Why I don’t play the “what if” game (4-minute read)

My husband, Bryon passed away in 2016.

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.

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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.

It doesn’t mean that I have to stop loving him.

I know that wherever Bryon is, he would want me to be happy.

After everything I have been through, the least I can do is let myself be happy.

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Weekly Gratitude #10: Three Years

Today is my blog’s birthday.

I started this blog as a way to process and cope with all the emotions I was feelings 5 months post-loss.  I was starting to “wake up” from the grief fog and I felt the need to share my emotions as I have noticed a dearth of information to help young widows.  I wanted my information out there so if another widow stumbled across it, they would know that they were not alone.

I also felt the need to share my story because I wanted others to understand the emotions that a widowed person felt, at least from my perspective.  After all, that is the only perspective I can honestly offer.

So much has changed since that time.

At that time I was somewhere between existing and surviving.

Now I am a survivor and on some days, I might even consider myself to be thriving.

Some locations in my story have changed.

Some characters in my story are the same, but some characters are different. I don’t doubt that all the characters in my life are there (or have been there) for a reason.

When I started this blog, my daughter was a toddler.  Now she is a kindergartener.

As I reread some of my earlier blog posts, I feel that strange dichotomy that widows feel.  The dichotomy where my old life and my old self feel current and they exist alongside my new life and new self.

My last two sentences of my first blog post really hit me hard.

“A part of me died with him that morning.  This is the story of the part of me that is still living.”

At that point in time, my soul was completely fractured.  I felt like an empty shell of who I was and I had no clue how I was going to move forward.

Now it is three years later.  I have survived.  I have grown.

Yes, a part of me may have died the same morning Bryon did but the part of me that is still living has forged ahead.

She has grown back into a whole, albeit different, person.

I want to thank all of you who have been a part of this ride.  As I said the other day, nothing ever lasts forever.  But I appreciate all of you who continue to travel this journey with me.

Weekly Gratitude #5: When grief turns into joy

The holidays are in full swing around here.

Last week we attended the Christmas Tree lighting in the next town over.  We had missed our towns tree lighting due to it being on the same night as gymnastics and swim.

There were crafts and treats and even a visit with Santa.

 

We saw the Grinch as performed by the Frogtown Puppeteers at our local (and historic) theater.

My daughter was in our local holiday parade with her Girl Scout Troop.

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We went to the Downeast Festival of Trees.  I had never been before.  I learned that the trees all have prizes and you put raffle tickets in the buckets of the trees you wanted.  My daughter took my tickets and put them into the buckets of all the trees with toys.

She also saw Santa again and told him she wanted a Barbie.  Because the 30ish she has now isn’t enough.

On Sunday my daughter’s Girl Scout Troop took part in the Wreaths Across America Ceremony.  My father, Local and District VFW Commander was a part of the ceremony.

This week we also had my daughter’s first school Holiday concert.  I am bummed out the Prime Minister didn’t attend but I guess he’s busy with the elections in UK that are wrapping up as I am typing this.  I am also disappointed that I didn’t get to dress her up as a Christmas Lobster.

(Bonus points if you got the Love Actually Reference)

The excitement isn’t ending any time soon.

But this week it dawned on me.

I spend so much time thinking about Bryon isn’t here to see our daughter grow up.

I don’t think about what a blessing it is that I get to our daughter grow up.

It doesn’t mean that it isn’t sad that Bryon isn’t here.

We will never forget him.  Never.

I will always think about the fact that he is missing whatever milestone we are celebrating or what fun event we are doing.

But maybe it’s okay to stop dwelling on it so much.

My daughter and I have many years ahead of us.  Years filled with busy, hectic weekends.

My daughter’s joy has always been my biggest priority.

My second priority has been thinking about Bryon, being sad and dwelling on his death and absence.

And my happiness comes last.

But maybe it’s time to swap the second and third.  It’s a hard thing to admit but being sad all the time is exhausting.

And I can’t believe that Bryon would want that.

My daughter and I are still living on this Earth and it is time to embrace life for what it is and enjoy it.

Weekly Gratitude #4: Luckiest Girl in the World

This morning I looked out at the ocean and I felt like luckiest girl in the world.

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I can think of a million reasons why I am not the luckiest girl in the world.  I have definitely had my share of bad luck.

But this morning as I looked out at the ocean, drinking my peppermint bark iced coffee, I feel like the luckiest girl in the world.

Maybe it is because I am still here.   I survived.

Maybe it is because I have an awesome daughter and I enjoy all the time I spend with here.  Even if she does try to push my buttons sometimes.

