Margaritas, guacamole, money and a thunderstorm

Why am I writing about margaritas, guacamole, money and a thunderstorm? Because that is my present.  At least, it was 5 hours ago.  One of my best friends and I went to a favorite Mexican restaurant Ama Cocina tonight.  My daughter came too.  She was, as another friend would say, living her best life possible.  She was double-dipping those chips, grabbing items out of my taco (she prefers the deconstructed taco) and she was running around the table.  I did not approve of her acting like that in a restaurant and I had exhausted all the toys in my bag of tricks so I half jokingly told her I would give her a dollar if she sat still in her seat.  It worked.  I gave her the dollar which she happily took and said “It’s MY money.”  This must be how capitalists are born.

I have never been a person that has been good at being present.  I usually like to stress about the future or dwell on the past and constantly wonder what if.  I missed out on enjoying a lot of life’s precious moments because of this.  But no matter how bad things were, when I looked into the future, it was brighter.  Maybe that represented some sort of escapist hope.

When Bryon got sick, I had no choice but to live in the present.  I didn’t want to think about the future because when I did, I knew that there was a chance he wouldn’t be there or he would have lasting health problems if he was.  I remember stressing out one day because I was concerned that if he recovered, he might never regain his strength and what if he couldn’t storm into a court room?  He would be miserable.  He was such a strong person, mentally and physically.

During Bryon’s five months in the ICU, I didn’t spend much time looking ahead.  There were too many times that he went into shock and too many times where he came close to dying.  Obviously my end goal was for him to get out of the ICU, whether it was a step down unit (we were close a couple of times) or directly to rehab and then home.  But so much could go wrong and he was so sick that for the first time in my life, I had to live day by day.

I remember feeling so overwhelmed at this new reality.  Overnight I had gone from being part of a two person team who took care of a small child to be one person solely responsible for myself, a critically ill husband and a small child.  Bryon took care of so much.  He made sure the bills got paid and had spreadsheets that organized everything.  I knew he scheduled many payments in advance through our bank account but a few weeks into his illness, I finally had to face reality that I needed to figure out which bills had been paid.  Everything was now my responsibility.  I had to call the bank because I didn’t remember my password.  I couldn’t even remember the last time I logged into our bank account.  Then I had to figure out all the passwords.  I know I reset a bunch of them in the process.  I remember telling Bryon that I probably made a mess of the bills but they were paid and if I forgot one, then I am sure that they would find us.

I was overwhelmed.  I had no idea how long Bryon was going to be in the hospital.  Then there was talk that they would send him to Springfield, MA for rehab which is an hour and a half away and I panicked because I needed to be present to view all of his medical care and there would be no way I could do that and keep my daughter’s life as normal as possible here in Albany.  There would be no way I could afford all that gas.  But all that panicking was for nothing because Bryon never made it to rehab.

There were so many times during those months where I didn’t know how I was going to do it.  I couldn’t work so I wasn’t getting paid.   I had no idea how long my present was going to last.  And I had no idea what our future was going to look like.  I started thinking about what modifications that were going to be needed in our house and our lifestyle.  I started looking into specialists in Boston and New York for his conditions.  Not just specialists to get him well, but specialists who could manage any long term effects.  I started wondering if we should move closer to New York to be closer to better healthcare.  Boston would not be an option because Bryon was not admitted in the Massachusetts Bar.  The fact that this lifelong Red Sox fan was willing to move so close to the heart of the Evil Empire shows how dedicated I was to Bryon’s care.  But I spent a long time planning for a future that would never happen.

I somehow survived those months.  My family, friends and even some complete strangers made sure I survived.

Now I am in the future that I couldn’t think about.  My best friend in high school had a favorite quote that said “today is the tomorrow that you worried about yesterday.”  She had no idea who said it,  she saw it on a calendar somewhere.  A quick google search 20 years later tells me that Dale Carnegie once said that.  Frankly I don’t like thinking about the future because no matter what I envision, Bryon is not there.  Yes, I have my daughter but all I see are moments where Bryon should be there.  I have no long term plan and no long term goals.  I have an idea what I want to do with my life but no clear goals as to how to achieve it.   So when I am sad about the present, I can’t escape into the future.  I try to escape to the past but lately, the days in the hospital have been on the forefront my mind.

