Living without an agenda

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.

Enter widowhood.  

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.  

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The Growing Self Blogger Award

I am honored to be nominated for the Growing Self Blogger Award by no other than the awards creator- Roda!  It means a lot to me.  I have enjoyed reading Roda’s blog and especially reading about her farm.  Maybe the next time we are in Western Michigan, we will take a side trip and stop by the farm.

What is The Growing Self Blogger Award:

“The Growing Self Blogger Award has been created to acknowledge and celebrate amazing individuals, in the blogging community, who are persevering through life’s challenges not only to GROW as individuals,  but to reach out and help others GROW as well.” ~Roda

How Does It Work:

  • Put the award logo/image on your blog
  • List the rules
  • Thank the individual that nominated you and provide a link to their blog
  • Describe the award and mention the creator: Roda  – Growingself.blog
  • Nominate up to 5 blogs.  Remember, the purpose of this award is to specifically celebrate those individuals that make a difference in the lives of others.
  • Give 1 reason why you nominated each individual.
  • Notify your nominees by commenting on their blog

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I am honored to nominate the following bloggers:

*I understand that not everyone chooses to be a part of the award nomination process. By nominating the following blogs, I am able to show thanks and appreciation for the joy, knowledge and laughter these individuals have brought to my life. If you choose to take part, that is fantastic! If not, no worries! Just keep writing…

 

Just because I am a widow…

Just because I am a widow doesn’t mean that I can’t make my own decisions.  Please stop second guessing my choices.  

Just because I am a widow doesn’t mean I am helpless.  I am actually the opposite of helplessness.  I watched my spouse die.  I survived something that most people can’t even imagine.  I might need help with some tasks, but don’t misconstrue that as helpless.

Just because I am a widow doesn’t mean that you can ignore my feelings and dismiss them as part of grief.  Trust me, I have don’t more thinking in the past year than I did my previous 37 years.  My feelings are very well thought out.

Just because I am a widow doesn’t mean that I need to defend my feelings, especially those about God.  A widow is allowed to be mad at God.  It is not your place to scold her or re-educate her.  It’s up to the non-grieving to be supportive and understanding.  

Just because I am a widow, it doesn’t mean I need to put up with poor treatment.  I have been through something so horrendous that you probably can’t even comprehend.  I miss my spouse and I can be lonely.  But I am used to being lonely and I would choose that over being around people who treat me poorly.

Just because I am a widow doesn’t mean that I don’t have responsibilities.  I have a full and busy life.  I am not just sitting around my house.

Just because I am a widow doesn’t mean you can tell me how to raise my child.  I am capable, thank you.  My child is happy and well taken care of thank you.

Just because I am widow doesn’t mean I am desperate for love.  (This one is directed to all the scam Twitter accounts that started following me.  The ones that when you look at who they follow and they are all widows).  Trust me, I had the love of my life and I lost it.  When I decide to date again, it isn’t going to be with some random, bogus Twitter account.

 

A better version of myself

I am always wondering “what if”. What is Bryon hadn’t died?  What if Bryon hadn’t gotten sick?  What would we be doing?  How would the crisis have affected our relationship?  I think about Bryon playing with our daughter.  I think about Bryon hanging out with our friends.  I think about going to political events with Bryon and our daughter.  

Usually when I visualize how life would be with Bryon and I, I am imagining life with him at his healthiest.  I have no idea what long term effects he would have had if he had survived.  I know we wouldn’t have been able to go on a cruise (our favorite way to travel).  In fact, I would have been nervous travelling anywhere that was not close to a large medical center, let alone on a ship in the middle of the ocean.  Had Bryon survived, our lives would have been drastically different.  

But Bryon didn’t survive and our lives are drastically different.  And one of the things that is drastically different is me.

As the crisis began to unfold, I had to change.  I went from being one half of a two person team who took care of a toddler and I instantly became one person who had to take care of her critically ill husband, our toddler and myself.  Everything became my responsibility, plus I had to stay on top of Bryon’s care.  Luckily I had help.  My parents did take care of my daughter and when they had to go back to Maine periodically, friends would step up and take care of her.   Friends prepared meals and did tasks around my house, like mowing my lawn.  I remember thinking that I couldn’t wait to tell Bryon because he was going to be proud of me for rising to the occasion.  

