The terrible twos of grief.

At first I heard that the first year is the hardest.  My therapist told me that getting through the “year of firsts” would be the hardest part.  The first set of holidays, first wedding anniversary without him, first everything would be the hardest.   That made sense.   And then I met other widows.  In support group and talking online.  And they said year two would be harder.  And that didn’t make sense.  I didn’t understand how anything could be harder than when I first lost Chris.

I saw getting through year one as an accomplishment.  And it was.  I don’t want to take away from the fact that it was.  I made it through that year of firsts.  I existed.  I’ve said before my only goals for that year were to not get fired, not get arrested, and shower on a somewhat regular basis.  I somehow made it through with some happy memories to boot which in my eyes was a huge win.  I had done it.  Surely from there things would get so much easier.

I didn’t see how it could get harder than the hardest year of my life.  I couldn’t wrap my brain around the pain being worse than the deepest pain I had ever felt or could ever imagine feeling.  But the other widows were right.  Year two was harder.  I’m approaching my husband’s two year anniversary next month, and can look back and compare.

The first year I numbly existed through pain.  Looking back I was still in shock.  I was still numb to so much of it.  I didn’t even see memories clearly in my brain yet.  The images of his funeral, the images of his brother approaching me as I sat on the front stairs of my house about to tell him that his big brother was dead, the images of me shaking the love of my life and screaming at him to wake up…. it took until after a year to even see those memories through my own eyes.  When I thought about them during year one it was like I was a third party watching a movie.  I saw myself in the memories, but I wasn’t myself in them.

But the first year I also just existed.  That was my only goal.  I’ve used the analogy before that losing a loved one is like losing a limb.  A leg.  Not that I can begin to know the pain and perseverance it takes when you lose an actual limb – but the analogy helps me.   To remind me that similarly, losing a loved one is not something you will ever get over.  You don’t wake up one day and forget your leg is gone.  It is a loss that you will never recover from, but you can learn to function without it.  You can be happy again and learn to dance again and run again somehow.  But it will never be the same.  But first, you just have to physically heal.  You can’t move.  You just have to lie there and let your body heal.  And that’s all I did year one.  Went through the motions.  Survived it.

Year two is about learning how to walk again.  Those gut wrenchingly painful first steps back into the land of life.   Numbly existing without him was so hard.   But feeling every painful part of trying to LIVE without him, well that’s even harder.

When you first kiss someone else…. its harder.  When you first fall asleep next to someone else, it’s harder.  When you finally cancel the gym membership you’ve been paying for in his name for almost two years, because it was something that was his, it’s harder.   When you first develop feelings for someone other than your husband, it’s harder.  When you meet someone that you’d actually consider dating for the first time, it’s harder.  When you find out you can’t have kids easily, and he’s not there to hold your hand, it’s harder.  When you go through your second set of holidays and you see your mom reading a book to a group of kids and you think that if he had lived maybe you’d have one by now, it’s harder.  When people stop checking in to ask how you’re holding up, it’s harder.  When you lose a best friend because of the way you behaved in the depths of grief, it’s harder.  When your almost five year old niece tells you she doesn’t remember him, it is harder.  When you stop feeling him around you, and stop hearing his voice in your head every day, it is harder.  When you look at apartments and realize you can’t afford any place close to your family on your own, it is harder.

This weekend I cleaned out my car.  It took almost 2 years.  I moved out of our apartment the week after his services.  I was in shock and running on pure adrenaline.  It was his car before it was mine.  And up until this weekend it was the only place left that had things where he had left them.  For some reason keeping it the same, keeping those things where he had placed them, was paramount to me for so long.  To the point where my car got so cluttered and messy I literally couldn’t fit another human being in the car with me.  Things in my car since I moved out of my apartment because I couldn’t face looking at it.  I couldn’t go through it, I couldn’t move it.  And then I did.  And it was harder than cleaning out my entire apartment.  I am not numb anymore.  So it was harder.

Emotionally I feel like that terrible twos toddler throwing tantrums because they are frustrated and can’t express themselves and their feelings and disappointments in a clear way.   There are days I wish it were acceptable to throw myself on the ground and kick and pound my fists and yell and cry and just throw a fit.  Because when the waves of grief hit, it is so frustrating.  No matter how many times people remind you that there’s no timeline for grief, there’s still frustration with yourself when you feel like it is still kicking your ass after “all this time”.   You start to doubt yourself and your emotions.  It is hard to tell if your reaction to a situation is how you truly feel about it, or if it is an exaggerated overreaction based on the fact that you are overly emotional and grief stricken.   Sometimes you let a few weeks pass and realize you feel the same way you did in the middle of the meltdown.   Sometimes the very next day you regret the behavior and know that you wouldn’t have been so dramatic or demanding or “crazy” if you weren’t also trying to battle the grief monster in your head.  It is extremely frustrating to not trust your own emotions.  To second guess yourself and always wonder if you overreacted to situations.   And when you realize you did, it is really hard to apologize in a way that anyone who hasn’t lived through this could ever understand.  Like a toddler.  Throwing a tantrum.

