November 19th. It’s “the” date. A week before Thanksgiving, and the start of the holiday season. The weather has turned cold, the leaves are off the trees, halloween is over, My work begins to slow down, as does the seemingly endless string of summer and early fall weekends where we have plans with family and friends.
For all intents and purposes, November was always a “quiet” time of year, when I could sit back and take a breather. I could focus on preparing the house for winter, lazily erect a Christmas tree, and read the newspaper as the first snowfalls and blustery winds crisply blew in. Full blown winter hadn’t arrived yet, and you would not catch me anywhere near a shopping area this time of year. The lawn and any gardens or flowerbeds are dormant, leaves are cleaned up, and there isn’t any real snow to shovel yet.
November was “easy”. Three years ago, that all changed.
“I dream of wandering”
That was the simple, unpolished statement written upon my paper heart at Camp Widow. Sarah and I were a large part of the message release there...constructing the large heart, cutting out all of the smaller ones, mounting it in the banquet area, and being the first two to place our torn dreams in front of the rest of the campers. I knew what was to be asked by Michele, well in advance, and so when the time came, I had my answer swiftly.
I enjoy “wandering”. I love finding new places, whether on the road, or trudging through knee-deep mud. Very often, I will pick a dot on the map, and head “that direction” in the most wandering way possible. For me, the journey is truly part of the adventure.
On February 5th, 2015, I wandered into a Hotel in Tampa, Florida, not quite sure if I was supposed to be there. I had lost Megan less than three months prior, and I hadn’t honestly accepted the fact that I was now a Widower. In the year leading up to it, I had spent more time sitting next to my dying wife than anything else.
Like many of us, I was searching for answers to hypothetical questions. “Who am I now?” and “What am I supposed to do?” served only as constant reminders that, well, “I don’t know” was the only answer.
Almost three years later, and the questions, and the answers, are still the same. What has changed, and what I’ve learned in that time is that we will never know the answer, but we are always inching closer to it.
I take thee, to be my wedded wife, to have and to hold from this day forward, for better, for worse, for richer, for poorer, in sickness, and in health, until death do us part.
If he only knew what those vows mean.
He does though. He always will.
The excitement of new.
The knowing of strife.
The frustration of sickness.
The commitment for life.
The determination to protect.
The joy of more days.
The newness of health.
The fear it won’t stay.
The sliver of hope.
The knowledge of none.
The witnessing a demise.
The grief that begun.
In the past 30 days, we’ve had a birthday party/ family reunion, visits with friends, Sarah’s sister in town for a few days, Shelby’s best friend at the house after school for five days, a fall festival, halloween costume prep and decorations, dress fittings, tuxedo fittings, counseling appointments, extremely busy days at my work, extremely busy days with Sarah’s work, loads of homework for Shelby, Sarah’s birthday, concerts, trips to grandparents’, airport pickups, and all of the other general day-to-day minutia.
Vegetable harvesting, clothes washing, house cleaning, grocery shopping, dog walking, dish washing, dinner making and such all need to happen at least a few days a week. Somewhere in all of it, at least a few hours of sleep need to happen.
In the next 30 days, we have my birthday, a trip to a haunted house with one of our other widowed friends, Halloween (our favorite holiday), tuxedo pickup, a wedding rehearsal, the wedding itself, my parents’ anniversary, a trip to Canada for Camp Widow, Shelby’s 5K run, and best of all, the 3 year anniversary of Megan’s death.
It is very rare that one particular emotion takes the forefront of my mind for any longer than a few days. In general, there is a veritable melting pot of thoughts occurring at any given moment, ranging from sadness to joy and everything in between. Fear and confusion are tempered by confidence and determination.
Of course, there are periods where certain emotions boil over and persist. Obviously, the first few months after Megan’s death were filled with overwhelming grief. The “busy” times of year at my work are always stressful, and it shows, even when I’m at home. There are times when my “give-a-damn” appears to be busted, and times when worry about the future pervades. Excitement and joy one week can easily give way to doubt and malaise the next.
Approaching three years since Megan took her last breath, I can truthfully say that I’m openly wandering.
And that’s a good thing.
So much of our lives are built upon expectations. We plan our higher education based on the expectation that we can have a career doing what we love. We raise children on the expectation that they will succeed even beyond what we ourselves as parents have achieved. We marry, with the expectation that our partner will be there by our side until one or the other has met their end.
On the simpler side of things, we expect to be scared, emotional, or laugh when we go to a movie. We expect hunger to be sated by dinner, and we expect to have thrills and fun at an amusement park.
We expect to be entertained at a concert, enjoying an artist or band plying their trade in front of us. Then...the unexpected happens.
“The journey of 1000 miles begins with a single step” - Lao Tzu
It’s true. It the most literal sense, one cannot achieve a goal, or complete a journey, without taking a step towards the goal. No matter how trivial a task may seem, this quote is meant to bring perspective that even the most inconsequential of actions is needed to complete a journey...a single step.
Where this quote leaves much to be desired, however, is the scope of the journey. Not every side journey is “1000 miles”. Some goals are, figuratively, only feet away. Others may seem so distant that a single step would be insignificant. Regardless, the second step, and the third and forth and so on could not occur without that first step.
“My husband and I have only been married 5 years, I need more time to show him how much I truly
love him. I want my lifetime with him. I want the fighting, and loving. He has stayed by me though
everything, even when it gets so frustrating I could give up. Though we both are frustrated by my
disease, he has never let that break us. He won't give up on me. He has given up so much to make me
happy and to do what is right for me, never thinking how it's going to affect him first. He would do
anything for me, and this I know because he has done everything for me. I have never been so in love
with anyone else in my life. He is the only one that makes me whole. He is always loving me, and for that
I love him.”
Those words were written by Megan, in October of 2010. At the time, she was incredibly sick. An oxygen machine had sat in our living room, loudly buzzing away 24/7 for about a year so far. More often than not, she wasn’t home, she was in the hospital. I would mix and prepare her aerosol treatments for her, bring her her pills, wash her clothes, cook dinner, and go to work. I’d lift her into and out of the tub, and wash her hair for her. If we did leave the house, I would ensure she had everything she needed, including a wheelchair.
It took a village, make no mistake. Her parents were there for her, for us, whenever she needed. I couldn’t be there at all hours. I had to stay in a dead-end job, with a 2 hour commute each way, just so we could keep our insurance. Even when I would receive offers from nearby and more desirable employers, I couldn’t entertain them, because the 90 day wait for healthcare would have bankrupted us in medical bills. Her parents certainly were focused on her well-being, and Shelby’s, and more than made up for the times that I couldn’t be there.
It was a thankless job...or so I thought.