I also remember thinking that I couldn’t wait to fill Bryon in on everything that had happened.  I filled him on some of it, but I was waiting until he got better to tell him some of the events that had transpired.  I vowed to myself that Bryon would have known everyone who helped me and our daughter.  There were certain people who should have been supportive and always had high expectations from Bryon who offered little to no support and made my life difficult but I did not tell this to Bryon.  I didn’t want to stress him out and I figured I could tell him when he was well again.  But of course that never happened.

Before this crisis, I was a very different person.  I was innocent and ungrateful.  I did not know how good my life was and I never dreamed something like this could have happened.  Through this crisis, I learned I was much, much stronger than I ever thought I was.  I think everyone has that potential for strength during a crisis, though you have to choose to be strong and not fall apart.  

I have much more confidence in my abilities than I did before.  I used to care what other people thought, but that changed quickly.  When you are a widow, people think they have a say in your decisions and how you live your life and are quick to tell you how to live your life, how to grieve, how to spend your money, how to parent- the list goes on.  I survived one of the possible worst case scenarios that could happen in my life.  I am sure I can survive anything else, even any consequences for any potential screw up that might be my own doing. (Take away point- if you feel like giving a widow any unsolicited advice, just don’t.  We are capable of seeking help and if we wanted your opinion, we would ask for it.  No ands, ifs or buts.)  

Another effect of going through one of the two possible worst scenarios imaginable is that I don’t live in fear anymore. I survived.  It’s not easy, but it’s been 15 months since that day that Bryon went into septic shock and I am still here.  I am still in my house.  I am working.  My bills are paid.  I have travelled.  My daughter is happy.  Fifteen months ago, my life crashed down and I had no clue how I was going to do it without Bryon but I am.  I miss him so much that it hurts, but I am surviving.  I don’t fear what comes down the road because I realize that things can easily fall into place and am open to opportunities.

I don’t stress on unimportant decisions.  I used to be a person that would stress about picking two items on a restaurant menu.  Now I realize that there is no need to stress about things like that because that isn’t an important decision.  I should just go with the hamburger and if I don’t like it, I will go with the turkey club the next time.  I no longer sweat the small stuff.

I am open to friendships now.  I am an introvert (though some online tests call me an ambivert which is technically in the middle of the introvert-extrovert scale) and I usually just kept to Bryon and a very few close friends.  I had a lot of walls and I never let my guard down.  After this crisis, I have learned to let others into my life.  It’s okay to need people and it’s okay to lean on them.  I have learned to embrace the love that comes with friendships.

While I am more open to friendship, I don’t tolerate being treated poorly anymore.  I don’t tolerate B.S.  If you can’t be supportive of me or my daughter, then you don’t get to play a role in our lives.  Grief is exhausting and I don’t have the energy to deal with people who cause drama and make me feel bad.  As one of my closest friends says “less negativity and more high-fives!”

But I used to seek the approval of other people, but now I know that the only people that I have to answer to are myself and my daughter.  For the first time in 38 years, I am being true to myself and I have the confidence to work toward my dreams.  To live the life I want to live.  And even though I am tired and exhausted all the time I feel like I am a better mother.  Sure, I seem scattered and forget stuff, but instead of being concerned being a good mother and appearing as such, I just focus on my daughter.  Not what others think (though I will use self-deprecating humor from time to time). I also am not concerned about being the perfect family because it’s just my daughter and me.  Now I am just concerned about my daughter being happy and I know that (in addition to covering her basic needs-very important), it is my job to make sure she becomes an independent adult and that she becomes of the best version of the person she is supposed to be.

