU, mustering up strength I didn’t know I had, promising him I would be a better wife.
Coming from a Boston Irish-Catholic family, guilt is one of the few emotions that I learned to express.
I wanted Bryon be proud of me but I never got that confirmation.
After Bryon’s death, I started to question everything. Why did Bryon have to die? What is God so cruel?
I questioned everything I believed or have ever believed. I questioned the meaning of life.
I believe this is what all the New Age Guru’s call “the Dark Night of the Soul”.
I thought a lot about my life and Bryon’s life. He was his authentic self. He didn’t care if people got pissed off. He lived his truth.
He still exercised tact and decorum.
There were a few times when we were watching the Republican Presidential Primary debates and a certain candidate would say something inappropriate and Bryon would day “I can’t believe he said that. You can’t say that!”
It took Bryon’s death for me to learn how to live.
It was a time of my life where I didn’t want to live. A part of me died that Sunday morning when Bryon died.
I made the decision to keep living.
And I hope no one read that in the literal sense. I never wanted to die. I just felt dead inside.
Even with these new revelations, I continued to try to please people. People who took advantage of me. People who didn’t respect my privacy. People who used me my life’s tragedy for their gain. People who took my love and friendship for granted.
I made sure to show up to every daycare function and do whatever a Pinterest mom needed to do because I didn’t want to be the single mom who dropped the ball. Just don’t look inside my car. I don’t have it together nearly as much as I seem like I do.
The irony is, no one has openly judged me. Maybe behind my back but I don’t have the information to tell you one way or the other.
Here I am, at the age of 41 and I am finally learning that I can’t dim my light for others. My light shining brightly doesn’t affect the brightness of other lights.
We all have to live our truth.
At age 41, I finally realized that I am not going to be everyone’s cup of tea and that’s okay.
And I don’t have to drink tea I don’t like either.
And neither do you.
Don’t let anyone blow out your light.
And going forward, people can take me or leave. But I am done trying to please people.
That is the latest retort my daughter will tell me if she doesn’t agree with whatever instruction I am giving her at that moment.
She has also said it to her grandparents too so I know I am not special.
I know her teachers are working on independence and not being bossy in her Pre-K class and sometimes my daughter’s retort will be followed up with “You need to worry about yourself!”
I appreciate the fact that she is learning to set her own boundaries. It is something I have struggled with my whole life. But when I tell her to complete a simple yet essential task like “brush you teeth” or “put on your pants,” I tend to respond to her with “I am your mother and I can tell you what to do!”
My daughter is only four but I admire her ability to be true to herself. I hope she never loses it.
Maybe we all need to be in touch with our inner 4 year old who doesn’t want to brush their teeth or wear pants.
As far as I can remember, I have been the person who always sought approval of others.
It began with my parents.
I was concerned about having their approval on everything, even into adulthood. While parental guidance is generally a good thing, it is not healthy for a grown adult to depend on their parents opinion to make every decision.
When I went off to college, I found another group of people to seek approval from- my friends.
My friends were good people but they obviously had a different level of emotional investment in me than my parents had. My friends convinced me to get an eyebrow piercing. This form of approval was much more exciting than my parents approval. My parents never would have approved of an eyebrow ring.
I felt like a real bad-ass. Me and all the other people on campus who had eyebrow rings in the late 1990’s.
In my twenties, I got involved in politics and I had tons more people to seek approval from. I had to seek approval from my political party leaders, the leaders of any political organizations I belonged to as well as my peers.
I had to seek approval from the people I was allied with in whatever organizational politics were going on. The dreaded “politics of politics”.
(Bryon referred to it as people fighting over who gets to become the mayor of Candy Land.)
Oh and voters.
I had to seek the approval of voters.
I mean, they were the reason I got into politics in the first place.
Bryon entered my life during my political years.
One of the things that drew me to him was his intelligence. I trusted his judgment. And I sought his approval.
Bryon did help me boost my confidence and see my self worth, I still wasn’t confident enough to make my own decisions.