So now I live in the present even if it can be painful at times.  I drink a lot of iced coffee and read a lot of books to my daughter.  I spend times with my girls and my Albany family and I see my biological family as often as I can.  I write.  I cook.  I run.  I read.  I travel.  And I will continue to do so until the future I dread so much becomes my present.

The ugly side of grief

Grief if not pretty.  Grief is actually quite ugly.  Some view me as strong.  Some view me as delicate.   But the truth is I am neither strong or delicate yet I am both strong and delicate at the same time.  I always joke that I am a girl of many contradictions as I am part city girl, part country girl.  The analogy fits here as well.

Grief is hard.  It’s hard to go to bed alone.  It’s hard to deal with the moments of shock where you wonder why all of this had to happen.  It’s been 8 months since Bryon died and over a year (13 months) since Bryon got sick and I am still hit with those moments.  But one of the hardest parts of grief is all the emotions.  Grief makes you feel every emotion there is; sadness, anger, frustration, helplessness, desperation.  It is like each emotion is it’s own bright, vibrant color and I am that cup of disgusting water that you dip your paintbrush into.  All those bright colors have turned my cup of clear water into a disgusting murky shade of greenish brown.

I have always been someone who has struggled with expressing my negative emotions.  I usually say nothing and I let frustration build until it turns into a completely different emotion and then the volcano erupts and it is usually over something minor and stupid. And once that volcano erupts, there is so stopping and tt is not fair to the people that stand in line of that volcano.  It’s not fair to take your negative emotions out on people.  People shouldn’t have to deal with Mt. McKim.

Grief is exhausting.  I joke with my friends that grief has turned me into an emotionally stunted preteen girl.  While I like to think I have more wisdom than the average preteen girl, there is still some level of truth to that statement.  Emotionally, I can only deal with what is in front of me and that in turn has made me self-absorbed.  I talk about myself too much.  I wonder when enough time has gone by that I don’t feel the need to talk about myself and my grief so much.  When do I begin to act normal again?

Grief is overwhelming.  Not only are we dealing with the absence of our loved one, we have to deal with the secondary losses.  Loss of security, loss of income, loss of future plans.  We have to rebuild and that is overwhelming.  Many widows don’t know how to rebuild.  I know I am relearning skills that I haven’t had to think about in over 6 years.  I know where I want to be but I don’t know how to get there.  I am like the underpants gnomes except I am not collecting underpants.

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I had been working on removing toxicity from my life and I still find that I have too much to deal with emotionally.  It dawns on me that it isn’t enough to remove toxic people, you need to remove toxic thoughts too.  I need to learn how to redirect that energy to something more positive.

I also want to make a point that just because one is widowed does not mean that they are obligated to accept friendship from a person who tears you down.  Just because you are at a low point in your life does not mean that you deserve to be bullied or talked to in a way that is demeaning.  Surround yourself with supportive people.

Grief also can make you anxious and paranoid.  So much bad stuff happened to me this past year and I am constantly worried about what tragedy is coming next.  It’s like I can’t just accept that this storm has passed and I need to enjoy the sunshine until the next storm happens.  (Because widowhood doesn’t give you any immunity from bad things happening.  But let’s hope I don’t have to sit in another ICU room for 5 months watching someone else I care about suffer and die)  In addition to watching my husband die, many people that should have been supportive of my daughter and me were not.  Those people were selfish and self serving.  I was hurt by those people but I need to stop anticipating that I am going to be hurt by the people who have been there for me over and over again.  My friends have proven that they have been there for me and I need to trust that they will continue to be there for me.

Grief is ugly.  I am not looking for pity.  People who are grieving generally don’t want pity.  Or advice unless we specifically ask for it.  We want empathy, love and support.  People who are grieving don’t want to be spoken at or preached at.  We just want to be listened to.  And whatever you do, don’t tell the grieving how to grieve or try to educate them on their own experience.  Trust me, you don’t know.  Even if you think you do, you don’t.