I am a better version of myself.  The hard part of that I like myself much better now, but I would not be this person if Bryon were still alive.  I don’t like who I was then, but I would give up my new self if it means Bryon could come back.  But that is not going to happen.  I can only move forward with the life lessons that I have learned by loving Bryon and having him in my life.  I am a better person because of him.  Everyone that is in my life now knows that I am who I am because of Bryon.   In a way, he is a part of who I am now even if he is no longer here.

My dirty little secret

Being a widow is hard.  We have to navigate a world that is not designed for us.  One of my online widow friends, Michelle, wrote a blog post about being Wonder Widow and Widow Super Powers.  (Check out her blog, she doesn’t bite).  Michelle writes about her experience when she was newly widowed and she was at a party and once people learned that she was a widow, they ignored her.  She says that a widow may feel invisible when around the NORMS. The NORMS being “Normal people living normal, non-traumatized lives.”  She and I had an exchange on Facebook where I may have ranted a little bit about the course of events in my life.  I apologized and she said not to apologize because ranting is good for the soul and I should just let it out.

So I am going to let it all out.

I will let you in on a dirty little secret of mine.  I am jealous of the NORMS.

I am jealous of people who have their spouses and are living a normal life.  I am jealous when I see anniversary posts on social media, especially for any anniversary after the 3 year mark because Bryon and I never got to celebrate our fourth anniversary.  I am jealous that happily married couples who get have the support of their best friends because my best friend is gone.  I am jealous of their intimacy.  I am not talking about sex though I am jealous of that too.  I am referring to the day to day comfortable intimacy that happily married couples have.

I am jealous of the families at my daughter’s daycare who are able to (or are planning on) giving their kids a little sibling. My daughter will never become an older sister.  We will never be the perfect family with a mom and a dad and 2.5 kids and a dog.  I am jealous that there are so many other families where the kids will grow up with their fathers because my daughter won’t have that.

I am jealous of new couples who get to embark on their life together, full of hope.  Jealous because I am not sure I will ever be healed enough to love again. I am jealous of the innocence other couples can have.  Maybe someday I will find a man that can look past my wounded heart and deal with all the complications that come with loving someone who has been through this kind of trauma.  But even if I let another man into my heart, I am always going live with the fear of him dying too.  The constant fear of “what if it happens again”?

I am jealous of older widows.  I am jealous that they got to spend decades with their spouses.  And I am jealous that all the widow resources in the community are geared towards them and not to young widows.  Older widows had decades to prepare for this, young widows have not.  And young widows oftentimes have small children to take care of on top of dealing with their grief but so much emphasis seems to be on older widows.

I even find myself jealous of other widows at times.  Sometimes I look at widows who lost their spouses suddenly and I am jealous because they didn’t have to watch their spouse suffer for five months like I did.  Sometimes I look at widows who lost their spouse after a long illness and I am jealous because they were able to talk to their spouses about dying.  Bryon was on a ventilator for the five months he was in the ICU and we weren’t able to discuss any of this.  We had so many things that went unsaid.  But I know deep down there is no good way to watch your spouse die.  It’s horrible no matter how it happens.

I am jealous of the NORMS who leave those comments on social media statuses.  The comments that are benign on the surface but stab a widow in the heart.  I am jealous that they get to live in a life where they don’t feel the need exercise that extra level of empathy.  I am jealous that they live in a world where they can be clueless to those suffering grief and heartbreak. Though part of me is glad that they can be clueless because it means they don’t know this pain.  And if someone is a repeat offender, I actually begin to feel sorry for them they can live their lives being oblivious to the feelings of other people.

I am jealous of people who have their faith.  I am jealous because my Catholic faith was a big part of my life and I lost that too when Bryon died.  I am jealous of those who have never had to have their faith tested.  And I am jealous of the people who have experienced trauma like I have and still have their faith.  Because right now I relate to C.S. Lewis in A Grief Observed where he asks where God is and why did God slam the door on him?  I am jealous of all the people that God did not slam the door on.  I am also jealous of the naivete of people who think I can just turn my faith back on, like it’s a simple light switch.

