StrongISH

Most people on the periphery assume we are strong because they see us doing life. They see us on our driveways. They watch us get into our vehicles as we are on our way to participate in the stuff of living. 
Yes, we are doing things. They witness it. And, the assumption is that we’ve got this.

And, maybe part of us does have this. But, there is also a big part of us that is just not okay. At best, we are “okayish” which leaves room for improvement.

In our new life, we participate in activities and half-heartedly go through the motions because after a while, despite our brokenness, we must return to our responsibilities.

On ordinary days, I frantically multitask because where there was once two people adulting, now there is only one. Without choice, I now bear the full weight of life in suburbia.

Like you, I continue to: raise children, maintain my career, pay my mortgage, plan holidays, unclog drains, and even liberally apply moss killer to the lawn. I pay my bills online while I sit in my car waiting for my son to finish his haircut. I renew house insurance, attend graduations, get routine oil changes on my vehicle, and take my kid to the orthodontist. I stand in line waiting for shaved ham at the deli counter. And, then I lovingly pack this same ham into bagged lunches. And, on most days, while doing all this, I attempt to comb my hair into a style that doesn’t resemble frazzled.

 

We do this stuff. 
All of it. 
Every last thing.

We fall back into the mundane rhythm of an ordinary life.

Except our new existence is far from ordinary.

 

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Social Media Surprises

When Tin passed away, my social media was flooded with posts and photos showing just how much he was loved and how much support I had to lean on taking my first steps on this new beach. Each day had been continued support helping me step forward and weather the waves.

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Grief and Guilt

This post is actually about another chapter of my grief story… the chapter about my dad. But I’m certain that it’s something that will relate to a lot of widows, too, because it touches on a really hard subject… GUILT.

While cleaning up the basement the other day, I came across a stack of old greeting cards. I’d known they were there - congratulatory words from many family and friends from back when I graduated college. There was one card I hadn’t realized was in the stack though. As I went through and read them all, one unfamiliar card caught my eye. I opened it, and instantly recognized the handwriting to be my dad’s unique style of very messy cursive. It was short, as he was a man of few sentimental words… but it said “I’m very proud of you”. And with that, I burst into tears.

I sat there, alone on the cold cement basement floor and cried my eyes out… not only because I miss him, but also because of the guilt. 

My dad battled depression and alcoholism all of his life. There were some longer periods of sobriety, but from the time I was around 17 on, he fell back into drinking pretty hard. So the dad I’d had before that, who was sober and funny and fun to be around, sort of disappeared around the time I went in to college. By the time that college graduation came around, we weren’t talking often. It was a complex relationship and I didn't know how to deal with it. I had forgiven him for a lot, but I wasn’t willing to let him back in really, so our relationship was mostly distant with a few phonecalls and visits sprinkled in sparingly.

I will never know if that was the right decision. All I know is that I have felt guilty for almost a decade since because I simply never even attempted to have more of a relationship with him in his final years. There WAS an enormous love there between us. He adored me to no end and I did adore him too. But I just couldn't handle the combination of his drinking and his getting closer to death. I think more than anything, I was just so scared shitless about him dying that I can away from it. After losing my mom as a child, I did not know how to cope with being an orphan at 25, and I didn't have the tools to cope in a healthy way.

As a result, I left him very very alone in his final few years… in a retirement facility he was unhappy in and felt very alone in. Instead of being there for him in his last year, and last months, as his health slowly failed and his body slowly faded, I just kept on living my life and running away. I know now, I didn't know what to do. But I know that - at the time - I was very aware I was making poor decisions. I just didn't realize how much I would regret them later. 

As I read those few words in the card “I’m very proud of you”, all the emotions and all of the memories of that time period came flooding back in full detail...

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Me, My Daughter and My Anger

     Today is my birthday and of course I miss Natasha even more, if that’s even possible.  She was always so good at arranging brunch, parties and dinners--Natasha had such a raw flair for celebrations.  So, sitting across from my daughter for my birthday dinner is wonderful, but also rather quiet.  Why is it just us two?  This isn’t right!  My love for Natasha has not diminished at all, if anything, it has become stronger as I have learned to let certain marital issues go.  Time is so fleeting, so why waste time with trivial life issues?  Our marriage was not perfect, but our love was deep.  We definitely had our issues, but our kind of love translates into a loss that cannot be put into words.  I had to cremate the only person I have every completely felt a strong connection to.  It feels like a volcano has erupted and blown the earth’s crust to bits and I am left scrambling to secure my footing for my family of two.   And of course, trying to stabilize my little family brings up a lot of fear, fear that quickly turns into anger.

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Don't Die

“Don’t Die”

It’s an instruction that Sarah has given to me as I walk out the door to work more times than I can count.  Sometimes, it’s fairly innocuous. Other times, it’s said with a fervent, if not pleading “PLEASE don’t die today”; usually after waking up from a particularly emotional dream.

