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.
Have you ever had an event that kicked you on your ass?
Or at the very least, knocked you off-balance a bit? It could be a death of a loved one, a divorce or breakup or a job loss.
You may find yourself in a situation where you want to do whatever you can to get back to “normal.”
There is actually a scientific process that describes this. Homeostasis
Ho * me * o * sta * sis /noun/ the tendency toward a relatively stable equilibrium between interdependent elements, especially as maintained by physiological process. I had never heard of the concept of homeostasis until Spring of 2009. I had gone back to school for Health Information Technology and had to take the required Anatomy and Physiology courses. I had spent my 20s underemployed and I started working in a billing office at a local hospital. One of my bosses (and mentors) recommended I go back to school so I could advance my career.
So there I was, looking at an online bulletin board trying to come up with 3 discussion posts on Homeostasis.
After that course concluded, I did not think about homeostasis for a very long time. Not for another 7 years and three months.
I remember seeing Bryon, critically ill and clinging to his life. Despite unfathomable injury and illness, I could see his body trying to heal.
Even in his fragile state, his body was trying it’s hardest to achieve homeostasis. Of course we know his body was not successful in that feat.
After Bryon died, I looked at the shattered remains of what had been my life and wondered what I needed to do to put those pieces together.
I desperately wanted my life to achieve a state of homeostasis.
Of course, my primary identity was that of wife and mother and without Bryon, homeostasis would not be possible.
I wondered what I needed to do to achieve homeostasis. This seems ridiculous to look back on because my life was in shambles.
At that time, I felt that homeostasis involved being a wife so I figured that after an acceptable amount of time, I would find the next love of my life.
This works for some people but raw, profound grief takes a lot out of you and takes longer than expected.
I was a mess for awhile and I believe that like attracts like so I didn’t want to attract a mess.
I was looking at my Facebook memories the other day. There was a memory from 2017 where I said that when I feel in love again that I wanted it to be at Christmas. While I would love for my life to be a Hallmark movie, it dawned on me that as time goes by, I believe in love a little less each day. But that’s another blog post for another time. Bryon was my rock and he grounded me.
Bryon had a way of sizing up a situation and making sure things were okay.
If I were upset with people, Bryon would remind me that I was overestimating people and their intelligence and/or loyalty. Sometimes he said things people didn’t like to hear. At times I could find him harsh but he was usually correct. I miss his insight and his loyalty to me, our daughter and those closest to him.
So how could I stabilize my life when my rock was gone?
I am working towards it by making necessary life changes, removing toxic people from my life and doing inner work.
I have often reflected what Bryon would think about many situations going on from political scandals and other news as well as the shenanigans of people we knew.
It dawned on me recently that Bryon was the grounding force for many people. Many people sought his advice.
And it’s no wonder that in some circles I was in, things became off. Everyone is knocked off balance. Bryon isn’t here to ground things. To knock sense into people.
And most of us are probably going through life trying to achieve the elusive state of homeostasis.
But while we physically can achieve homeostasis (and even that is questionable because our bodies are always aging), we are not designed to achieve homeostasis in our psyche. Our minds and hearts are meant to be expanding. We should be living our lives outside our comfort zones. We should be learning and growing.
True homeostasis is not possible.
So if you are struggling, remember that. You just need to find, as that cliche goes “your new normal.” And as long as you are trying to better yourself, then you will grow.
And you will wind up where you need to be.
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.
I have used this blog with two other random times when I have tried to get back into shape. Since the workout is the same each day, there is only one podcast episode which is repeated three times.
Chubby Jones chats during her podcast. She seems really nice.
But I realized that I didn’t want to listen to the same small talk during all three workouts.
It reminds me about the times when Bryon and I used to go to Macaroni Grill often shortly after my daughter was born. There was a waiter who has a son who was about the same age. He never remembered us and we’d have the same conversation every time.
It drove Bryon nuts.
I’m actually a little confused about that since Groundhog Day was one of his favorite movies.
Mike the waiter was like his own real life Ned Ryerson.
So Chubby Jones podcasts episodes are a one time deal for me.
The following two workouts I used the week one workout from the NHS podcast.
Laurie is a pleasant British lady who is encouraging and doesn’t engage in small talk.
I found both podcasts effective.
Stay tuned for week two. Please let me know if you are participating in Couch to 5k or another running program.
Are there any different Couch to 5k podcasts you like to use?
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.
When one goes through a trauma and/or profound loss, it changes every aspect of your life.
It changes your daily routine.
It changes your sense of security.
It changes your health.
It changes you sense of identity.
Everything you have ever believed gets questioned and your life goes into turmoil.
During my time of turmoil, I have decided to question everything I have ever believed and there have been changes to my thought patterns.