Why am I sharing this?  Most people try to portray themselves in the best light possible, not share their ugly side.  There are many reasons.  The most important is that I believe in being honest and I want to give an honest account of grief, not just the noble parts.  I am not always that strong and stoic widow that many people believe I am.  The second reason is accountability.  I don’t want to act like this but I need to own it when I do.  I have been hurt by too many people who don’t take accountability for their actions.  I think we all know those people, the people that never apologize for anything.  They just blame everyone else .  And as always, I am writing this because I know I can’t be the only grieving person that feels like a hot mess sometimes.  Maybe someone that relates will read this and will get some relief for not being alone.

I have had a rough week.  I tend to write about what’s on my mind and there have been four posts this week.  I think that is a record. That’s a lot of stuff on my mind.  I want to put this week behind me. I have a nearly dead palm tree and a nearly dead oak tree in my kitchen.  They have not looked good for months.  I was convinced I had neglected those poor trees to the point of no return.  Well today I see signs of recovery.  If those trees can recover, there is no reason I can not.  We all can regardless of what pain we are moving forward from. It’s time to put the negativity behind me and enjoy the two birthday parties I am attending this weekend.

All the days of my life

Our cake had four tiers, each with a different flavor.   The cake was decorated with a Celtic cross, red roses and with the tartan ribbon from Bryon’s Scottish clan.  There were weddings pictures of our parents and Bryon’s grandparents.  No wedding pictures of my grandparents exist so there were pictures from my grandparents younger days.  

There was no cake smashing as neither of us were fond of that tradition.  The song that was playing during our cake cutting was “You’re my Best Friend” by Queen.  There was so much excitement going on that day that I don’t remember what the cake tasted like but that was okay, we would freeze our top tier.  Of course, one year later we would discover that that cake would absorb the flavor of everything in our freezer and not taste as it was on our wedding night.

I was driving back from Starbucks yesterday morning (a habit I am trying to break though I am not sure I really want to) when Queen’s “You’re my Best Friend” came on the radio.  (Warning, you might think I am nuts after you read the next sentence.) They say the dead communicate to you through electronics and I am convinced Bryon is doing that.  He communicates with my daughter’s Godmother by putting Top Gun on her tv and he communicates with me through songs, usually in the form of Hall and Oates.  I have heard Hall and Oates more in the past couple of months than I have heard in my whole life prior.  He was partial to this 2008 Saturday Night Live skit of “Hall and Oates”.

Usually hearing a song that triggers a memory like that makes me cry but I actually handled it alright.  I was actually excited that Bryon was communicating and I turned up the song and listened.  Surprisingly I didn’t cry.  I was actually kind of happy and lighthearted.  I was okay until I read my friend widow blogger friend Emily’s post.  Emily’s post really reasonated with me and after I read it,  I cried.  I know, I cried.  Big surprise, right?

Emily’s post got me thinking about the wedding vow “till death do us part” but Bryon and I did not make that vow.  Our weddings vows at our Catholic Nuptial Mass stated that “I will love you and honor you all the days of my life.”  I remember having a conversation with Bryon about the significance of that vow.  He did not express any preference between “till death do us part” and “I will love you and honor you all the days of my life.”  As far as he was concerned, they had the same meaning.

I remember saying to him that I preferred “I will love you and honor you, all the days of my life” because one of us was going to die before the other and when one of us died, our love wasn’t going to stop.  Bryon didn’t really want to talk about it.  He was never one to talk about death and what happens after.  He came from a family where talking about death was taboo while my Boston Irish-Catholic family talked about death almost casually, like one would talk about the weather or the Red Sox.

My love for Bryon didn’t die on the August morning in New York City when he died.   I will love Bryon until I take my last breathe because my love for him doesn’t die until I die.  He is a part of me now and he will always have a part of my heart along with all the memories from our years together.  My love for Bryon is intertwined with the love I have for our daughter and our friends.  Even if I remarry, I will continue to love Bryon.  And that’s okay because the heart has an amazing ability to grow and to make room to accommodate all the love a person has to give.

Bryon’s love lives on in me.  I am who I am today because of Bryon’s love.  And I like to think that his love has made me a better person.  Bryon taught me so much in our short time together and I will never be the same.

And I will honor Bryon for all the days of my life.  I try to honor Bryon in many different ways.  I honor him by trying to be a good mother to our daughter.  I honor him by spending time with our friends even if it goes against my introvert tendencies.  I honor him by trying not to take my life too seriously.  I honor him by trying to do things that are out of my comfort zone.  I honor him by letting more inappropriate comments come out of my mouth.  I honor him by travelling with our daughter.  And some days, honoring Bryon might not be noble and it might be as simple as getting out of bed and existing that day.