It’s not a “tic” or meaningless, repetitive saying.  She means it. She is constantly and consciously aware that at any moment, I could be gone.  Any of us could, for any reason. Is saying it going to change fate? No, but it does indeed absolve her from responsibility in the event the worst occurs...like a pre-emptive “I told you so”.

Interestingly, I don’t say it nearly as much.  I do say the far less instructive “Drive safe” often, but it is rarely “Don’t Die”.  I think there are a few observations I’d like to make.

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This is Getting Old

This whole widow thing is getting old.  I just want to be like the other women my age who are casually going about their "normal" lives.  I want to be like the women who are busy raising their kids, getting scheduled manicures in between loads of laundry and maintaining a successful career.  I want to be like the women who are planning romantic weekend get aways - without the kids - because finally the kids are old enough to stay home alone.  I want to be like the woman who hosts intimate dinner parties inspired by Pinterest.  I want Mike and I to sit around the dining table with other couples who are enjoying the good life. 

In truth, I used to be this woman.  I had this life before, and I want it back.  I kept myself busy with work and family and somewhere in between all this, Mike and I were mentally preparing to be empty nesters in a few short years.  We had a charmed life.  And, I admit, I didn't do anything particular to deserve this beautiful life; but, nonetheless,  I had it with Mike.  Our shared life was a fairytale come true.  Suffice to say that my former life was a hell of a lot more enjoyable than being a widow.  I want to return to this place in time when I thought about going on cruises and travelling abroad with my husband.  Okay, leave the travelling aspirations aside, I want just one thing.  I want a husband who is not dead. But, mine is and no amount of wishing will change this.

Still, I want to participate in retirement discussions with my coworkers instead of leaving the staffroom because their words sting my ears and hurt my heart.  I want to sit on the well worn office couches and proceed to shamelessly gush about our retirement plans with my colleagues while I recieve text messages from Mike because he knows that it is my lunch break.  I want to be in the club again.  I desperately miss being part of a couple because it grants you entrance into these types of conversation.  I yearn to live in a reality where I am looking forward to spending Mike's retirement with him - but, I don't.   All of this stuff is just a daydream in my head because Mike died before he even got to retire.  For us, there will not be any retirement years spent together.  There are no more years.  There is no more anything.   There is nothing.

There will be no trips abroad together.  Mike and I will never lay together on another beach.  We will not stroll hand in hand down the cobble stone streets of some far away place.  We will not leisurely walk through an open air market in Thailand because Mike isn't here anymore.  We can't stop to eat some exotic street food made with dodgy ingredients that were harvested just that day because he is gone from this reality.  Never again will I hear Mike make one of his impulsive, uncouth, crazy comments as he excitedly experiences all these places we will never go.  I can never witness Mike talking to a man selling doughnuts on a beach in Mexico again.  (The best part of this memory is that Mike hates doughnuts. He would never eat one - especially not on the beach when it is over 100 degrees.  But, Mike loved people and he wanted to know about this guy who was trying to sell doughnuts on a beach when it was hot AF.)

In this new life of mine, Mike is only a memory.  He can not wake up and have coffee with me in my kitchen or some dreamy place along the Amalfi Coast.  We will not sit together on a balcony of a boutique hotel in Santorini.  We can not get lost in conversation as we drink red wine while we watch the sun go down over the ocean in Crete.  He can not lean over and kiss me and tell me how "Beautiful" I am while we wander through a vineyard somewhere in the South of France.  We can not get blind drunk in an Irish pub and stumble back to our hotel room.  I can't stand in the Scottish Highlands with Mike and listen to him tell me about his Scottishness.  We can not go anywhere in this world anymore because he is gone from here. 

What a cruddy reality this is.  My future is nothing like the one we had planned.  There will be no cruises with my husband.  The year following his death, there was no trip to Hawaii in the Spring and we never went to Italy like we planned for my son's graduation.  Sure, I am self sufficient.  I will take myself on a cruise one day.  And, I will sit on a beach in Hawaii; but, while I do this a piece of me will wish that I was there with the man I love.  And, yes, someday I will go to Paris and stand under the Eiffel Tower at night; but Mike will not physically be with me like I imagined.  The way I constructed all of this in my head will never come to be.  Like you, I have been forced to live a future that is radically different from the one I had planned.  In our shared plans, Mike was going to live until he was 99 just like his Grand Dad, except he didn't. 

So now what?  Now, I spend my weekends alone and occasionally I go to the grave with a bottle of wine and shoot the shit with my dead fiance.  I guess maybe I am pouting and getting lost in the past.  But, it isn't easy to adapt to this altered reality.  I'm trying.  I do make plans and engage with my friends, but usually on the drive home from these activities I feel absolutely empty.  Having dinner with a divorced girlfriend, or meeting one of my married friends for brunch because her husband happens to be away for the weekend is not as fulfilling as sharing my life with Mike.  How could it be.  Being in a loving relationship and sharing your life with another human being is what makes life full.  The huge void inside me can not be filled with a well made eggs benny brunch or a savoury steak dinner at a classy restaurant with a group of girlfriends.  All of this rings utterly hollow in comparison to my former life.

