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.
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.
I generally try to write my posts in advance, which gives me a bit of time to pore over them and change things up here and there before it goes public. This week, I did just that, writing a post about the five year anniversary of Megan’s lung transplant, which is Wednesday, the 6th, and what it meant to me.
Then, at the eleventh hour, I decided that I didn’t want to write about grief, or changes, or missing or mourning Megan. I didn’t want to spit out emotions and metaphors about losing her. I want to write about something happy, hopeful, and fun. Lord knows that we can’t just sit and mire in our grief forever.
On New Year’s eve, 2014, I was deep within the pit of grief. Megan had just died a month and a half before. Shelby was at my grandparents, and I sat alone, on my couch. It was a horrible, lonely night, I cried myself to sleep, and that’s all there is to say about it.
One year ago, everything was new. I was newly widowed, and a new single parent. There were new emotions, new challenges, and new triggers around every corner.
I had heard about Camp Widow, and I had a new idea. I would peek out of my armored shell of grief, and go against the grain of my own personality. I would force myself to be a new person, even for just a few days. My new year’s resolution was to stand up, wipe the snot off of my nose, and just do something new.
I never was much of a social person. Megan always had to drag me out of the house to be around other people, and even when she succeeded, I was usually grumpy and unsociable. Who knows what lit this new fire in me, but I resolved to put myself in what was sure to be a complete train wreck of a weekend, validating my outlook that it was better and safer to be a loner.