I felt a shift after year one.  Like I hit a milestone.  I am hoping I feel that same shift a month from now, as we mark another anniversary of the day we lost Chris.  I don’t know what the next stage looks like, but now I know not to just assume it will be easier than this.  It could be harder before it gets easier.  I do trust, however, that it will get easier someday.  That as I learn to walk again and learn to take each painful step after step back into living without him, I will find my stride again.  It will get easier with time.  The lesson I learned this year is that we can’t predict each year when exactly that will be.  And that is okay.  As long as I know I’m working towards a day where it will be easier.  The day will never come where I don’t miss him.   Or that I will fully be over it.  But maybe year 3 is the year the terrible days continue to be fewer and father between.

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Parenting Solo with BRCA1 by Mel Tibbetts

My mother died from breast cancer at the age of 37; I was 18 years old when she died.  She fought for 2 years.  My maternal grandmother was in her 60’s when she was diagnosed with breast cancer.  She was one of the lucky ones.  She lived a full life until the age of 82.  Me, well, I always had a feeling that breast cancer would find me too, and then it did, but not in the way you may think.  

My husband and I got married when I was 31 years old.  We had 2 children within 4 years of marriage.  In August 2013, my husband was diagnosed with stage 4 colon cancer; the cancer had spread to his liver.  He was 41 years old.  I knew right at that moment that he did not have long to live and that he was dying.  I had lived through cancer before as a teenager and I had seen how it destroyed my mother.  I knew that it would ravage my husband too.  

My husband wanted to have genetic testing done because of his diagnosis of advanced cancer at such an early age.  He wanted to ensure that our children would have all of the medical information that they needed to prevent cancer from “getting” them after he died. He met with a Dana Farber genetic counselor on November 13, 2013.  His results came back on December 13, 2013. They told me, “He has no genetic mutations. We do not know why or how he has cancer.”  My first thoughts were, “Phew.  What a relief.”  I shared this information with him and he was elated that he would not be leaving a genetic scar on our children when he died.  He then turned to me and said, “What about you?  Will you do the genetic testing for the kids?”  He was right.  I needed to do this for them just as much as he did.  

While my husband was hospitalized for the umpteenth time, I met with a Dana Farber genetic counselor on February 12, 2014.  My husband never heard the results of my testing and I am so thankful for that.  I wanted him to leave this world with peace.  He died on February 23, 2014.  My children were 5 years old and 7 years old at this time.  

On March 10, 2014 I met with the Dana Farber genetic counselor to discuss my genetic results.  At that time I was informed that I have an altered BRCA1 gene.  This mutation is associated with high cancer risk for hereditary breast cancer and ovarian cancer and should be clinically regarded.  A woman with an altered BRCA1 gene has 50-85% lifetime chance of developing breast cancer and a 20-40% chance of developing ovarian cancer.  My world crumbled even more in the midst of my grief.  I felt defeated.  My first thought was my children, “Why them?”  We had just lived through cancer taking someone that we could not live without.  I wondered how I was going to fight this.  How was I going to parent my two children solo while the only thing I could think at this time is, “I am going to die next.  Cancer is finding me too and it will kill me.  My kids will have no one left.”  I do not pray often, but I prayed hard that night.  I prayed that my angels would look over me and my children and guide me through this new journey of solo parenting with cancer still looming over me.  I prayed for guidance and  I prayed for strength.  

At that moment, I decided that cancer could not win in my life anymore.  I made some medical decisions to reduce my risk of getting breast and ovarian cancer and I have followed through on these decisions.  I get screened for breast cancer every 6 months with mammograms and MRIs.  I have a wonderful breast cancer specialist that I meet twice a year who has helped guide me in this journey.  I can honestly say that I feel empowered over this BRCA1 mutation now.  I have control over it, it does not have control over me.  I will win because my children need me to win. My children cannot lose another parent to cancer.  I will do all that is humanly possible to ensure that.  

Down the road, I will need to share this information with my children as they, too, will need to make decisions about genetic testing.  I dread this day.  It will almost be like telling them all over again, “Daddy died.  I am so sorry.”  I continue to pray that neither of my children have been passed this genetic mutation.  I pray that if this is the case, there will be bigger medical advances in the world of breast cancer and all cancers so that cancer will not feel like the monster it has become for them.

… Like there’s no such thing as a broken heart…

I met my husband five years ago yesterday.

Okay that is kind of false for a couple reasons.  First, we actually met in kindergarten and grew up in the same neighborhood, I just didn’t remember him.   Secondly, it is 11:15pm and we all know how long winded I can be, so it may be tomorrow by the time this is published.

I re-met my husband five years ago on Sept 19, 2012.  And it seems like yesterday.  I went into the local pub to visit my best friend as she was working behind the bar.  Sat at the bar and ordered some lunch.  In walked Chris and his brother Andrew.  He sat down next to me, and for a while we all just chatted.  I didn’t realize that he was trying to flirt with me when a maxi-pad commercial came on the TV and he turned and asked “Is that what all girls sit around talking about?”.   Yeah – he was that smooth.

The part that I usually leave out of our love story, is that at the time I met him I was completely head over heels for someone else.  There was a very special man in my life.  We weren’t together.  But I loved him anyway.  I’m pretty sure he loved me too in his own way, but he didn’t want to be with me.  We shared a wild and crazy month or so as lovers and then settled into a dynamic of best friends.   I tried to be more, and there was always that “What If”.   What if life got easier or the timing got right or he woke up and realized we should be together for real.  Always that “Someday” in the back of my mind.