I learned not to worry so much. I can’t change my past so I no longer obsess about my past choices and regrets. There is so much about the future that I can’t control, so I don’t worry about that. There was no way I could foresee what would happen to Bryon and it happened. I can’t control what happens tomorrow, next week, next month or next year. I can just live my life and try to make the best decisions I can.
My tolerance for bullsh*t is so much lower, if it even exists at all. I have learned that life is too short to deal with inauthentic people who have no regard for your feelings and are trying to make your life more difficult.
I had always been a rule follower. Bryon used to give me hard time about it. Some rules are meant to be bent, some broken and some are silly and shouldn’t be followed at all.
During this season of my life, I have thrown myself into a period of soul searching. I have learned so much from reading books and blogs, from heart to heart talks with close friends and from watching YouTube.
I am always up for a conversation pondering the meaning of life and how to live one’s life to the fullest.
I am not a guru but if I were to offer one piece of advice, it would be that you need to love yourself.
It might sound cheesy but you can never be happy if you don’t love yourself.
Too often, we are taught that the needs of others should be put above your own. Any mother knows this. Our kids come first and we neglect ourselves.
But we are actually doing our children a disservice by not allowing ourselves to be happy.
If my baseline is to be unhappy, my daughter will pick up on that. She will grow up learning that you are supposed to be unhappy.
People often think that I am a happy person because I have a cheerful disposition.
I had them fooled.
I was never truly happy.
I have always relied on others to make me happy.
Happiness was measured by how many friends I had and who I was friends with. For someone focused on that, I never had many deep friendships.
And when I was married, I relied on Bryon to make me happy.
The whole part of Jerry McGuire where he says to Renee Zellweger “You complete me” is complete and utter bullsh*t.
No one can complete anyone. We have to be happy and complete within ourselves.
I grew up with very low self-esteem. I didn’t date much and I measured my self worth by this.
I had one long term relationship at the end of college. I often refer to this guy as the “Anti-Bryon” because they were opposites on many things. The “Anti-Bryon” did not appreciate me and tried to extinguish my spirit. Though I don’t think he necessarily did that intentionally. I think he just vibrated on a lower level of energy. When we broke up my Grandma Sullivan expressed that she was disappointed that we had ended our relationship. She had liked him. I told her that the Anti-Bryon had no intention of marrying me. My grandmother just said “You’re right. He didn’t have enough zip for you.”
God, I miss my grandmother.
Needless to say, I let how the Anti-Bryon viewed me to affect my self-worth. When I am in love, I like to express it verbally. (Actually, I am told I express a lot of things verbally, not just love.) I would tell the Anti-Bryon that I loved him and he would get annoyed and respond with “random.”
And it was random, but I was expressing my love. Which I feel should be done when you feel it.
If you express your love, the recipient should appreciate it. I mean, as long as you are doing it in a non-creepy manner. If you express your love to a complete stranger in a public place then that recipient would be justified for not appreciating it. But if you are in a committed relationship, then you should be able to tell your significant lover that you love them, gosh darn it!
I began to realize that the Anti-Bryon was with me for convenience.
Eventually, I decided that I deserved better. I deserved to be loved.
The Anti-Bryon and I were supposed to stay friends but that didn’t last long. Our friendship started to take after our relationship. As in, I was doing all the work. I remember chatting with him on Instant Messenger in Late October in 2004. I told him I was volunteering on the 2004 Bush Campaign and that I had just been diagnosed with bronchitis but I was still going out to wave signs. I was excited. I was telling him because we were friends and he barely seemed interested. I mean, he also was a Democrat so that may have played a little bit into it. But it was at that moment that I realized he didn’t even deserve my friendship. That was the last time we spoke.
I dated a little over the next 4-5 years.
Whenever I let my guard down, I was rejected. This took a toll on my self-esteem.
I got strung along. Like on How I Met Your Mother. I was always on some guys hook.
Then one day I said “F*ck it.”
Inspired by one of my favorite movies of all time, Kate and Leopold, I decided to take Leopold’s Victorian dating advice and not give a man my time unless he made a “proper overture”.
Bryon did not string me along.
Bryon did not keep me on his hook.
Bryon made a proper overture and made his intentions known.
And we should have lived happily ever after and in some respects we did.
We loved each other fiercely. We were good for each other.
But no relationship is perfect.
Our relationship was not perfect for many reasons.
One of the reasons our relationship wasn’t perfect was because I did not love myself.
In The Mastery of Love, Ruiz discusses how there are two people in every relationship and we are only responsible for our happiness. The other person is responsible for their happiness.