But I will never stop loving and honoring Bryon.

“On this day” should be changed to “More depressing sh*t”

I belong to a few widow(er) facebook groups and it comes up periodically that the “On This Day” feature on facebook is a minefield full of triggers.  The triggers aren’t just reminders of illness and death.  The triggers are also the happy memories because you are reminded of the life that you are missing.

Some days I didn’t talk much throughout my history on facebook.  But some days are chock full of memories.

On this day in 2009, I was attending the Midcoast Maine Young Republican Meeting.

On this day in 2010, I was having a bad day at work and wanted to go home and drink. Considering I was working in the ER, that sounds about right.

On this day in 2011, I was out of work for the weekend and I had a hot date.  Of course someone commented and asked what Bryon was doing that night.

On this day in 2012, I was at a Bruce Springsteen Concert at the Times Union Center with Bryon.  I also was pissed that the Red Sox blew a 9-0 lead and I wanted Terry Francona back.

On this day in 2013, I hated Windows 8. I still do.

On this day in 2014, I was wishing all Boston Marathon Runners Good Luck.

I apparently wasn’t doing anything on this day in 2015.

On this day in 2016, I had my first glimmer of hope.  I remember writing that facebook status and feeling relieved.  We were finally on the road to recovery.  I remember being told that he would probably be in the ICU for another month or so and then he would go to rehab for a couple months.

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But we now know that that road would never lead Bryon to recovery.  It’s like I can feel all the emotions I felt waiting for that road to recovery at the same time; the frustration, the anger, the sadness, the hopefulness, the desperation.  However, it is also mixed with the grief and emptiness I feel every day from Bryon’s death.

Those memories are always going to be there whether they are on Facebook or in my memory.  I can’t un-live it.  I can’t pretend it didn’t happen.  And I don’t want to forget my memories with Bryon.  We had too many good times.  I can only hope that as time passes, I can think about these memories without crying and being overcome with sadness.  I want to be able to look back and smile.

I must move forward and try to fill my future with happier memories with my daughter and my family and friends.

The Easter that should have been

We spent last Easter together in the ICU.  You were not able to communicate but I sat with you.  Our daughter spent the day with my parents.  Your best friend and his wife came.  They brought me a plate of food.

This year I have to go to the cemetery to see you.

Easter should have been different.  You should have been here.

You should have been with us on Thursday during our daughter’s Easter egg hunt party at school.  Since your best friends son attends the same school, you should have been there cracking jokes with your best friend.

You probably would have tried to get her to see the Easter bunny but let me tell you, her fear is real.

You should have been here Friday night when we dyed eggs with our friend and her son.  You should have been the one wincing when our daughter dropped a cup of green dye on the dining room floor.

You should have been at the Easter egg hunt yesterday at your best friends house.

You should have been there to see our daughter play with her Easter basket this morning.  Don’t worry, your princess got a basket fit for a princess.

If you were here, we would have gone to church where we would have done all that rejoicing and being glad.  Our daughter probably would have worn a proper Easter dress instead of her Elsa dress with rain boots.  This year Elsa and I opted out.

If you were here, you would have cooked dinner.  You didn’t care for ham so it would have been some version of beef.  We would have used our wedding china.  This year I made ham and used the everyday dishes because I couldn’t bear to look at our wedding china and think about all the holiday meals we would not be having together.

If you were here, you would have eaten peeps and I would have told you that they were disgusting.

But you are not here and if I want to see you, I need to go to the cemetery.  Easter went on without you but your absence was replaced with pain.  A pain as large as your personality.  Since you went into the hospital on Easter weekend, I get to be reminded of that weekend on the date and on the holiday.  But all I know is that going forward, I get to think about what should have been.

Tears in Heaven, ice cream, and Sleepless in Seattle

A few weeks ago I went to brunch with a few friends.  The food was delicious and we had a great time.  There was lots of laughter and stories and a few mimosas. Both of them were talking about their dating adventures (or misadventures) which I enjoyed hearing about them.  