And then there was Chris.  Smiling and goofy and sweet and funny and completely interrupting the plans I had in my head as to how what I wanted was supposed to play out.  And I had to make the decision to choose to be happy with him rather than wait to hopefully maybe someday be happy with someone else.   But I still remember that it hurt to make that choice.  To give up on the love I thought was right for me, and take a chance on the unknown.  I can still recall the conversation with my friend, telling him “I met someone.”

Life put in front of me the best thing to ever happen to me and I wasn’t even looking for it.  And we went on our first date and the rest, as they say, was history.  No games, no drama, no questions about it.  Just “So, what are you doing tomorrow?”  And every day after that.  It was easy and simple and pure from the very start.  Like we had always known each other, like he was home.

So it makes thinking about how to “move on” with life after losing such a special love extremely complicated.  How can you possibly love again after losing your soul mate?  How do you justify simultaneously having feelings of excitement over someone new while at the same time grieving the person you miss the most?  I can tell you from conversations and group chats and hours of discussions with other widows and widowers, these are some of the toughest questions to grapple with.

There’s the guilt.  The guilt that comes with the idea that moving on somehow means you don’t love them enough to just shrivel up into a ball and die of heartbreak.  Robert Baratheon started the entire plot of Game of Thrones because he lost the love of his life, and I’m considering Tinder?   The guilt that comes not only from within and the feeling like you’re somehow cheating on someone who isn’t even here anymore, but also about what other people will think.  Is it too soon?  Will people look at me like I didn’t give it the appropriate amount of time?    In reality – those who love you won’t judge you one bit.   They will be happy for you, over the moon even, to see you trying to be happy again.  But the inside of your own head is a place that tends to forget all logic and reason when you’ve lost something so special.

There is also the fear.  The fear is huge.  Of being crushed again.  Of opening up your heart and having it broken into even smaller pieces than the ones you are still actively trying to fit back together as it is.   Of rejection.  Of loss.   Though to be honest, that is nothing compared to the fear I have of something working out, and the pain I am going to cause someone new when I can’t love them the way I loved Chris.   Of how unfair that seems to ask another human being to willingly accept a heart that will never fully be whole again.  And be okay with that.   My biggest fear is the day someone calls me their soul mate, or tells me I am the best thing to ever happen to them, and the only response I can give is “Thank you” instead of saying it back.

That doesn’t meant I think I wouldn’t be able to love again.  I do think I could.  I know my heart is big enough to let someone else in.  To care again.  To feel excited about someone.  To find someone I want to share my life with.

I have this theory, that there’s a sliding scale of compatibility.   Say your soul mate is your 100% match.  Man that is rare.  Most people go their entire lives without ever finding it.   Or coming close to finding it.  The odds of those two hearts connecting…. I truly believe its nothing short of divine intervention for it to happen.  You can’t look for that kind of love or search for it.  You can’t swipe left or right and hope to find it.  It is not a checklist or the prince at the end of some fairy tale.  It only happens when the universe just puts that person in front of you and you instantly know it is right.  I had that.  Chris was my 100%.   Most people don’t even believe that exists, and I wouldn’t either if I hadn’t experienced it.

But people are in love at way less than 100%.   Those cute old couples you see in the grocery store that have been married 65 years and have 4 generations of offspring and are ridiculously happy?   Some of those aren’t even 100%.  They could be like 95%, 90% – who knows I mean this isn’t a mathematical science it is simply the ramblings of my brain when I really should be sleeping.

My point being – you can be happy – REALLY happy – with less than your soul mate.  I truly believe that.   Now – that doesn’t mean you go and settle for some 75% bullshit and blame me.  No.  I didn’t say that.  I said the 90%, the 95% –  those are going to make it the distance.  The long haul.  And those aren’t as rare.  Those come along every so often.  They aren’t once in a lifetime.  They aren’t every Tom, Dick, and Harry you meet on the street – but they are out there and you can find them.  And you can be happy again with less than perfection.

There is no “one” person and one person only.  Watch one season of The Bachelor or Bachelorette and that is apparently clear.   One of my good friends from the We Do Care family asked the group of us once “How do you reconcile liking someone, while still feeling so sad about losing your soulmate?”.

All I could offer was – “there’s enough room in your heart for both?  Humans are incredible beings capable of feeling extremely complex combinations of emotions often times simultaneously?  We can laugh and cry literally at the same time.  We can look at a truly happy moment and feel so much joy and gratitude and still feel the deepest sadness that the person we love isn’t there to experience it with us.  We can be hopeful and heartbroken at the very same time.  The depth of the layers of everything we have to feel, all at once, after going through what we have all gone through is insane.  So yeah, we can feel attracted to and excited about and find like or love for someone while still loving someone we have lost.  It’s mind blowing really.  But it is possible.  You don’t have to chose one or the other.  You can do both.”

Okay – so it is possible.  Fine.  But how do you know when you are ready?   You don’t.  I think it just happens.  There is no set timetable.  It is different for every person.  Some quicker, some later.   Some are ready to go right straight to dating.  Others start off more casually.

