The fact of the matter is, I’m a 37 year old widower. By most standards, it’s quite unique. I wasn’t married to someone in a high-risk career. Megan wasn’t in her seventies, hell, she barely made it into her thirties. Statistically, I’m much more likely to be divorced than widowed at my age.
The fact of the matter is, Cystic Fibrosis is a brutal disease. It’s filled with ups and downs that last a lifetime. Emergency room trips and months-long inpatient stays, immediately followed by “feeling good” and leading a normal life for awhile. One can never plan their lives out more than a few months in advance. You just don’t know what’s around the corner.
The fact of the matter is, I understood all of this very early on in Megan and I’s relationship. I knew she would have to be admitted to the hospital for, at a minimum, two weeks at a time, multiple times per year. I was completely aware that birthdays, holidays, vacations and other events would be a crap shoot from time to time, not knowing if she would be blowing out candles or coughing up blood.
Half a lifetime ago, it was esprit de corps. It was smoking breakfast, sleeping through lunch, and drinking dinner. It was hard working weekdays, and lazy weekends. It was little pay and long hours, and not caring about either.
Half a lifetime ago, days went by as years. The soundtrack was Blink-182 and Korn. The beer was warm and cheap, and almost all “home-cooked meals” consisted of some form of noodles or junk food. The only feelings were that of morning humidity and skinned knuckles. My brothers and sisters “in-arms” all shared in this routine eagerly. We’d all been through the same things, in the same places, around the same time.
Half a lifetime ago, 15 people would pile into 3 cars on a Saturday drive to the beach. Seven would return in a state best described not as “wasted”, but “happy”. The remaining eight would have stories to tell. There were no real bills and our biggest concerns were being on time and in uniform for Monday morning’s 5 mile run.
It was, simply put, fun. I miss it. Those were some of the best days of my life. Before I was a widower. Before I was a father. Before I had even met Megan, or even cared about meeting anyone. It was carefree routine, peppered with deployments to some far off land for a few months, again with the same brothers and sisters. Sure, there were arguments. There were times when we had to suffer through trying to sleep in 100+ degree desert heat, because we pulled the night shift. There were times when we had to wait for hours in line at the base barber shop, because every single Marine gets a haircut, every Sunday. There were times when we blew our car payment money on that cheap beer, and the Monday morning run was done with a hangover. But it was all worth it.
Or was it?Read more
It’s been far too long since I felt the sting of an icy wind hitting my face. Months have passed since I lazily stared into a campfire of my own creation, with nobody but my own self to discuss it with. I haven’t dunked into a mountain creek after a long march, and I haven’t been woken up by annoying crows, rather than an annoying alarm clock.
I have every opportunity to walk off into the woods for a day or two. It doesn’t cost much, other than the gas to get there. Winter has never stopped me either, in fact, I favor the winter when I’m out in the “back-of-beyond”. There are no insects, no stifling humidity, and most of all, no people. I can be truly alone with my thoughts, my triggers, and my memories. I can process the self-pity and pessimism that rears its ugly head every so often, without a facebook notification, ringing phone, or a TV interrupting me.
I don’t have any real excuses as to why I haven’t at least taken a day or two to be alone in nature in the past 4 months. But oh, do I sure try to find them. I have slowly been becoming grumpier. Angrier at minutia. Pessimistic and spiteful at the situation that I was thrust into. It’s a negative feedback loop...the more I NEED to be in those woods, the less I have the ambition to get up and go.
I’m using all of the tricks to talk myself out of it and avoid. I think it’s time to have a discussion of these finer points with myself. A “heart-to-heart”, if you will, with my own. It’s a time where, as I wrote over three years ago not long after Megan’s death, I need to flip the switch from suffering to determination. To dust myself off, climb out of my fighting hole, and just friggin’ DO IT.
Let’s talk, self. Have a seat and lets discuss the reasons your ambition is all but gone.
`Yesterday, the 26th, was Sarah’s mother’s birthday. Part of a tradition that she has done over the years is to have a small cake, and a bouquet of flowers, as a way of celebrating her, though she’s no longer here. It’s a simple gesture that means so much. She lost her mother when she was only nine years old. While her siblings were much older, and had much more time with her, Sarah had to “make do” with memories she only had as a little girl, and recollections of her older siblings.
Shelby, too, lost her mother at a young age. She was only seven when Megan died. She remembers quite a bit, but again, she was nowhere near adulthood when any memories she could form ceased. She relies heavily on myself, grandparents, and her uncle for the stories that she may have been a part of, but still too young to realize they were something to remember.
As we sat down to partake in the yearly birthday cake, I (somewhat in jest) asked Shelby if she remembered Megan’s birthday. She did not, other than she knew it was in summer (her guess was a month off). I wasn’t disappointed, for she’s still just a little girl. It is not like she has a date planner or had any part in actually NEEDING to remember the exact date of her mother’s birth.