But on the ride home I became really sad.  I had one grandmother who lived to be 90 and my other grandmother is 95.  I genetically have the potential to be stuck on this planet for another 60ish years and that is a long time to be alone.  But I got sad thinking that someday I might have to date again.  I started crying and the tears kept coming.  I did not ask for this.  I was happily married.  I don’t want to be alone for 60 more years but I also don’t want to date.  Why does life have to be so cruel?  Why did my happily ever after have to get ripped away from me when so many other people get to be happy?  Why does everyone else get to be happy and not me?

So I get home.  I post a sad status on my Facebook because I feel the need to vent and  some brave people comment and try to make me feel better and while I appreciate their intent, it never makes me feel better. Maybe I just need to stop sharing my feelings on Facebook.   I blast my sad songs list on Spotify (doesn’t everyone have one of those?) and eat some ice cream.  I blast Tears in Heaven and listen to it on repeat.  Then I do what I do when I am feeling incredibly sad.  I put on Sleepless in Seattle which lives on my DVR because I needed to hear Tom Hanks say  “Move on. Fine. That’s what I’ll do. I’ll just grow a new heart…I know. But it just doesn’t happen twice.”  Tears in Heaven, ice cream and Sleepless in Seattle, are like, my trifecta of grief.

One of my best friends must have seen that status because she messages me asking if I am okay.  She is one of the few friends that I don’t feel like I have to answer with “I’m okay.  Everything is okay.”  I told her I was sad and I was listening to sad songs and eating ice cream.  I did not tell her I was watching Sleepless in Seattle because I was nervous that she would have gotten into her car, drive over and delete Sleepless in Seattle off of my DVR and I can’t live without that coping mechanism.

Things have changed in the past month or two.  I am starting to come out of the widow fog but the grief certainly has not subsided.  I am still incredibly sad.  I am still trying to make sense of Bryon’s death.  Some days I begin to think that I am used to Bryon being gone while other days I still sit in shock and disbelief that he is actually gone.

When Bryon first died, I tried to come up with a timeline for grief.  I have always been a goal oriented person so it made sense that I would set goals for the grief process.  But it hasn’t worked that way.  The months have just been bouncing by and I have been unable to attain any of these goals.  I am still wearing my rings. A lot of our bills are still in Bryon’s name, his stuff is still taking up space in our house and I still haven’t shut off his phone.  My friend asked me if the fact that we talk about Bryon so much is holding me back and I said no because most of my thoughts are still consumed by him and his death.  I am afraid to stop talking about him because then he really will die.  Yes he is physically dead but his story remind me that he actually did live and I am not ready to let go of that yet.

Have I been moving forward?  I don’t think so.  I think I have been surviving and keeping myself busy by traveling and doing activities with my daughter but I don’t really think I am moving forward.  I am distracting myself.  I am waiting for time and grief to pass before I start living again.  I spend time with my friends and my daughter and I work, usually until the early hours of the morning as I put off bedtime every night because lying in an empty bed is just too painful.  I need to stop searching for happiness because I am just not going to find it.  I am just getting used to being sad and I need to embrace that because that is my life right now.  This is my normal and since I can’t set my own timeline for healing, I need to embrace that I am going to feel sad until the indeterminate time comes when I no longer feel sad.

So for the time being, I will continue to feel sad.  I will continue to cry when I think about what I have lost. I will still continue to distract myself.  I will continue to go on adventures with my daughter. I will still continue to spend time with those I am close to.  I will continue to try to check items off of my widow “to-do” list.  I will continue to try to find myself as an individual.  I will continue to do all of these things until eventually my grief subsides and all of this just becomes part of me and my story.

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Maybe I should just be over it by now

It’s been over seven months since Bryon had passed and over a year since he was in the ICU.  I can tell that there are some people who can’t figure out why I am still grieving.  I can see the looks and feel the judgement.  Surely I should be over it by now.  I mean, in the normal world, seven months is a long time.  But I am beginning to think that time passes in a very different way in the world of grief.  In seven months there have been many milestones with my friends and family.  There have been new jobs, engagements and babies.  I have managed to function in a 40 hour work week and somehow I manage to remember to pay the bills each month. But for most of that time, I have been living in a fog.  The fog is starting to lift which presents its own set of challenges.  