(Mom and Dad and the rest of my family can stop reading now…. seriously…. as awkward as this is to think of my in laws or my parents reading – it is a huge part of what life after losing a spouse or love looks like and it needs to be talked about so…. here goes….)   It took me over a year to let myself think of being with anyone else.  And when I did, I wasn’t ready for emotions and romance and feelings and thoughts of a relationship or a future or even a date.   I didn’t want to date.   But I needed physical intimacy.   So for the past six months or so, I have gotten back out there and I have had my share of fun – safely of course – and I don’t feel guilty about it and I don’t feel ashamed of it.  If anything I feel like Chris would be shocked it took me so long.   And some people are capable of separating emotions from sex and some people are not, so it may not be an option for everyone, but it was what I needed.

But eventually you do want more.  And you miss having someone to go to dinner and a movie with.   You miss the kiss on the forehead.  You miss the cuddles and the snuggles and the emotional connection that you had.   You miss the idea of sharing your life with someone.

And sometimes you’re ready and you don’t even know it.  Or you’re waiting for something to happen to force your hand.  Or you have this idea in your head of how you’d like things to go…. much like I had in the beginning of this blog post… and your current “what ifs” and “maybe somedays” don’t work out the way you fantasized and you’re left having to face the terrifying realization that it has to happen.  Dating.  Oh dear god no.  Please no.  But you have no choice.  It is either dating or cat lady.  Plenty of people choose cat lady by the way.  And this is not a dig at any lovely cat ladies out there.

But I didn’t walk through the fire and hell of the last year and a half of my life to give up now and be an old lonely cat lady.

So I went on a date.  Last night.  Okay – it is past midnight now.  So whatever, two nights ago.  Sept 19, 2017.  I went on the first date since the death of my husband.  5 years to the day that I met him.   And it was great.  He was sweet.  We had dinner, he was outgoing, he told some funny and some not so funny jokes.  We talked about life, shared a meal.  Laughed.  He chatted up the old couple that they sat next to us at the Cheesecake Factory, because well they are in your lap anyway.  That old couple – so cute and so happy.  Adorable.  Retired.  Probably only a 93% I’d say.

We went to the movies.  We saw IT.  I am a huge baby at scary movies.  I gripped his arm and he held my hand and okay okay my knee (sorry again mom).  And I felt comfortable with him.  He opened all doors, including my car door and he paid for everything and he asked when he could see me again and said he wanted to take me bowling and apple picking and to see one of the previews.  And there was flirting and chemistry and a really decent kiss goodnight.

And then today he dumped me.  Because…. well dating sucks.  Lol.  But that’s not the point.  I didn’t expect another first date turns into a love story.  I’m not gonna lie – I didn’t expect it to end THIS quick after how great of a time we had.  The point is – I did it.  I went.  I got over the “I’m not ready” bullshit.   I was terrified, and sad, and felt guilty, and scared, and nervous, and every other emotion under the sun.   But I did it.  I let my guard down, and I took a chance.   It didn’t pan out… because as I have mentioned… dating sucks.   And yeah, today I was hurt.  And it probably hurt more now than it would have hurt before I met Chris.  I took it harder today.  It has been a tough few days.   But I’ve been through so much worse.  So much worse.  That all I can do is laugh, let it roll off my shoulders, and try again.

I know Chris is proud of me.  I know he thinks that dude is a moron.  But I know he is proud of me.  Life is way too short to let fear keep you from trying.   There is a song out now by Old Dominion…. and I know it is how he wants me to go forward…..

You know you can’t keep the ground from shaking,
No matter how hard you try
You can’t keep the sunsets from fading,
You gotta treat your life like
You’re jumping off a rope swing,
Baby cuz the whole thing’s really just a shot in the dark.
You gotta love, like there’s no such thing as a broken heart.
You gotta love, like there’s no such thing as a broken heart. 

The infertile widow…

I held back tears last week as I waited to check out at the Dr’s office.  Not just any doctor, I should explain.  Obstetrics and Gynecology.   I stood behind a young couple.  The woman was at the desk.  The father was rocking an infant carrier.  The baby was giggling.  The rock on her hand seemed to sparkle despite the gross office lighting.  And at first the image made me smile a little.  Happy family.  New baby.  And then I heard the woman behind the desk say “And when the new baby comes your insurance coverage will…..”.

New baby?  They already have one.  It’s right there.  And they get ANOTHER one?  So soon?  And I’m here, all alone, wearing a Dr. issued pad that was invented in 1954 the size of a diaper after the procedure I just had.  And life just seemed so unfair.

Chris and I tried for over a year to have a baby once we got married.  With no luck.  We had always said we would give it some time on it’s own, and we would see how we felt if it didn’t happen.  Having never had regular periods, part of me suspected it wouldn’t be a quick process.  But neither of us were sure we had it in us to go through the process of medical assistance in getting pregnant.  I’ve watched friends and family go through the very difficult, emotional, stressful, expensive process of hormone shots and injections and IVF or IUI and all the different ways to make it happen.  And some of my favorite human beings are on this planet today because of those procedures and I thank God for those options.  But we weren’t sure if we wanted to do it – so we waited to try on our own.

Funny thing about time, you always think you have more of it.  We were starting to discuss more frequently the idea of going to see a Dr. about the fact that we weren’t getting pregnant.  I was getting more and more disappointed with each period I would get.  Not having regular periods, I can’t tell you how many pregnancy tests I took.  Two minutes of hope every now and then.   And then one morning he was gone, and so was hope of being a mom.