 

I am so tired of living this widow life. 

It is mostly empty.  And, most days, it is inadequate in comparison to the life that I shared with Mike. 

There I said it. 

And, I feel poorly about admitting this because earlier this month I blogged about seeking JOY in 2019;

and, so far this blog is far from joyful.  However, what it lacks in joy, it makes up for in truth and honesty. 

 

 

*I am mainly done my tantrum against widowhood. If you read further I will spin this to be more hopeful...

In this blog, the truth has spilled from me and onto the page, but this isn't enough.  For me, it is not enough to say something sucks; and then, to proceed to have no solutions.  Yes, I admitted that being a widow is terrible.  This is nothing you haven't already figured out. 

I have a tendency for being extraordinarily truthful.  And, this blog is no exception. I have bluntly stated my truth - but, in and of itself,  that doesn't accomplish much of anything.  The real question is now what the hell do I do about all this truth? 

If I don't make an effort to improve my life who will.  No one can make this better for me.  It is up to me to get on with it and attempt to LIVE again.  But, here is the thing, I am tired.  I am exhausted from trying to be hopeful.  I am tired of trying to convince myself that life will be okay without him.  I'm tired of missing him.  Two years into this mess, I am just f@cking tired.

 

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Their Stories are Still Being Written

There are surreal little things lately about my life lately. About getting together for coffee with girlfriends recently, who are eager to see the new engagement ring and hear all about Mike’s proposal. Surreal because part of me still thinks something will go wrong before we ever get to a wedding. Part of me is wary of that… how could I not be. And surreal because even though I am in a whole other chapter of my life with someone new, I don’t feel like the other chapter is “behind” me or “gone”. I don’t feel any less close to that life and to the person I was with then. I don’t feel Drew’s absence the way I feared I would years ago when his death was so fresh.

It will be 7 years this summer since Drew died. Which is also surreal. I still remember the enormous knot of fear in my stomach in the first year… about ever, ever reaching 5 years, or 8 years, or 10 years, or 20 years of him being gone. I think somewhere around years 3 and 4 though, something started to happen. A shift where I realized I don’t have to ever be scared of losing him. I left Texas, and the life he and I knew together. And I faced the fear of losing my connection to him in an even bigger way by doing so. I chose to love someone new, and start a life with that person too, facing that fear even more.

I realize now, that every single new milestone that causes a fear of losing more pieces of him, or of the life we shared together, is one that I must push through. Because every time I have done so, I have come out the other side realizing that I still feel just as connected to him, to our life, and to who I was. Every time I have dared to venture into more living and loving, I have felt his presence with me… most especially in quiet moments to myself where I will simply, suddenly, feel him near and feel him assuring me that all is well. Or in unexplainable signs that pop up when I least expect it. 

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Losing the holiday weight

Losing the Holiday Weight

 

The holidays were rough. My first without Tin and there were days I just could barely keep it together. Christmas is over and I spent New Year’s alone for the first time in years with no one to plan a new year of adventures with. It’s been a struggle and I have 3 more months before I hit the anniversary of his passing. I felt like I was carrying a thousand pounds through the holidays. I get holiday weight but that was not what I was ever expecting.

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Inside the Rhythms of the Music

In the beginning, there was music. 

Back in 1998, in the days when AOL was a thing, I went into a music chat / trivia room about 1980s song lyrics, and met Don Shepherd. 

We talked about Lionel Richie songs, great singers, guitar players, and more. Then we just kept on talking. 

Seven years and lots of plane trips from Florida to NY and back later, he packed up his life and moved to New Jersey to be with me. 

We married a year later, and just 3 months before our 5-year wedding anniversary, he would die suddenly from cardiac arrest. 

 

At first, I could not hear music. 

It was too hard. 

It hurt too much. 

Every song was a reminder that I would never hear him strumming his guitar again, in our apartment. 

We would never sing and play together, just for fun. 

He would never use my leg or knee to try and figure out a chord or a beat again. 

He wouldnt ask me to come into the living room and "listen to this song I just threw together. Do you like it, Boo?" 

We wouldnt rehearse Natalie Merchant or Fleetwood Mac or Beatles or Aerosmith songs anymore. 

Or sit on the couch and listen to CD's. 

Everything about music started to hurt. 

 

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My Annual Milestone

We lost my wife about a month after my daughter’s second birthday and I was so distraught in the early days that I was having panic attacks.  The thought of being a single father was incredibly terrifying, how am I going to raise a little girl on my own?!  Luckily, psychotherapy and a detailed wellness plan have helped me leave those feelings behind.  Each year, my daughter gets a little older, and I am reminded that I do not need to worry about being able to walk the path of a single parent anymore.  Especially, since each added candle to my daughter’s birthday cake means I am not only walking the path of a single parent, I am in fact, making MY OWN path as a single parent.

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