I had trouble making simple decisions without his input and approval. He used to email me at lunchtime about what I wanted for dinner in hopes that we could come to a decision by dinnertime.
Don’t get me wrong. If you are in a marriage or a committed relationship, you do want to confer with one another about decisions that affect the both of you. But a grown adult should possess the ability to make simple decisions. The only decision I was capable of making was hot or iced coffee. (Answer: Iced. Almost always iced.)
But I needed Bryon’s opinion and approval on everything. The sad thing is, he spent years boosting me up and I was so co-dependent on him that he never got to see me soar.
Why have I always struggled with making decisions?
For me, I think it was due to the fact that I was indecisive and because I lacked confidence in myself.
The latter is silly because my gut is almost always right. When I look back at things I regret, it usually starts with ignoring my intuition. When I meet people, I usually feel good, bad or indifferent. When someone who gives me that bad feeling befriends me, I will regret it.
It’s the price I pay for ignoring my intuition.
After Bryon died, I went through a personal metamorphosis.
When Bryon died, I wasn’t simply heartbroken.
My soul was completely shattered.
And when my soul was completely shattered, I questioned everything I believed or have ever believed.
I began to live my life more intentionally.
Life is a gift and I want to the rest of my years to be meaningful.
So far my widowhood can be split into three phases.
The first phase of widowhood was the “WTF happened to my life?” phase and can be equated to morning fog that is so thick that you can’t drive in it. That lasted about three to six months and was full of sadness and anger.
The second phase lasted until I was about 18 months to two years out. It was still foggy but less so and it consisted of me actually getting used to the fact that Bryon was really gone. This phase tended to be filled with sadness and emptiness.
Now I am two years into my widowhood “journey.” (Seriously, why do we call grief a journey? A journey implies something pleasant and I would rather have a colonscopy than go on this “journey” again).
I am currently in the “Third Phase” which is the phase where I need to start living again. It doesn’t suffice to just think about it. I need to actually do it.
The Third Phase is lonely. Everyone else has moved on and because I am not sitting on my couch, unshowered, and crying while drinking a box of wine and watching the Gilmore Girls on Netflix that that means everyone thinks that I have also moved on.
I am much better but I still have my moments. Luckily those moments that cause me to tear up usually last for 2-5 minutes. In the earlier phases, certain memories could have me crying for several days.
And a widow never “moves on”. We move forward, but we do not move on.
But the Third Phase is also tricky because I have decided to move forward but I am trying to learn my way. I am trying to figure out my new identity and acclimate to a life that is filled with just “my” goals, not “our” goals. There is no “how-to” manual for navigating the Third Phase.
This process is very overwhelming. My life has at least ten different paths I can take and I have to decide this on my own. I have to decide which path is best for me and my for my daughter.
As I adjust to my new vision for the rest of my life. I find myself falling into my old patterns. I started to look externally for approval.
But that needs to stop.
Because I know very few widows. At least “in real life.” I am connected to thousands online but not many in my day to day life.
So that means most people, including my own parents, learn about widowhood from me. Well me, and This is Us and the last fifteen minutes of the How I Met Your Mother finale.
But even if someone has regular conversations with me and reads this blog, they don’t get the whole picture. I don’t talk or write about everything.
There is no way I can accurately portray the depths of grief in written or spoken word. There is not way I can convey the emptiness and hopelessness I have felt. And I don’t try because no one would understand. And they can’t understand it because they haven’t gone through it.
Very few people know what I have gone through. And that, in itself, is a good thing. Even if I feel isolated and frustrated, I am glad so many people won’t have to experience this. I am happy that most people get to grow old with their loves.
Therefore, when I think of all these life decisions, only I know whats best for me. Sure, my friends and family care about me and want whats best for me and my daughter.
But they aren’t me.
And I am sure they aren’t seeking my approval on their lives.
Only I know what is best for me.
And that statement doesn’t just apply to widows.
It applies to everyone, including you.
Only you have lived your life. Only you have felt what you have felt. Only you have felt the depths of your own experiences.