After some good natured ribbing, and finishing our cake, Shelby asked a question to Sarah.
“Did you ever forget your mom’s birthday?”Read more
Four years have come and gone since the last time Megan was present for Shelby’s birthday. By February 17, 2014, Megan had already been diagnosed with rejection, although she hadn’t been admitted to the hospital as of yet. Shelby was turning seven, and four days prior, Megan and I received the results from her bronchoscopy.
We rented out one of those “inflatable gym” spaces for Shelby, and invited all of her friends to join. It was a madhouse, to say the least...screaming, jumping, running around, laughing, and smiles from ear to ear. I distinctly remember the both of us having nervous thoughts in the back of our minds about Megan’s health, but suppressing all of them in order to give Shelby the birthday she wanted. She would have no clue, no inkling of something amiss on this day.
Going through some old texts and emails last week, I came across a conversation that Megan and I had just a day or two before the party…
Megan: Should we talk to Shelby about it?
Mike: Yeah, but let’s do it together. I don’t know how to start the convo with her, but we need to anyway.
Megan: Yeah. I don’t like this.
Mike: Me either.Read more
Three years is not an insignificant amount of time to be in a relationship with someone.
Three years is how long Megan and I dated before we were married.
Three years is how long Megan was “healthy” during our relationship.
Three years is how old Shelby was when her mother was carted away in an ambulance, on her way to an unknown future.
Three years is how long Sarah and Drew were together before his death.
Three years ago, Sarah and I met.Read more
Through our twenties, Megan and I (well, mostly me) got into a mountain of debt. Cars, trips, entertainment, and just plain “things” were being spent upon all the time. There were quite a few medical costs sprinkled in there too. By the time we hit 30 years old, we were at our wit’s end with bills. Megan’s disability prevented her from working, and besides that, she had her hands full with a toddler either way.
It had become so stressful to manage money. It was beyond overwhelming to sit down and process numbers and balances and interest rates and minimum payments. I had relied upon Megan to do most of this for quite awhile, but it came to a point when it overwhelmed her as well. Some bills slipped through the cracks, late charges piled up, credit card bills became ridiculous (to be fair, mostly by my own doing), and there was even a moment where we feared our electricity would be turned off.Read more
Up until about age 30 or so, I was a fairly social creature. I made friends easily, whether it be through work, spending weekends in the woods with groups, or wrenching on cars. Through my twenties, not only did Megan and I make “couples” friends, but I had my own as well. Friends that Megan appreciated herself, but really, they were people that I hung around with.
Most of these friends were around our age and roughly the same stage in life. When Shelby was born, it wasn’t long before our closest friends were having their own children. All seemed in order in the world. Both of our thirtieth birthdays were spent with largely the same people at a local winery, having some drinks, laughing, talking about our children, cars, donkeys (long story), illness, and whatever other mundane subject we all shared interest in.
We would all attend football games together. Or go to the movies, festivals, car shows, or just “hang out”. Even when Megan would be admitted to the hospital, she had frequent visits from our friends. I would go fishing or hiking with my “buddies” whenever I had the chance, and Megan would do much the same with hers (well, not fishing or hiking, but you get the idea)
Seven years later, and that part of my life seems foreign to me.Read more
If you’ve read Sarah's Post this past Sunday, then you are aware that she and I (and Shelby) were in Corpus Christi, Texas, over an extended weekend. One of her longest and closest friends was marrying, and Sarah herself was a bridesmaid. In that regards, I wasn’t a widower this past weekend. I was the “second partner” of a widow.
I’ve chosen to expand upon this. Sarah and I are in the unique position of both being writers here, both being widowed, and both dating (and cohabitating) with each other. While much of my writing deals with the emotions, stress, and perspectives of losing Megan, this past weekend was much more important from the other side of dating a widow.Read more
In my 37 years, I’ve seen my share of loss. I’ve lost all of my grandparents, aunts, uncles, cousins, friends, fellow Marines, a brother-in-law, cats, dogs and other pets, co-workers, and obviously, my wife. There has been illness, accidents, age, war, heart-attacks, and a sprinkle of stupidity involved. It happens. Death happens. I know of no one my age that hasn’t experienced some sort of loss to death at some point in their lives. The first loss can symbolize a loss of innocence. A loss of the childlike optimism that nothing bad ever befalls us. It’s reality surfacing for the first time in our lives.
For some, that could happen at a very early age. Others may be adults before it happens. Regardless, death is something that we humans are aware of. We are conscious of our mortality very early on, and the first loss of someone or something close to us brings with it clarity.
However, there is a secondary loss currently beginning to clarify in my life. Something I was aware that I would lose one day, but that I will never be prepared for. You would think, after so many years with Megan’s Cystic Fibrosis, that I would be better suited to be mentally cope with something long-term and inevitable…
...Shelby growing up.Read more