Why am I sharing this dirty little secret?  It’s human nature to want to put your best foot forward but my desire to be honest is stronger than my desire to put my best foot forward.  I need to be honest for everyone who thinks I am strong even if that means sharing feelings that portray myself in a less positive light.  I need to share my story as authentically as possible because other widows may be reading this and I want them to know that it is okay to feel this way.

But despite all these pangs of jealousy I feel, the happiness I feel is ten times as strong.  The joys greatly outweighs my jealous feelings.  Yes I have these jealous feelings but they  subside very quickly.  And my feelings of jealousy are not because I don’t want others to be happy.  I want everyone to be happy.  I don’t wish my situation or the feelings that come with being in my situation on even my worst enemy.  My feelings of jealousy are about the reality of what I have lost, mostly my lost dreams.  For the most part, my anger seems to have subsided so I will think occasional bouts of jealousy are an improvement to being full of anger as long as the bouts of jealousy don’t get out of hand.

My life didn’t turn out the way I wanted it to but I do have reasons to be grateful.  I have an amazing daughter.  I have friends and family who aren’t freaked out by my widow status and include me in their lives.  I have friends who aren’t going to be put off that I might be jealous of them because they are patient and understanding of my grief and stick by me as I weather all the ups and downs. At least the ones who really love me do.

I can’t complain because even nine months later, my core group of friends are still supportive of me.  They spent 5 months helping me survive when Bryon was in the ICU and they have spent the past 9 months holding me up.  I hope I am healed enough and can give back before the next big crisis in our group happens.

But until then, whether you are a NORM or not, please just remember to be kind and understanding.  It’s okay to talk to us.  Widows don’t bite.  We just might be sad.  We are dealing with some major emotions.  But we’d probably be the first one to be there to help you if something bad happens.

Honesty

I have tried to be honest about my grief through this whole process.  I usually do that in the form of blog posts such as this one.  I find that writing about my feelings helps me process them and I make my feelings public because it might help others. While it might only take you five minutes to read this blog post, it will take me hours to write this.  Sometimes those hours are spread over days.  I keep a written journal of sorts that I write down my thoughts and ideas that come to me as they are happening in their rawest forms and usually I review these journals when I write a blog post.  Sometimes my thoughts go straight on my google doc and I spent hours elaborating and organizing these thoughts.  I usually write about something that has bothering that particular week and I usually feel somewhat peaceful about that particular issue after I hit the publish button.  

There are times that a feeling comes on so strong and I can’t keep it in.  Like my blog posts, I need to get these issues out.  So sometimes it comes out in a post on social media.  Usually when I post on social media about something, I am upset and can’t wait to go through the process of writing a blog post.  When I post something in this state, I am venting.  I am not looking for sympathy nor am I looking for advice.  If I am looking for advice, I would be asking a specific question.  Usually when I post an emotional social media status, I don’t have anything left to debate or defend my position.

Usually the social media posts that spark the biggest reactions are those about religion.  There are some widows and widowers that never lose their faith in God and that is great.  I am happy for them.  I began my grief journey feeling that way.  I was actually fairly at peace when Bryon died but as time passed and I was left to deal with the grief, I was not comforted by God.  I have recently begun reading A Grief Observed by C.S. Lewis and Lewis speaks about feeling like God has slammed the door in his face.  That is how I feel and I own it and I am honest about it.  I don’t take my loss of faith lightly and I resent it when people imply that I have.  I actually was very distressed about it in the beginning.  Aside from a few rebellious teenage years, I have tried to have a close relationship with God.  Being a good Catholic girl was a huge part of my identity and I was distressed that I was losing my identity on top of losing my husband.

I know that the comments about God being good and God allegedly loving me are well intentioned, it is actually like salt is being rubbed in my wound.  I have also come to the conclusion that a lot of these well intentioned people truly don’t understand what I have lost and what kind of pain I feel every single day.  And that is a good thing because I would never wish this type of pain on anyone.