I need to preface what comes next as MY perspective.  My story, my feelings, my preferences for my own life and my own body.   I can’t imagine how difficult it must be to parent alone after losing a spouse or partner.  To watch your kids grieve and struggle.  I can’t speak to that and I’m not comparing my situation to anyone else’s as easier or harder or more or less painful.  We all carry the pain in different ways.  It is just different.    And I am not knocking anyone out there who decided to have a baby at an older age.  Good for you, girl.  Honestly.  You rock.  I completely understand that women are having children older and older lately.  Almost everyone has some story of “someone I know is 45 and pregnant for the first time”.  Good for them.  I wish them the best, I honestly do.  But I know what I feel comfortable with for myself and my life and the life of a child I bring into this world.  So please, if you are reading this, don’t be offended by what comes next – it is just my world vision right now.

When Chris died it left me very much ALONE.  I moved out of our apartment and back into my parents’ house to not have to be so alone and they have been amazing at taking care of me.   But I don’t have a part of him to live on.  I don’t get to see a smile that is exactly like his was as a reminder of a mark he left on this world when he went.   And that kills me.  I never got to see the man I love hold our child in his arms.  He was taken from us before he ever got to know the love in his heart of being a dad.  He would have been an unbelievable dad.   The only person that I have to be strong for is myself.  And that is not much motivation some days.  I don’t have anyone to get up and put one foot in front of the other for, so there are weekends I stay in my pajamas and don’t shower and days I don’t get out of bed until 4pm.  Still.  A year and a half later.   It is just a different type of alone.

Fast forward a year or so and an irregular pap smear has me at the obgyn.  And in the midst of cervical and uterine biopsies and other medical concerns (all of which came back fine, thankfully), I am officially diagnosed with PCOS.  Poly Cystic Ovarian Syndrome.  Fairly common syndrome actually, not exactly rare, but a condition that can lead to making it very difficult to conceive naturally.  I was basically told that the odds are I would need hormone shots and IUI or IVF or some sort of assistance if I ever wanted to have a baby.

Now – I can imagine this information is difficult to hear for any woman.  Even those that already have kids and are struggling with secondary infertility.   Even those not necessarily wanting a baby right then.  Just being told that you can’t have one on your own, is tough.  I don’t claim to limit the feelings of loss this can cause just to someone who has lost their spouse.  Many couples struggle with the emotional havoc infertility can cause.

But had I gotten this news at 34, with a doting husband sitting next to me when it was delivered, we would have had options. They may not have worked.  Nothing is certain.  But we could have tried.  At 36, alone and not getting any younger, the diagnosis was a confirmation of something I had known deep down for the past year and a half.  That in all probability, my chances of being a mom died with him.  Another ridiculously unfair layer to an already heartbreaking loss.

Most people I talk to about this are quick to say “You never know”.  And they’re right.  I lack the ability to foresee the future.  I am not psychic.  On occasion, psycho… but not psychic.  Life has taught me that the unexpected and unlikely can happen at any moment.   But just because something is scientifically and medically POSSIBLE doesn’t mean it is PROBABLE.

I could technically do a lot of things that aren’t probable.  I could technically win the Olympic Gold in any given sport.  Highly unlikely though.  I could hit the lottery, I could win a Nobel peace prize, I could grace the cover of the Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Edition.  But the odds are not likely for any of those things to happen, and I need to face the fact that the odds are not likely that I will bear a child.   And deferring that acceptance, putting it off with “you never know” or “don’t think like that” does nothing to help me process the grief and the emotions that come along with it.   I need to mourn this.  The way I’m mourning my husband and the way I’ve mourned the loss of the life we wanted to lead together.  I don’t know what the future holds, but glossing over the blow is almost making the pain I feel inside seem less legitimate.

It is okay to be upset over this.  To feel it.  To cry about it.  To get angry at the universe.  Because that is how you work through it.  So often we go through life trying to hide our pain over things and trying to seem strong or let things roll off our shoulders.  Put on a brave face.   What good does that do other than just cause a lot of people to suffer alone when they could be healing together by talking about it?

The truth is I’m not even close to a place where I could consider wanting to make a family with anyone else.  I haven’t even been on a date yet.  And I’m not saying I may not open my heart again to someone in the future, but the rate I’m moving doesn’t lend itself to it being any time soon.  And biology, unlike love, has a clock.  And there is only a little bit of sand left in that hourglass.   My personal choice is that there is an age at which I would no longer feel comfortable becoming a mother.  For many reasons, and I’m not going to pretend some aren’t selfish.  But it is my life, I’m allowed to be selfish.  For my own comfort level, for what I want for myself and for a child I bring into this world.  I am not knocking anyone who doesn’t have such an age in mind, but for me… it is there and it is looming.  Could I hit it and change my mind?  I suppose.  Could I push it off the way I push off the date I’m going to start eating healthier or finish cleaning my room?  I am known to procrastinate so it is possible.  But again, not probable.  I feel strongly in my heart about this.

And yes, I could do it alone.  I could adopt.  My parent’s won’t let me get a kitten, I’m not sure how they would feel about another human being living here with us.   Plus I am still recovering, I’m not ready to do it on my own either.  The time it would take to feel ready to explore either option in a legitimate manner would put me right up against the same time restraints.  I am grateful that there are those options out there for me should I change my mind in the future though, because as they say, “you never know”.