Maybe it is because I live in such a beautiful place with four very distinct seasons.  I see the cycle of life every year.

Maybe it’s because of the peppermint bark iced coffee.  It is the Christmas Season after all.

For ever reason I can think of that I am unlucky, I can think of another reason for which I am lucky.  It is just about what perspective you choose to take.

 

Survivor’s guilt and forgiveness

I have been on this planet for 41 and a quarter years.

I have had lots of experiences throughout my life.  I have had the opportunity of education in two very different areas of study.  If you told 18-year-old Kerry that she would go back to school in her thirties and take classes such as “Anatomy and Physiology,” “Pharmacology”  and “Pathophysiology”, she probably would have laughed at you.

Though truthfully, 18-year-old Kerry did not know what pathophysiology was, so she would not have had any business laughing at you.

(Pathophysiology is basically the functional changes a body has to an illness.)

I have been lucky to have had met some great people and have traveled to some great places.

I ate some fancy dinners and listened to some very important people talk.

The dinners themselves were not that interesting.  It was almost always some form of chicken.

I have been lucky to have a career and own a home.

And most importantly, I have experienced love within marriage and motherhood.

I know I often lament about how I did not realize how great my life was during those years.

My life was great during those years.  And I should cut myself slack for not appreciating it.

Because that was Before.

Before IT all happened.

Before my life changed forever.

That version of myself stopped existing on March 23, 2016.

But after I lost everything- after I hit my rock bottom- it was impossible not to think about my years with Bryon and regret that I did not make the most of those years.

I took him, our marriage and our love for granted.

And I took our future for granted.  We were supposed to grow old together.

But we all know that life had other plans.  The proverbial curve ball.

True to my Boston-Irish-Catholic upbringing, guilt is one of the few emotions that my upbringing taught me that it was okay to express (anger and restrained amusement are okay too).

The first place my mind went was that Bryon’s death was some sort of punishment.

God was clearly punishing me for something.

Either that or he was punishing my daughter.  She wasn’t even two at that point, so I really don’t think she could have committed an infraction so bad that it would warrant losing her father.

I could write another whole post on my thoughts on God so I will save that for another time.

For another time when I feel like being preached at….

So God, or the Universe, or Whoever is in charge decided that Bryon’s life was over.

And my mind immediately starts searching for any reason that it could have happened.

Because Bryon dying did not make sense.

So I turned inward and figured this must have been some sort of punishment from God for something I did.

Who knows, maybe I did something in a past life to deserve this because I really do try to be a good person.

To this day, I will never understand why Bryon had to die.

I have accepted that I will probably never know that answer.

Maye God is just cruel.

Why do some people get to live long lives and why do some people have to die young?

But one thing I can tell you with all certainty is that survivor’s guilt is real.

I once heard that survivor’s guilt is your psyche’s way of trying to assume control in a situation where you did not have any control.

That makes sense to me.  When Bryon was sick, I never felt so helpless in my life.  All I could do was wait and hope for the best.  Luckily we had visitors but there was a lot of time where I read some fluffy books, said some rosaries and I organized all my pinterest boards.

For years, I beat myself up for taking Bryon for granted.  Maybe if I appreciated him more, he wouldn’t have had to die.

But it wasn’t until recently that I decided to cut “Before Kerry” some slack.

I have suffered from survivors guilt for over three years and I realize that it is time that I have to forgive myself.

There was no way I could have known.

I had a husband who loved me very much.  Sure we could argue.  We were two people who both had Mercury in Leo.  But we loved each other fiercely.

Frankly, there were times Bryon took me for granted too.

Our love and our bond was strong.  There was enough trust for us to be able to take each other for granted.

Isn’t this what life is supposed to be about- taking what we learn from life’s difficult moments and use them to be a better person.

I don’t recommend taking people for granted.

But “Before Kerry” was doing the best she could with what she knew at the time.

Aren’t we all just trying to do our best?

I remember one day just feeling completely beside myself.  Bryon couldn’t speak because he was on a trach.  I remember saying to him, out of complete desperation, that I wish I could have switched places with him.  As if that was even an option.  It wasn’t an option but yet it seemed like the best option.  He just looked at me and shook his head no.

I know he wouldn’t want me to feel this way.

I need to forgive myself so I can move forward.

Weekly Gratitude #2: Snovember

 

One of my biggest regrets I have from my “before” life was that that I did not take the time to notice all the beauty around me.

I was an “as soon as” person, always concerned about what was coming next that I was not focused on the present.

I made a lot of changes in my life this year.  I have worked on my life from the inside out.

One of the biggest changes I have made was also one of the simplest changes.

