Sarah and I have just returned from Camp Widow, in Tampa. This was our third camp together, and our first time returning to Tampa, where we met last year. If you’ve read her sunday post, you know that we had great expectations of what this Camp was going to be like, and for the first few days, it seemed as if everything we had planned for went awry.
Until Sunday morning, we were both a little grumpy, especially me. Camp itself...the workshops, gatherings, and banquet were still helpful, healing, and emotional, but all of the “little things” we wanted to do that seemingly kept going wrong wore my patience thin.
Beginning sunday afternoon however, that turned around. I remembered that, for me, it’s the social aspect, and being in a comfortable, non judging space with others is what makes it so valuable to return to Camp. Yes, it’s still a break from work in a beautiful, warm city, but I can do that any time...we went to camp, not on a vacation.
My wife suffered from a long-term illness, Cystic Fibrosis. When I say “long-term”, what I actually mean is “life-long”. There wasn’t a day that I knew her where she didn’t have some sort of symptom or complication directly due to her condition. Even after her transplant, every day was filled with special medications, dietary and activity concerns, and the constant knowledge that the bottom could drop out at any time.
As blunt and morbid as it may seem, her death brought closure. It brought a bit of simplicity to everyday life. Make no mistake, I would much rather have her here, complexities or not, but that is a separate issue in my mind.
It’s been over a year since I attended my first Camp Widow. In less than two weeks, Sarah and I will be travelling to Tampa again to attend this year’s installment.
I’d be remiss to say that we weren’t incredibly excited. Not only do we get to see, converse, and connect with widowed friends that we don’t regularly see otherwise, we also get to leave the not-so-cold winter environment in Ohio and travel to Florida, together, for a few days in the warmth. It’s been a frequent topic of our conversations for the last month or two, and it is not just because of the fact that it is a mini vacation for us.
This past weekend, I remembered why.
There was once a time when I assumed that Shelby would grow up more quickly than her peers. Since she was born, she’s dealt with her mother being sick, going through major surgeries, and ultimately, dying. That a sobering thought when you’re the parent of a little girl, who really just wants to go to school, play with her toys, and do fun things. She would have to grow up fast.
She barely had the chance to be a “normal” girl. Megan was only in a truly healthy state for about two years; the rest of the time was spent between hospitalizations and recovery from her transplant. I cannot begin to describe how terrifying it must have been for Megan, knowing that she was going to be leaving Shelby to grow up without the only normal she had known.
I was ill-equipped to raise her alone...Megan knew it, and I knew it. I haven’t the slightest idea which Disney princess is currently popular, or what the newest trend is in 8 year old fashion. While I’m the one that can help her with her school work and take her hiking, I don’t have her friends parents’ names, let alone contact information. I barely know her shoe size, and I’m still constantly trying to figure out what foods she likes today versus yesterday.
You don’t realize how important the little things are until you don’t have them. It could be something as simple as sitting on the couch, watching TV until you fall asleep with your partner, and it is taken for granted. Then you lose that person.
I’ll admit that I was eased into some of the more technical aspects of the widower role, being that Megan had spent so much time in the hospital over the years. There were plenty of times where I was a temporarily single father. Making sure Shelby got to school and was fed and clothed was never something I struggled intensely with after Megan died.
Even so, there were plenty of things I still took for granted when Megan was here, and some of those things are surfacing over the past few weeks.
Megan’s priority in life was Shelby. The fact that it is so unlikely that a Cystic Fibrosis sufferer can even have a child naturally made Shelby that much more valuable to both of us. Her “peanut”, as we call her, completed Megan.
During her hospitalization, Megan and I had to have “the talk”. We knew the odds of her coming home, and we were smart enough to talk over her wishes should she not be around. Sure enough, her most important wish was for Shelby to be happy, healthy, and smart. We had also talked of me moving forward, and that she wouldn’t want me to be alone. Putting two and two together, I read this as her wishing me to be with someone that was good for Shelby.