So where does that leave me?  The old maid.  The cat lady (because I will move out at some point and damn straight the minute I do I am getting a kitten).  The spinster.  Maybe someday.  Who knows.  But for now, it leaves me really needing to dig deep to take a look at all I do have in this world to keep me from feeling sorry for myself, from feeling cheated.

I have no offspring, but I am far from childless in my life.  I have snuggled the hell out of so many babies that my friends or cousins have had.  I’ve had the honor and privilege of watching them grow.  I have nieces and a nephew on Chris’ side of my extended in law family that I adore.  I took over his role of god parent for one of them.  She will be two and when she says “auntie” when she sees me my heart swells.   I was blessed to know instant unconditional love like I didn’t even know existed the day my brother and sister in law had my niece, Keira.  She is four and she is my favorite human.  Some day when she is old enough to understand, I will explain to her how she alone pulled me out of some of the darkest days of the past year and a half.

I don’t know what the future holds.  None of us do.  But I know that if this is my fate, I am still going to be ok.  I will be surrounded by love.  And I will enjoy every minute of being Auntie Katie.

 

 

 

Time

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I blatantly copied this image from Pinterest.  I have zero right to use it but I had to share it. If I knew who the artist was I’d give credit where credit is due.  Because the minute I saw it, it instantly brought tears to my eyes.

I’ve had it for a while now and every time I go to post it I never know where to begin to try to put into words how this hits me deep down in the guts in a place that’s just pure emotion.

Time. What a mindfucking concept. Sorry for the language but it is fitting. We are all only given so much of it. Sometimes we know that the hour glass is down to its last grains of sand, but I’m not sure that is any easier being aware that you’re almost out of time. Sometimes it’s like a watch battery that stops mid tick of the second hand. No slow down, no warning. It just stops.

But you don’t know which category you’ll fall into in the end… if you’ll see it coming or be blindsided.  Not only when it comes to the amount of time you have, but also the amount of time your loved ones have.

This lack of knowledge is simultaneously the cruelest trick time has to play on us all and yet the most benevolent gift it could give us.

The potential for the blindside.. especially after you’ve experienced it… is terrifying. PTSD…. nightmare inducing… unable to sleep.. terrifying. The concept that anyone you love could be permanently ripped out of your life in an instant… I’m surprised it doesn’t stunt mankind from functioning to be honest.  I’m shocked it doesn’t ruin me completely sometimes.  On occasion it feels like it just might, even now.

But the potential for the blindside also does something else… it makes you cherish every single moment you did have together.  Every memory, every bittersweet reminder of how lucky you were to have experienced something so special.

It makes you cherish every moment you do have left here. It makes you look at your family and your friends and your loved ones with a deeper appreciation of how valuable they truly are.

We all start running out of time the minute we are born.  Some of us just get more of it than others.  But if the past 15 months have taught me anything it really isn’t about the amount of time you’re given but what you do with it that matters.  How you make the most of the time you are given.  Make sure that your time is measured in quality because quantity is never a guarantee.

Someone said something to me tonight that I’ve often thought myself.  That it’s not fair that I had to lose Chris, the love of my life..  or that this person had to lose the love of his life… when there are plenty of couples out there who don’t even like each other or treat each other well.

And at first glance in that comparison, I feel sorry for myself, I feel sorry for other widows and widowers who had the real deal, that true love, and had to lose it all.   But then the more I think about it…. I feel sorry for them.  For those people who don’t have what Chris and I found.  Who aren’t happy but are staying for the kids or for the convenience or out of fear and complacency.  They may get more time than we got.  And that sucks.  And he is right, it is not fair. But we got the quality.  And I wouldn’t trade that for anything in the world.

I’d rather have had one single day of his love only to lose it than to have never known it at all.  Because if the quality of time you get with someone, and the love you have is strong enough… it is enough to transcend time, and last forever.

A letter to my husband following his one year anniversary.

Babe,

I know you hear me when I talk to you, sometimes I can hear you talking back in my head.  So, you’re probably wondering why I’m putting all this in writing when you can’t read it. All I can say is it helps to get it out of my head and there’s so much I want to say to you. I didn’t get to write you a Valentine’s Day card this year.

I’m not sure that you’d even realize that Friday was the one year anniversary of your passing.  I’d imagine you’re in a place now that may not have a concept of time at all, let alone one that is based off how long it takes our planet to circle just one of the stars you now get to dance among.

For those of us left here to face this world without you, it has been hard. I couldn’t imagine how I would survive a day without you, let alone 366. It was a freaking leap year to boot.

The best analogy I’ve heard is that it is like losing a leg.  At first you just need time to let the wound heal.  Scab then scar over.  There’s not much else you can do during that time but just get through it.  Eventually you can learn to walk again.  It takes more effort than most people will ever have to put into any single task they undertake.  There will be progress and setbacks, highs and lows, good days and bad days and a whole lot of pain.  But those with the courage and the perseverance not to give up will not only walk again but they will run, they will dance.  They will go on to live a beautiful happy life despite the challenges that will become routine.  But the leg does not grow back.  They will never fully recover or be whole again.  The loss is permanent, it is not something you get over in time. Time does not heal all wounds.  Time gives you the opportunity to learn how to live despite the wounds.

Baby, I feel guilty saying this, but I feel like my time of just letting the wound heal has come to an end, and I’m ready now to learn how to walk again.  I gave myself a year to just survive.  To get through every “first”. To let myself wallow and let myself feel every ounce of the pain.