Being told that I need to realize that life isn’t easy comes across as disingenuous to me and it demonstrates to me that my point is being missed.   I lost my best friend and the love of my life after less than four years of marriage.  Can people who have not had that loss truly tell me that they know how I feel?  Bryon was robbed of  the life he was supposed to live, the career he was working on, the places he wanted to go to, and the years he was supposed to spend with me and my daughter.  I was cheated out of my Happily Ever After and my daughter was cheated out of knowing her father and all her years with him.  I am tired of being told that the God that stole my daughters father from her is “loving”.  She’s 2!  What could a 2-year-old do to deserve that?

Sometimes I wonder if they need to reassure me of God’s alleged love not because I need to be reminded but that they need to reassure themselves.  I also wonder of people’s motives when they are trying to convince me about God’s alleged love.  Are bonus points given out for saving the widow?  I don’t need another church or another religion.  I am Catholic and will always be Catholic to some level.  I don’t need a new parish.  I will forever be grateful for the parish priest at my church.  He was there for Bryon, my family and me even when God was not.

I know this post might offend some people but I have spent too much time over the past 8 months worrying that I was offending people and this has caused stress.  Before Bryon got sick and passed away, I had the energy to deal with someone if they said anything rude or critical or insincere and by “deal”, I mean fume about rude, critical and insincere comments.  I also held back a lot of my true feelings.  But I don’t have the energy to fume.  If you cause that kind of reaction from me, I am going to take a step back.  I am going to take my space.  Because I just don’t have the energy to deal with anything negative.

There are a lot of assumptions and expectations about who I am based on who I was.  I touched upon that here.  But I am done being defined by others expectations of who they think I am.  I have spent my whole life worried about what people thought of me and not wanting to offend other people.  I can’t do it anymore.  I can’t hold back who I am, take care of my daughter, work 40 hours a week and grieve all at the same time.  I have to put my daughter and myself first.

I know that this post may upset people but I need to take care of my daughter and myself.  And those who are my true friends will understand and love me wherever my journey of self growth takes me.   Maybe I will find my faith in God renewed.  Maybe I will become a Buddhist.  Those who love me will understand that I am smart and I am strong and I am don’t need to be told what to believe.  I spent 38 years letting others have too much of a say in my life.  I need to figure things out myself and I need to be honest to my myself.  And I need to figure it out in my time.  I am processing my grief and soul searching and I am confident that over time, I will figure out what path I need to take.  The path that is best for me and the path that will lead my daughter into being who she is supposed to be.  And a part of me is actually a excited about the process.  I apologize that my self growth might make you uncomfortable but I will not apologize for doing what is best for me.

Brunette Catholic, blonde Buddhist or somewhere in between?

I always thought I had a strong sense of who I was.  And I never questioned my own authenticity.  Yes, on the outside I am from a small Maine town but many people don’t realize that I spent the first 14 years of my life in the Boston area.  I spent a semester abroad in England when I was 21.  Besides Boston, I have spent time in London, Paris, Chicago, New York, Washington, D.C., Miami, Houston, New Orleans, Vegas and many other cities.  I am fairly educated and worldly.  I just try not to be pretentious about it.

I have always been a rule follower whether it was my Catholic religion or sitting in school.  I was not a kid who got in (much) trouble.  I did get caught daydreaming a lot but there was a whole world outside whatever window I was looking out of.  I can’t say I never broke the rules in high school but I pretty much did as I was told.  I did not drink in high school or go to gravel pit parties.  I rarely stayed out past curfew (though my parents were pretty lenient as long as I called) though sometimes I stayed the night at my best friends house because she did not have a curfew. This created a kind of late night loophole that I would take advantage of. (Sorry Mom and Dad!)

I stretched my wings a little bit when I was in college.  A few weeks into my freshman year I decided to get an eyebrow ring.  It was 1997 and it was before they became popular.  It actually looked good on me though I don’t think any picture exists.  I didn’t think it through because I was heading home the following week and figured I would just take it out when I was around my parents.  My parents never saw it (though my brother saw it and he kept threatening to tell them).  I realized that I was never going to have the guts to wear it in front of my parents and I couldn’t handle the pressure of living a double life so the eyebrow ring didn’t last.

