I can no longer say “one year ago, Megan did this”. She’s been gone 369 days. Today isn’t anything special or significant in the grand scheme of things, but it is interesting to me how the one year mark mentally appears to be a weight off of my shoulders in a sense.
I have experience now. I’ve been through Thanksgiving, Christmas, birthdays and anniversaries without her. I’d like to say that I know what to expect now, and that those dates can’t be any worse than the first year. I’m smart enough to know that I can’t predict that though.
Last year, I was a mess. I fell apart at my parents house on Thanksgiving day. No reason or trigger happened...it was just “because”. As soon as I got home, the dread of how I was going to get through Christmas morning began. All I could think of was Shelby running down the stairs to see the gifts under the tree that morning, eyes full of happiness, and Megan not being there to see it.
Thursday marks one year since Megan’s death. It amazes me how hard that is to think about. It is just another day for the rest of the world, but for me, it is bringing heightened emotions, and random relapses into heavy grief.
As much as I sat and thought about what I wanted to write today, I couldn’t put together a clear line of thought. I simply want to wallow in my grief, and allow myself to scream through written words, and see what comes out.
Last weekend, Sarah and I decided to take a drive around the west side of Cleveland. We didn’t have any real plan; just to head out to a small town on the Lake Erie shore, and see where we ended up. Shelby was staying with Megan’s mother, so we were free to have a random Sunday.
After having some lunch at an old soda fountain in a historic fishing village, we started heading east along US-6. It hugs the shoreline, passing through many villages and towns along its route to Cleveland. We observed and commented on all the large houses, the views of the lake between them, and the character of the various settlements. I had never been through this area either. Even though I grew up less than an hour away, I had never had any cause to drive around there. All in all, it was a relaxing, picturesque cruise.
Once we neared Cleveland proper, we decided it was time to start heading back towards home. I left this unfamiliar road, and entered I90, heading towards and through downtown. Weaving through the construction zones, we were forced onto an exit ramp.
Suddenly, I was on one of the most familiar roads I had ever driven on. This exit led to the hospital where Megan had been treated throughout the years, the same hospital where she died.
After such a busy week last week, between the move, and Sarah’s best friend traveling to Ohio, I am finding myself in a calm state, without a ton to write about. The primary thing starting to creep into my mind though, is that in a little over two weeks, it will have been one year since Megan’s death.
I am constantly being bombarded by memories of exactly where I was and what I was doing one year ago. At this point, I was traveling 45 minutes, one way to the hospital every day to visit Megan. She was emaciated and weak, only weighing 75 pounds or so, but she was still doing her best to sit up out of bed or even walk to the nurses desk, about 40 feet away (albeit with a team of nurses to caddy her IV poles, ventilator, and various other tubes, hoses, and wires going into her)
I started thinking about this last night as Sarah and I were driving back from dinner and talking.
Two people, a man and a woman, sat down to have a drink with a group of mostly strangers. At the time, the two of them were strangers to each other. After a brief introduction, and some small talk, that group of strangers, and those two people, became friends.
The evening was spent talking, laughing, and sharing stories. Humorous anecdotes were being tossed around by all, and the table went from a slightly awkward social gathering to a night out with friends that seemingly all knew each other for years. Those two people however, seemed to connect more than most, and a stronger bond started to form.
The people at this table were all widows. Some were newly widowed, like the man was, and some had been widowed for decades. The woman had been widowed for a few years. That was the similarity that brought the table together that evening in Florida. It was a shared trauma amongst everyone.
The man and the woman, both widowed, struck up a deeper conversation, and got to know each other’s past, without ever pondering how much it would become their future.
I’m going to get straight to the point. Tomorrow, I am boarding a plane, flying to Texas, packing Sarah’s possessions, and driving her back north to Ohio. I am incredibly excited, anxious, and happy about this.
But, I’m a widower. I have a beautiful 8 year old daughter who has lost her mother. I miss my wife, and I want nothing more than for both Megan AND Sarah to be here. Shelby is the same. She asks multiple times a day “how many more hours until Sarah gets here?”, and in the very next breath, talks about a fun memory with Megan.
I haven't balanced that out yet. As I write this, I am sitting ten feet from Megan’s ashes. I am surrounded by pictures of her, us, and her family. I know she’s gone, but it’s still weird to think that I’d love her to be watching Sarah and I turning the page to a new chapter. I can only imagine her joy when she sees how Shelby’s face lights up when the three of us are doing something.
Before Megan, before Shelby, before dating and marriage and sickness and death, there was my car. I bought my Mustang in 2000, when I was only 20 years old, during my service in the US Marine Corps.
It was my first passion. I drove that car to the beach every weekend with my buddies. I drove it 14 hours one-way from North Carolina, once a month to visit my family and friends in Ohio. I spent at least a few hours every week washing, polishing, and waxing it. When I left the Marine Corps, and met Megan, it ferried us to dates. We would spend time at the drag strip with it. It took us on our honeymoon. I tore down and rebuilt the entire thing over a winter after we were married. We went to car shows, parades, and cruise-ins, where we made some of our closest friends. There were so many good things that the car brought into our lives.
Outside of Megan, I was always focusing on that car.
If you have followed Sarah and I’s writing over these months, you know that we’ve now met each other’s families. She traveled to Ohio a few weeks ago, for the first time, and upon arriving, we made sure to arrange time to specifically visit both my parents and Megan’s parents.
Terri, Megan’s mother, has sadly had to watch two of her children go because of Cystic Fibrosis. I cannot begin to imagine what that must be like. Yes, I’ve lost Megan, and I watched her younger brother Jason pass away, but they were not my children. She had known, raised, and loved both of them for their entire lives, and then they were gone.
Bringing Sarah to meet Terri was something then that caused me some anxiety. Not because I was worried that her and Sarah would not get along, or that they wouldn’t immediately begin talking, but because even if I haven’t experienced it myself, i know that Terri is still and will always be mourning Megan’s death. It would only be natural for her to see Sarah as a “replacement” that her son-in-law is bringing into the family, like some sort of distraction.
My birthday, Halloween, the colors changing on the trees, cool weather, fall festivals, apple cider, all of the other things that occur around this time of year in Ohio have solidified autumn into my favorite season. I’m not much for hot weather, and snow, while looking forward to it yearly, always starts getting a little old after Christmas. Spring is usually too muddy and variable for me to enjoy being outdoors as much as I would like.
But fall? It has always been perfect for me. Until this year.
Megan also died in late fall. This season is now bringing up memories of spending the entire autumn months of September, October, and most of November watching a green line bouncing up and down on a monitor above a bed. The bed that Megan was lying in for 6 months, until she wasn’t.