And despite the fact that I know you would want me to move forward, part of me feels like our love was so special that I should gut wrenchingly mourn it’s loss until the day I die of a broken heart and finally get to see you again.

But omg babe it is so exhausting. I have cried every single day for a year. And it is absolutely exhausting. I’m so tired of being miserable every single day. I’m so tired of getting up everyday and simply trying to get through it.  I cannot have grief be my full time job anymore.  It has been in the forefront of every one of the 525,600 minutes since you left. (OK I just relied on the RENT song and not through math for leap year).

I know that it will never go away. And learning to walk again will most likely be a LOT harder than just laying around letting the wound heal.  But I’m ready to try to do things for me.  Baby steps.  I’m not even talking about dating or getting back out there yet, I’m talking more about taking the time to live my life to the fullest.  Do things I’ve always wanted to do. Play piano. Write a novel even if noone reads it. Get healthy. Travel.

I want you to look down on me and see me living life for the both of us.  I want you to be proud.  I don’t want to make it to heaven someday and have you tell me how you had to watch your leaving me so soon sentence the rest of my life to perpetual sadness.

Baby I’m gonna need all the help I can get though. It is so not easy. One day you’re treading water and the next the waves hit you out of the blue and you feel like you’re drowning.

Your anniversary was one of those drowning times.  And to be honest it was more so Valentines Day this week and the night before the 17th that were the hardest.  Thinking of our last Vday. Our last date night.  Our last days together.  Those last moments where you held me on your arms and gave me your last kiss and told me you loved me for the last time.  Reliving those memories a year later was brutal.  I did not handle it well lol.

But I did it. We did it. Your family has been amazing too.  And we survived the first year without you and mixed in with all of the sadness of these past couple weeks has been relief and a sense of accomplishment. I am so proud of us. Noone ended up in jail or got fired!!

I’m ready to do more than just survive. I know it will be a long slow fought battle and it’s not like I can snap my fingers and be happy again with where I am in life.  It is still going to take a lot of time, and a lot of work on myself to get there. But I know you will be with me every step of the way cheering me on.

Baby I love you with all of my heart. Thank you for giving me so much love while you were here that it carried me through the dark moments of this first year.  Thank you for loving me in a way that most people search for their whole lives.  Thank you for giving me the kind of love that I can be grateful to have had at all, the kind of love that makes every ounce of this pain worth it.  It is the life vest that keeps me afloat when the waves hit.

I miss you more than I can even describe.  I miss you in a way that makes your chest physically feel hollow and empty.  I know I won’t ever stop missing you. In the blink of an eye your 20 year anniversary will come around and I’m sure parts of it will still feel like yesterday even then. And I will miss you then like I miss you today.  But by that point hopefully I’ll have learned not just how to walk, but how to dance again.

Xoxoxo xoxo,

Katie

Anger… God… and “it all happens for a reason”.

They say the five stages of grief are 1. Denial 2. Anger 3. Bargaining 4. Depression and 5. Acceptance.   If only grief were that clear cut.  For most people – it doesn’t work like that.

Denial and Bargaining sort of came as a joint stage for me.  Despite knowing that my husband was dead the minute I really looked at him that morning, I still prayed to God the entire time the EMTs were working on Chris.  I promised everything and anything I could think of to God that morning if he would just let them bring him back.  Which I suppose was also denial, because deep down I knew he was already gone.

I’m not sure that I will ever get to acceptance, or what that would even look like.

I don’t even really like the categorization of “Depression”.  I guess it makes sense.  But depression gives me the impression of someone incapable of functioning, and while that may be true in the very beginning, I don’t think grief becomes acceptance because you’re up and about going to work and enjoying yourself every now and then.

I say my three stages of grief are sadness, anger, and inappropriate humor.  And I switch between the three back and forth with no linear progression whatsoever.  Sometimes each emotion lasts a few minutes, sometimes a few days.

Anger is so common after the loss of a loved one.  I will say, I am very lucky that it does not show its ugly head for me as often as sadness and inappropriate humor.  But it is still there in the background.

When you lose your spouse at a young age, you don’t just lose the person.  You don’t just lose their presence in your today, but you lose the future you were planning and looking forward to.  You feel cheated.  And you just can’t help but think to yourself sometimes that this is just not fair.  You don’t just mourn them, but you mourn the life you were supposed to have together.

I was angry with myself.  I was angry that I didn’t make changes in my life to help Chris and I be healthier together as a couple.  That I didn’t push the importance of eating healthier and going to the gym, and taking better care of ourselves before a heart attack took him in his sleep.  I was mad at myself for not digging deeper into his complaints of heartburn the night before he died.

Eventually I had to forgive myself.  I had to accept that there was nothing I could have done.  The “What ifs?” plague most of us.  If only I had gone to wake him up earlier that morning.   But at the end of the day I had to tell myself he was a grown man, and if his heartburn was bad enough that it was borderline heart issues, he could have said something and gone to the hospital.