The last time I felt alive was a Tuesday in late March in 2016.  Bryon had been in the ICU for 5 days and he had gotten an infection and things were going downhill quickly.  I called my father and he and my mother did the only thing they could think of that could possibly console me- they took my daughter out of daycare and brought her into the hospital to see me.  She was only 18 months old and had no clue what was going on.  She wasn’t talking yet, at least not in anything that could be considered part of the English language.  She sat on my lap and smiled at me as I hugged her.  Things at the hospital got even crazier so my parents brought my daughter home.  As my parents were leaving, I remember saying to my mother that if Bryon died then our daughter would be too little to remember him.  My daughter’s Godmother showed up.  We made some phone calls.  Bryon was rushed into emergency surgery and I was told that he might not make it through.  I can still remember exactly who was present with me in the private family room as we sat silently in fear while Bryon was in surgery.

My world was literally crashing down.  I didn’t know how this could be happening.  This didn’t seem real.  It was like someone took the floor out from underneath me and I was falling.  Bryon was such a strong and healthy person and now he was literally clinging to his life.  How could this have happened?  And why did this happen?  How am I going to live without him?

And at that moment, an emotional pause button was pressed.

From that moment on, for the next five months, I was in complete survival mode.  I was just trying to get through each day and do what I needed to do to get to the next day.  Some days I lived hour to hour.  I lived off of iced coffee, diet soda, those hershey ice cream cones from the hospital cafeteria and whatever food my friends brought for me.  I read fluffy literature, taught myself Sudoko and re-organized all my Pinterest boards.  I did what I had to do to advocate for Bryon and keep him alive.  My only other worry was my daughter but for most of that five months, my parents had pretty much given up their life in Maine and temporarily relocated to Albany to take care of my daughter.  For the weeks they went back to Maine, my friends in Albany stepped up and took care of my daughter while I was at the hospital taking care of Bryon.

The button remained paused when Bryon died and remained paused through the funeral.  The button remained paused during the weeks following his death.  It remained paused as I resumed my running and binge watched all seven seasons of the Gilmore Girls and five seasons of Parenthood.  It remained paused that night I drank too much wine and bawled during Jinger Duggar’s wedding.  It remained paused after all the countless times I watched Sleepless in Seattle and P.S. I Love You.  It remained paused as the United States elected a new president.  It remained paused as I went through the motions of “celebrating” the holidays and welcoming a new year. The button remained paused as I left my job at the hospital where Bryon was for four and a half months because going to the same place where Bryon had been sick was too painful and I started a new job working from home for another company.

I was in a survival mode and then the “widow fog”.  There is a theory that we are in the fog because the grief is just so bad and that is the only way the grief can be processed.  We need to be numb to survive. And now that emotional pause button has been hit again and my emotions are resuming.  It’s like I am back in the ICU again and my world is crashing down again.  I am left in the same spot.  This doesn’t seem real.  It is like someone took the floor out from underneath me and I am falling.  Bryon was such a strong and healthy person and now he is dead. How could this have happened?  And why did this happen?  How am I going to live without him?

Now that the widow fog is starting to lift, I am dealt with an avalanche of emotions that I have not been able to process over the past year and it’s like I am feeling all these emotions for the first time.  If you somehow wronged me during that time, I am feeling it now.  If you made a rude comment about my daughter, I am pissed about it now.  I also feel shame because there were people who cared and reached out and I was just too emotionally exhausted to answer all the texts and messages. I hope they understand that I was just too emotionally drained to even have a conversation.

I also am left to process exactly what happened.  Everything that happened to Bryon happened so fast and it was one thing after another, like dominoes.  I sat in his room in the ICU every day, praying and hoping for the best.  I struggled to stay strong, making sure Bryon did not see my fear or the tears.  It is now dawning on me exactly how sick he was and what an effect that has had on me. I saw Bryon go through things that no one should ever have to see their love one go through.  I think about those hours that I stared at the monitor that showed Bryon’s vital signs while he clung onto his life.  I am finally admitting to myself that I should never have had to ever see him suffer like that.

It has been over seven months since Bryon passed and over a year since he went into the ICU.  But while that time has passed in the real world, I am left dealing with a year’s worth of emotions in the present.  So maybe I should be over it.  But I am not.