I take time to look around me and notice all the little changes.

This also helps when you have a small child.  My daughter has taught me to see the delight in all the little changes that happen in nature.  Her enthusiasm is contagious.  Her school even has a naturalist come every week and they go out into the forest and learn about plants.

Though I could do without her acorn and rock collections she brings home.

I have always appreciated the fact that I live in the Northeast where we always have four very distinct seasons.  But now I notice the subtleties of when the seasons start to blur together.

I feel like Fall is a very popular season.  Everyone loves the Fall.  My local friends always post pictures on social media of their Fall activities.  And my friends who live in warm weather climates comment on my Fall foliage pictures saying how beautiful the leaves are. 

It’s a time of pumpkin spice, apple picking, flannel, and boots.

But now it is November.

The temperature is cold and we have even had some snow.

BTW, I am trying to make the hashtag #snovember happen.  Please, can we make it happen?

But it is not Winter yet.

Many people are putting up their Christmas trees and have moved on from Autumn.

I am not hating on people who start their Christmas enthusiasm.  Whatever makes you happy.  But I prefer to wait because the part of me that is still attached to my Catholic identity feels that Christmas really lasts until Epiphany (Jan 6).

But I’d be lying by omission if I didn’t admit that I have listened to some Christmas music.

I just choose to keep my November Christmas enthusiasm to a minimum.

The days are getting shorter and there is snow on the ground.  I am wearing my winter coat, hat, and gloves.

Winter will be here soon enough and winter overstays it’s welcome around these parts.  Every year.

I am going to hold out and continue to put pumpkin spice creamer into my coffee and I will continue to enjoy the late November beauty.

What are you grateful for this week?  Please comment below.

Weekly Gratitude #1

If you have been a longtime reader of my blog (thank you!), you would know that I used to do a weekly gratitude post on Fridays called “Good Vibrations Gratitude Friday.”  It was a fun post to write every week.  I would put in a GIF of Marky Mark. Writing the post gave me a chance to look back on my week and share the highlights.

I stopped doing those posts at the end of 2018.

It wasn’t because I stopped having gratitude.  I just shared a lot about my personal life in those posts.

I didn’t write much because I was burned out.  I went through a lot of change and a lot of healing in 2019.

When Bryon died in 2016, my life changed and I had to heal from that.  Though I will never be 100% healed from that.  Because his death had changed me and his loss will always be in my heart.

2016 will always be the worst year of my life.  (Note to the Universe or God or whoever is in charge- please don’t view this as a challenge to be accepted.  Let it ride).

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2018 was a messy and awkward year. I learned a lot about relationships, human nature and myself.

It was a year that I realized I was totally alone in my grief. Truly alone. Sure, there are people who miss Bryon. Some people miss Bryon a lot. But with all do respect, no one misses Bryon as much as I do.

It’s not rocket science, but psychology does back that up. At least the Social Readjustment Scale does.

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The Social Readjustment Scale ranks life events and rates them based on the stress impact.  Death of Spouse is the number one stresses which ranks 100 on the scale.  Divorce is the second largest stressful event and that ranks at 73 and Marital Separation ranks at 65.  Jail term (63) and Personal Injury (53) round out the top 5.  You can have more than one stressful event and those events can add up to over 100.  But death of spouse is the single most stressful event.

I am not writing these words to be hurtful to those who also miss Bryon.  I am just trying to illustrate the point that his loss was very different for me than anyone else.  Many people are respectful of that, others are not.  Some people are supportive, others are not.  Some people say wonderful things, others said horrible things.

It was a harsh realization when I realized that I was seeking support from the wrong people.  I should have leaned on my online widow tribe more than people who knew Bryon.  Even though our stories are different, we have all experienced level 100 stress.

But this year, I had to turn into myself.

I had to set some boundaries.

This has been a year of change and healing.

I am grateful that I am here.

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And I finally feel inspired to write again.

I truly try to live a life filled with Gratitude.

I thought about bringing back Good Vibrations Gratitude Friday but I decided to retire that series.

I felt like I was just making a weekly list.  Which is fine but I came to the realization that I’d rather pick one thing and delve into it.

And if I ever do feel like making a gratitude list, I can.  Because I am the CEO of this blog.

I was a little sad to start over with a new series. I had 48 Good Vibrations Gratitude Friday and I was hesitant to start over at 1 but life is about change and growth.  I can’t be afraid of change.

I shouldn’t be afraid of change. My life has had enough change over the past couple of years that I feel like I am stuck in a revolving door.

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So I hope you will join me each week and think about the things that you are grateful for.

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