In the beginning I was furious with Chris.  I was angry at the overarching fact that he died.  He promised he would never leave me and he broke that promise.  He had the nerve to sweep me off my feet and give me a taste of what true happiness was and then he left me here to face this world without him.  How dare he?  I was angry at the details.  I was angry that he never went for a sleep study when I knew from his snoring that he stopped breathing in the night.  I was angry that he didn’t take better care of himself.  I was angry that he didn’t immediately refill his high blood pressure medication.  When I moved out of our apartment, two weeks after he died, I remember finding golf balls and throwing them as hard as I could off the walls.  I always said if he walked through the door tomorrow I’d hit him before I hugged him.

But then I had to forgive him too.  Because I know if he did walk through that door the very first thing that would come out of his mouth is how sorry he is.  How he never would have left me by choice.  I had to literally imagine him apologizing to me in my head in order to let certain things go.  I had to realize that yes, he was a bonehead for not taking more medical concerns seriously, but he was 34.  You never think, even with high blood pressure and probably sleep apnea, that you are going to die in your sleep at 34.  If we were 60 and he didn’t want to take it more seriously, I’d have kicked his ass.  But he was 34.

That’s not to say I don’t still get frustrated and anger doesn’t spill out.  I do.  When I have to do something for myself that he should be here to do for me I think “God Damn It, Chris!”.  Just today my dad was talking about how I have a bunch of stuff that had been taking up storage space in a room he is renovating and how I have to find a place for it, and out burst “Sorry I was supposed to have my own fucking house to put it in!!”  And then I bawled for an hour and felt even worse that I made him upset.   I have moments of anger still.  But thankfully it is not something that lingers with me the way it could.

It is very common when something like this happens to be angry with God.  Or if you’re not a religious person, with fate or karma or the universe or whatever the powers that move us be.  But especially if you are a religious person, it is really tough to keep faith when you do bargain with God and you do pray and pray and somehow God still takes that person from you.  And each person is absolutely entitled to that anger.  Because it isn’t fair.

I was raised Catholic but I don’t consider myself to be a particularly religious person in the strict sense of it.  I do believe in what I choose to call God.  And I’m not saying that anger at God isn’t normal, or isn’t justified.  All I can speak to is why I, personally, haven’t found myself angry with God, in the hopes that maybe someone else could relate.

I was used to hearing at funerals “God chose to call – insert dead person’s name here – home”.  And when it is the funeral of a 95 year old person who had been suffering from ailment and was in pain and had lived a full life – that was comforting to some extent.  But when bad things happen to good people, there’s little comfort in claiming it was God’s plan.  Then you just want to ask why God feels the need to do horrible stuff to good people, and that sucks.

At Chris’ funeral the priest spoke to how everything at one point was attributed to God’s will because we didn’t have science or technology to explain why things happened otherwise.  Progressive for a Catholic priest.  I liked it.  Earthquakes and tornadoes and hurricanes were God’s anger as opposed to the plates of the earth moving and weather patterns.  Disease and illness was God’s plan instead of biology.  (I am not here to have a philosophical and theological debate on Science vs. Religion or the wormhole you could go down with the line of thought that God ultimately created science and biology).

The priest said that God didn’t choose to take Chris.  That biology will tell us what happened within Chris’ body to cause his death, and that God was just as sad as the rest of us but that God will welcome him home nonetheless.  That resonated with me.  And again – that’s just me and my beliefs.  I’m not saying everyone should agree.  If you’ve lost someone you love and you’re pissed at God – who am I to tell you not to be or that you don’t have that right?  All I can speak to is what I believe.

The hardest justification I had when it came to God, the universe, fate, karma whatever it is you want to call it –  is my belief that good things happen for a reason while simultaneously bad things can happen to good people for no reason at all.  I don’t believe there was a reason, other than high blood pressure and genetics and biology that Chris had to die.  It wasn’t to make me stronger or teach me a lesson or further my path or anyone else’s.  He just died.  This may not comfort others.  Some people do feel there was a purpose to their loved one’s death, and in some ways I’m jealous of that.  I don’t feel that he died for a purpose.  Sometimes I think it would be easier to wrap my brain around if I did.  But it makes me angry to think of him having to die for some bigger purpose to be fulfilled.  I guess in my mind no purpose is worth him having to give his life.

But I do believe I was put into his life to make him happy before he died.  I do believe he was put into my life to show me what true love and true happiness really is.  And I believe God brought us together for a reason.  Not to test me, not to challenge me, but to bless me with his presence and his love even if it was just for a short time.

But isn’t that hypocritical?  To believe the good happens for a reason but not the bad?  I grappled with that for a while.  How some things seem so predestined and meant to be, while pain and hurt can seem so random.

I’ve put these thoughts out on my Facebook page in a prior post: There is a driving force behind us all and it is a force of good.  And if we allow it to guide us, through faith or prayer or whatever it is you believe in… it will do its best.  I think of that force as God but you don’t necessarily have to attach religion to it.  But we also have free will.  We make decisions for ourselves.  Science and biology play their part.  So bad things can still happen, despite the best intentions of God.

I believe that if we allow ourselves to be, we will always be guided to where we are supposed to be.  It doesn’t mean that bad things are part of the plan or happen for a reason.  But I was supposed to be with Chris.  We were supposed to share our love before he left this planet.  If anything, I thank God for the fact that I got to have the love I had with him at all, even if it wasn’t for as long as I wanted.

It is not fair that I had to lose him.  But what would have been more unfair is if I never got the chance to love him at all.  Even if that means there are times I still look up to the sky and say “Ugh, wtf Chris!”