In order to thrive in a relationship, one must look inward and be happy and complete with themselves first. Ergo, Tom Cruise was full of sh*t in Jerry McGuire because no on can complete you.
So Bryon and I were in a marriage and I was expecting him to complete me.
I wasn’t happy with myself.
I relied on Bryon for my happiness. This was not fair because he was not responsible for my happiness. I was.
He definitely tried to make me happy. He offered me the world and I still wasn’t happy with myself.
I know I frustrated him.
I was unhappy with myself and often, that unhappiness would spill over into our relationship.
Any other guy probably would have left me but Bryon made it clear that I was stuck with him.
I felt so poorly about myself that I never understood what Bryon saw in me.
I felt he could do better.
I can’t speak for Bryon’s half of the relationship and his thoughts. Those thoughts died with him. It is easy to put your deceased spouse on a pedestal but I know he wasn’t perfect. But I would love to be able to discuss this with him.
I wish he could see how much I have grown.
Though if he were still alive, I probably wouldn’t have grown.
But I can’t help but wonder how much stronger our marriage would have been if I had been happy with myself.
Bryon loved me at my worst.
My next husband will have the better version of me because now I love myself.
I just don’t want people to have to go through what I did to realize how important it is for you to love yourself first.
I am still trying to figure out the person I want to reinvent myself to be.
I have no idea what the future entails. I am not sure what I want from the future. Bryon’s death has given me the opportunity to really think about how I want to spend the remainder of my days.
Because life is temporary after all.
If it were just me, I probably would have sold my house and would have had plans to go somewhere new. Where I have never been before. On my own. But I probably would have wound up in Chicago or Florida because that is where one of my best friends and my cousin live, respectively.
But I have my daughter and it is important for her to have roots where her father and I had our lives. And to be around those who loved her father and love her.
During my widowhood, I feel like I live in two different time dimensions. The first dimension is the same dimension that we all live in where time moves forward in minutes, weeks, months, years, etc. The second dimension of time is where the past is in the present. The times that I try to cling to a memory for as long as I can because for that brief period of time, I can pretend that I am still in that moment and that Bryon is alive.
I have resigned myself to the fact that I live in this first dimension of time. I am still here on Earth for an undetermined amount of time. I want to make the best of my years here and do as much good in the world as I can. I want to be the best version of myself I can be.
Because I can’t go back and be the older versions of myself. And I don’t really want to either.
Even though my soul feels broken without Bryon, I don’t want to be the person I was before he got sick. I didn’t know what was important. I was selfish. I worried about things that were insignificant. I did not appreciate all that I had and I did not appreciate Bryon. I let my fears rule my life. And sometimes I just went along with things Bryon wanted because I didn’t want to risk an argument. But in the process of not rocking the boat, I wasn’t always true to myself.
Going forward, I must always be true to myself.
Even if it means rocking every boat in the marina.
Death changes everything. The timeline of my life has been broken into two very distinct pieces- the before and the after.
I can never go back to who I was when Bryon was alive or who I was before Bryon came into my life.
I can never go back and be the lonely shy child who grew up in the outskirts of the Boston suburbs.
I can never go back and be the restless teenager in rural Downeast Maine. The girl who knew there was an exciting world out there and felt trapped in her small town.
I can never go back and be the girl who went to college but had no idea what she wanted to do. The girl who had no confidence and was equally afraid of success and fear.
I can never go back and be the 21 year old who was spending a semester “studying” abroad in Winchester, UK.
I can never go back and be the 25 year old girl who had just broken up with her college boyfriend and who was working three jobs to get by.
I can never go back to the 27 year old girl who was involved in politics.
I can never go back to any of these versions of myself. But I still carry something from each version.
The child version of myself represents my Boston Irish roots and my inner child who isn’t afraid to get creative.
The high school version of me represents my restless spirit that I will probably never outgrow and also reminds me that I love to run.
The college version of myself reminds me that I need to be more confident and not be afraid of my dreams like she was.
The 21 year old version of me was proud of herself that she went to England and got to visit London, Paris and Dublin. She got to see places she had dreamed about for years and she got to experience a different culture. Most importantly, she learned that “pants” don’t mean the same thing in the UK as they do in the US.
The 24 year old version of myself taught me that sometimes it is better to let go of something instead of chasing it. You can’t make anyone love you. It is best to wait for real love.
The 27 year old version of myself taught me ambition and how to get over my shyness. This girl also represents who I was before I learned how to love.
And I think about everything I learned from Bryon. He taught me how to love. He taught me to believe to in myself and that I was worth nice things. He taught me how to live life to the fullest. He taught be to not be afraid.
It was because of him I got to be a wife and a mother.
I know that he is a part of me now. But I still wish I could live in my memories with him and not in the present and future.
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 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.