Little did I know (and surely wasn’t looking for) that a few months after her passing, a few women would sit down beside me at Camp Widow. One of those women would move her life 1400 miles to be with me. It’s been a year since Sarah sat down at that table in the hotel bar and grille. There hasn’t been a single day we have not talked in some form since then.
What should I write about today? Nature? No, I am beginning to sound like a broken record, and I haven’t hiked in the past week. How about Sarah? Well, I’ve got a good subject for NEXT week, but that doesn’t help me right now..
OK, how about Megan’s disease? I mean, I went through a lot with that, but really, it just sucks. It would be hard to write an entire post about it right now, because I don’t have too much to say that hasn’t already been said. Any recent grief triggers come up that I can reflect on? Well damn...no. Problems that are related to being a widower? Not particularly, and Sarah’s post actually covered that on Sunday for both of us, so I don’t want to rehash it. Yes, the past week or two has been stressful, but things are resolved, and we've talked them out, so it's not at the forefront of my mind.
My mind is blank right now.
"It is not the mountains we conquer, but ourselves. - Sir Edmund Hillary"
I’ve walked in nature my entire life. I’ve hiked, and camped in woods, deserts, jungles, alpine mountains, swamps, boreal forests, and caves. I’ve lived, overnight, in snow, thunderstorms, ungodly heat, wind, and cold. Mosquitos have eaten me alive, and bears have walked through my campsite while I lay in my hammock. I’ve been alone for days, with no cell phone service, and I’ve slept surrounded by 100 other people in the trees, each with their own stories.
I must have built a thousand fires, and stared at them for hours, each one like a new episode of my favorite TV show. I’ve laid on my back in a blueberry heath in West Virginia and watched stars frame the Milky Way, on nights so clear and cold that you hold your breath, because you don’t want the condensation of your own breathing to cloud the view.
I’ve also parked the car at a city owned garage in downtown, and walked through the concrete jungle. There are trees there just the same. Snow still falls in cities, and weeds still grow in cracks. The architecture is different, with even the most elaborate buildings paling in comparison to the beauty of a simple cliff face. Although nature is there, and is not nearly the same, it still has its benefits.
I bought my house almost 11 years ago. It was our “starter home”, and Megan and I were married a month after we moved in. We did what most couples do. We painted the major rooms before moving in, and left some of the rooms for me to repair and remodel after we were situated.
Megan had a style of her own, that I was, being the husband, largely beholden to. I didn’t disagree with her tastes, which could best be described as “Americana”. It wasn’t mine, but I also didn’t find it gaudy or overly feminine. The walls were painted in a natural tan, with deep red as an accent wall in our living and dining rooms.
Until a few weeks ago, I still hadn’t changed anything in the house as far as decoration, colors, or even the knick-knacks she had meticulously placed. For one, I had no reason. It was decorated...good enough. Secondly, there was a small amount of resistance in me to any drastic changes. This was our home, and any changes would make it feel less so.
Until I realized that this house had not felt like my home since the day she was admitted to the hospital.
It has been an incredibly warm winter here in Ohio, one of the warmest on record. Christmas came and went with not only a lack of snow, but mud and rain; something we are not entirely used to in the waning days of the year. By no means is every Christmas white, but it is almost always cold.
I can remember the weather final few weeks of the year, and the first few of the next so vividly not because they fall around the holidays, but because on January 6th, 2011, I was pacing hurriedly around in the snow, trying to calm myself, as Megan received her double lung transplant. It has been a day of happiness ever since.
To briefly cover her backstory, on New Year’s day that year, in the late evening, Megan shuffled out to our kitchen, and blew her nose. Her lung collapsed. At 9:30 PM, I was calling 911, waking up our daughter, and watching my wife be put onto a stretcher. After an ambulance ride to the local hospital, and another to her primary hospital in Cleveland, she was stabilized. We sighed in relief, and hunkered down for another one of her month-long hospital stays.