And of course, there was the road trip my friends and I took to St. Stephen, New Brunswick just so we could go to the bars when we were 19.  I remember walking along the Saint Croix River, pointing to the Maine side and laughing because we “couldn’t drink over there but we can drink over here.”  I always think of that trip every time I hear “One Week” by the Barenaked Ladies.  I wasn’t a saint but I kept myself out of trouble.

I was a very hyper and annoying kid and somewhere along the way, I figured that I had to bottle up my true self to fit in with people.  I would just sit quietly because I didn’t want to become hyper and weird and annoying.  I chose to only open up to a few.  I liked to participate in structured activities so I only had to discuss the topics on hand.

After college, I started dating the guy who would later become my ex-boyfriend.  I think of him as kind of an anti-Bryon because he was the exact opposite of Bryon.  One could argue that Bryon was the over correction of this guy. I could probably write a whole post on him and what I learned from that relationship.   In very general terms Bryon was a Catholic, Republican, manly-man who loved sports while the anti-Bryon was a Protestant, Democrat, non-manly man who preferred science fiction to sports.  Another big difference was that Bryon actually liked me while the anti-Bryon did not.  I think I was someone who paid for dates for two and a half years.  He never embraced me for who I was and I spent two and a half years trying to be the woman he wanted.

After I broke up with the anti-Bryon, I got absorbed into the world of politics and most notably, the Young Republicans.  I embraced the lifestyle of Republican politics and I wore suits, heels, pearls and the Sarah Palin hairstyle.  I loved politics because it was like I was an actress playing a role.  I didn’t have to worry that I was shy and awkward.  Politics gave me a way to relate to people.  It was also during my time in politics that I learned conversation skills and poise.

Politics led me to the best years of my life.  My years with Bryon.  The years where I became a wife and mother.  And like everything else, being a wife and mother provided me with a role that I was more than happy to assume.  Bryon did love me for me but relationships are always filled with give and take.  Bryon had the successful career and I pretty much was content to live in his shadow.  It might have caused some contention between us at times but I don’t regret it. Especially since he apparently wasn’t meant to be here as long as the rest of us.

I have heard that during widowhood, you begin to question everything you once believed.  I thought I had myself and the world all figured out.  While I learned that I am much, much stronger than I ever gave myself credit for, I also learned just how much Bryon overcompensated for my weaknesses.  I don’t have him to cover for me anymore. I have learned that I can count on my family and I have also learned which of my friends are actually my family.  I have learned who I can’t count on (some were surprising) and which friends really weren’t friends. I learned that you can’t put all your faith into the healthcare system and that the healthcare system can fail you.  And I learned that God  doesn’t care if you did your best to be a good Catholic girl for over 30 years.

All those years of trying to fit into roles and groups has left me with a repressed free spirit.  I have always had a free spirit that gets antsy and wants to see the world.  It used to drive Bryon nuts when I wanted to day trip to anywhere, as long as it was out of Albany. He usually indulged me. I also have a creative side.  I am still in the process of trying to let those parts of me out.  I have been running.  I have been travelling.  I have been cooking new recipes and putting together furniture from IKEA.  I have been reading about Buddhism to try to stay Zen.  I have been in the process of changing over to natural cleaning and beauty products.  I plan to have a garden this summer and learn how to can vegetables.  I tried to dye my hair blonde but that didn’t work.  And don’t be fooled if you ever see all the books on my nightstand.  You might see titles that consist of history, religion, politics, business, memoirs, parenting and grief/self help but the last two books I read consisted of one by the Long Island Medium and the other was Jodie Sweetin’s memoir.  Candace Cameron Bure’s memoir isn’t proving to be nearly as exciting as Jodie Sweetin’s memoir.

I realize that I was just afraid.  I have been afraid of success and I have been afraid of failure.   I have been afraid to let people see the real me.  I had a clearly defined past and I have been afraid to stray from the expectation of who I am supposed to be.   I have been afraid that if I tried something different or learned about something different that it might change how I think.  And if I continue to be afraid, I will never fully live and I must fully live to be an example for my daughter.  So my daughter can grow into the woman she is supposed to be.