Prior to losing Megan, I was an avid backpacker. 5 or 6 times a year, I would meticulously plan a trip to the mountains over a weekend, and disappear for a few days. No cell phone service, no emails, no TV, no distractions. I am at my most calm and reflective while I am in nature.
It was a way to recharge my batteries and spend time in a primitive space.
It's been two years since I last spent a night in the woods. Megan’s organ rejection, and her subsequent hospitalization put a complete stop to any outdoor pursuits. My gear sat, collecting dust until a week ago, when I finally felt ready to leave the world behind and disappear again.
I can’t say that, to me, this moment was any less significant than our first Christmas without her, her birthday, or even meeting and dating Sarah. It felt important to be putting a boot on the ground again, for the first time knowing that I wouldn’t be returning home after a long weekend to Megan. The thought did not escape me that it also meant that the guilt I usually felt, that of leaving a disabled wife with a young daughter, was no longer present either. I was unencumbered...truly “free” for the first time in over 12 years.
That freedom is important. I had always taken my trips around Megan’s various hospital stays, procedures, and during “healthy” times. When I was discharged from the Marine Corps, I didn’t have a regular experience for a 22 year old. Megan and I met three months after my discharge, and she went in for a two week hospital stay the next day. Our twenties were spent months at a time, depending on whether she was admitted to the hospital or not.
With that said, last weekend I dropped Shelby off at my parents, sent a “bye for now” text to Sarah, and stepped off into the woods.
When Megan died, i went into full sensory deprivation mode. I could no longer see her face, hear her voice, taste her lips, smell her body wash, or touch her skin. When suddenly, all five of my senses were deprived of their primary stimulant, I became numb. I would venture to say that this is the case for most widows and widowers.
Largely, I believe this explains the “fog” that so many of us have and are experiencing. We become lethargic, depressed, stressed, absent-minded, and unaware of our own surroundings. Place anyone in an isolation chamber, widowed or not, and eventually, a similar fog will creep in.
These senses are independent of each other, and each of them are 20% of a whole experience. When all I wished for was to talk to Megan and hear her voice, I honestly would have been just as happy to see her smile or feel her hug. But it’s never enough. I could sit and fantasize about her returning to visit from the other side, all the while knowing that whether she was here for 5 minutes, 5 days, or 5 years, it would never have been enough time or sensory stimulation.
Thursday, August 6th, would have been Megan and I’s 10th wedding anniversary. A full decade. When I sit quietly to reflect on this, I suppose it would be a fitting end to the gauntlet I’ve been running the past few weeks. After a few months of relatively no significant milestones; her birthday, a trip to Myrtle Beach to spread her ashes, and the date her brother passed, ten years ago, all occurred in the span of 8 days. 4 days after his death, Megan and I were married. Our wedding was in the same church that his funeral was occurring in, two days later.
I’m finding however, that our anniversary is something that I alone have to work through. Yes, our parents and Shelby obviously celebrated it, but not to the emotional level that we did. This was a day for us. Chances are, we would have one of the grandparents watch Shelby, and her and I would have went out for a nice date, just the two of us.
That, frankly, is no longer possible.
Any other day, I would have opened my eyes at 6:00 A.M., sleepily rubbed my eyes, and shifted my way to the edge of the bed. I would have woken Shelby up, as always, and gone about the mindless morning routine of feeding the dogs, making coffee, watching the news, and determining what clothes I would be wearing to work.
Today isn’t any other day.
I’ve noted a shift in my overall attitude since Megan’s death. I was somewhat of a pessimist in years past; always finding the bad news in any nugget of information that may have come my way. Perhaps it was the shock of losing my wife that finally changed my outlook in everyday life. I now take events or news with a different eye, one where I step back, and try to find the silver lining in anything. It has made me a happier person overall, and it serves to suppress the stress of living in a way I had never thought possible. While at first, this philosophy was a conscious effort, I’ve found that it has become habit, to where I no longer need to force myself to find a silver lining.
I am in a very unique situation, not only being a widower, but in love with a widow. The silver lining to this is that it allows me to see things from two perspectives. I’ve decided that since Sarah hasn’t yet travelled to my home, I would write this week from the perspective of dating a widow. Things like meeting in-laws, friends, and seeing pictures of late partners can be a scary thought for anyone.
Perhaps my loss has tempered those anxious moments, but regardless, I would hope that any person that is dating someone who has suffered loss can feel the same comfort and respect that I experienced a few weeks ago, as well as return that reverence to those around them.
I’ve written a letter to Drew, Sarah’s late fiance about this. He deserves to have a word from me from this side.
I’ve reached somewhat of an odd stage in my journey over the past few weeks. I’m having some significant anniversaries coming up, but they are not events that would normally have been celebrated. The month of June has been surprisingly significant to me, and it wasn’t something i could have planned for or expected.
June 2014 was when reality hit, and Megan started dying. I took her to the emergency room on June 8th. She was intubated on the 9th, and given a tracheotomy on the 12th. She was listed on the 14th, and taken off of full sedation on the 19th, allowing us to interact, if only slightly. I know all these dates because I sent her a daily email from the 9th forward, summarizing the events of that day. It would be almost 6 months before she ultimately could fight no longer.
Today, as I sit down to write with tired eyes, I must admit that although I miss Megan as much now as before, it has shifted over these past few months from an intense grief at the thought of her death to more of a longing for her to be present to witness where life has taken me since that time.
I have just returned from an extended weekend in Kentucky with an amazing woman named Sarah, who also happens to be the same Sarah the writes here on Widow's Voice every Sunday. We met at Camp Widow East in February, completely by chance and/or fate, depending on your beliefs. Neither of us had any intention of finding someone new at that time, but here we are. Three months after meeting, Sarah and I are a couple. Not a day has passed since February 5th that we have not talked, and this past weekend, we were finally able to close the 1400 miles of distance, and bring our lives into the same physical space for a few days. It was wonderful.
Two days ago, I experienced my first Mother's Day without Megan. Had you asked me back in January how I would have handled it, I would have expressed sheer terror at the prospect. At that time, just two months since losing her, all I could imagine was that I would be an emotional train wreck, and would probably have just called my mother and mother-in-law to wish them a happy day, and stayed holed up in my house.
That isn't what occurred, however. Yesterday was "OK", for lack of a better term.
Our tradition for the past few years had been for Shelby and I to wake up early, go downstairs, make a mess of the kitchen preparing bacon, eggs, pancakes, and coffee, and bring it to Megan in bed, along with a card and a small gift. Shelby would turn some cartoons on and we'd sit and talk, all three of us, until Megan was ready to get out of bed. It was a simple acknowledgment of how special she was, and that we would do anything for her. We would clean up the kitchen and get our day started, where we would be visiting our parents and probably going out to dinner in the evening.
I woke up Sunday at that same early time that I always do, fully aware that it was Mother's Day, and painfully acknowledging the fact that for the first time in eight years, Megan wasn't there to cook breakfast for. The dogs, having woke me up, were fed and let outside, and I went back to bed. The bacon stayed in the freezer, and the coffee pot sat there cold.
Do you remember this place? Do you remember how much Shelby loves coming here? It was the first place that Shelby and I ever took a hike, and it's the final place, a year ago, that you and I took a walk. I can still remember Shelby running around, picking up last year’s acorns, the few remaining ones left alone by the squirrels at least. I remember holding your hand and just walking, letting her be fascinated by nature, as she always was, and still is. We strolled...slowly. You had already been in rejection for a few months, but you weren't sick enough yet that you couldn't shuffle along.