Last week, Mike, Shelby and I packed up and drove south for the Smoky Mountains. We’ve been waiting and saving for this trip all year long. It is by far our favorite place to go unwind and explore the beauty of nature. With buckling down on our finances, we haven’t been able to do really any trips this year, so this one was especially exciting to finally get to.
There’s plenty I could talk about on this trip, but the one thing that is on my mind most is that, in this new life of mine, I am doing things that he and I dreamed of doing, and I am still bringing Andrew with me. He and I were not really much into hiking - in part due to living in the hot, flat, North Texas landscape. We camped here and there but never anywhere of note, and usually only somewhere within 30 minutes of where we lived. We always wanted to get out there and see more of the country though. Our plan for our honeymoon was to buy a little teardrop trailer and go cross country to see some of the nation’s most amazing national parks… places we had only ever dreamed of. Neither of us had ever set foot in any of these marvelous national parks, and we were about to do it together.
We never made it to those dreams together though, he died before we ever got the chance. But I have, since he died, and I’ve taken him with me for every one of them.
Still, I haven’t made it out to Yosemite or Yellowstone. But I visited the Grand Canyon just months after his death, for my 30th birthday. It was excruciating to be there without him - but it was also the only place on earth I wanted to be for that milestone in my life. And even then, I brought him with me. Weeks before the trip, I found this little yellow helicopter toy at the store, and I bought it because it reminded me of him (he was a pilot, and died flying a yellow helicopter). This little toy was cute, and silly, and somehow brought some lightness and odd cheer to me. When I looked at it, I could feel him smiling. Little did I know all the many places that tiny toy helicopter and I would go...
This morning, my cousin posted an image on Facebook of a hilarious guitar magazine parody called "Mediocre Guitar." My husband Don loved music, especially guitars. He owned 7 or 8 of them at all times, and was always hanging out online at guitar websites and message boards, and giving free lessons to his fellow online guitar-enthusiast friends, on his YouTube channel. He would play guitar in our apartment almost daily, especially as a form of de-stressing after a long and stressful day doing EMS work. I am a singer, and we used to play and sing together all the time, learning Beatles and Natalie Merchant and Fleetwood Mac songs. He would strum his guitar and I would sing, and the way he would look at me while I gently sang a new song he was learning the chords to - it was the very definition of love and music.
We met in a music chat room online. We always connected through music. So when my cousin put up that post today, I began typing my husband's name into the comment section of the post, because I wanted to "tag" him on the post so he could see how hilarious it was. I was halfway through typing his name into the comments, when it suddenly hit me - he is dead. He is still dead. He will always be dead. It will be 7 years this July, and yet, there are still those moments where a part of me forgets - just for a moment.
That moment of forgetting - that 2 or 3 or 17 seconds - it is total elation.
My eyes lit up at the mere thought of sharing this bit of humor with him.Read more
Mike and Shelby went to the Father-Daughter Dance last night. It’s always a night I love, because it’s so much fun to see him pulling out all the stops to go out with his little girl. With his three piece suit and a tie and pocket square to match her dress… he is always one of the best-dressed dads at the event, and is always out there ready to dance with her. I never got those experiences with my dad growing up, so I suppose I live vicariously through the joy in Shelby’s world now. It overflows me with love to do her hair and makeup and get his suit ironed and ready and take a bunch of pictures of them before I send them off for the evening.
There was one other special part of this evening though. One that hasn’t been there before. After they got home and showed me all the great pictures and funny videos from the dance. After they told me all the stories of the fun moments. And after we were settling in for the night a bit. Mike and I were chatting for a moment in the kitchen, when he picked up the little plastic tiara Shelby had gotten at the dance, and put it on his head to make me laugh. A huge smile grew on my face and then tears started to flow. Suddenly, a moment from my present so completely overlapped with a moment from my past in the most beautiful way…Read more
Before I was a widower, father, husband, or IT manager, I was a Marine. 15 years ago, I was driving into my platoon’s shop, listening to Howard Stern, as I did every morning, when he suddenly stopped his usual schtick, and said that a plane had hit the World Trade Center. They bantered on a bit about it, and, at the time, no one really knew what exactly had happened.
I listened for the 15 minutes or so it took for me to get into the shop, and when I arrived, some of my fellow Marines were gathered around a small TV, watching news coverage, just as the south tower was hit. Even then, I hadn’t thought about the greater implications. It was simply a horrific attack to us. A few hundred faceless, nameless people had just perished in a plane crash in Manhattan.
Then we heard the fighter jets taking off.
What would have been Megan’s 35th birthday was a few weeks ago, on July 24th. I would venture to say that, for most widows and widowers, birthdays are one of the hardest days to remember. They are associated with memories of fun times, friends and family celebrating that person’s day, and yet another year “in the books”. To have that annual event suddenly take on a different meaning and a different remembrance affects all of those who knew and loved that person.
Megan’s came and went this year with what has been typical since her death. I’m grumpy most of the day, but we do something to remember her, keep occupied, and have an enjoyable day in her honor. Cliche as it is, yes, it IS” what she would have wanted”. Multiple people ensure they post to facebook about how they miss her, and say “Happy Birthday” on her wall. Heartfelt paragraphs about things they remember doing with her, or “breathe easy” are digitally pushed to her in the afterlife via keyboard, somehow. There may have been a few less posts this year than last on that day, but still, her friends remember her birthday.
A few days later though, and facebook is silent. Memories tend to fade when you don’t have automated reminders popping up, don’t they? As far as the internet is concerned, life moves on until the next year, when suddenly it seems like everyone is thinking about her again.
I don’t have that option. I think about Megan...every...single...day. It’s a matter of HOW MUCH I think about her that changes, and August 6th was a doozy.Read more
So here we are again, at yet another holiday in the “after” life… only this one for me is very different. Firstly, I’m in Ohio, not Texas. Mike, Shelby and I are up early. The two of them are in the kitchen starting to cook up a feast for Easter while I write this. In about 5 hours, Mike’s family will be over and we will be doing a whole new kind of Easter. It’s the first year this holiday hasn’t been done at his parent’s house, something we decided on a whim. So we are taking over making much of the food and doing all the egg hiding for Shelby’s cousins. I would have thought this would be overwhelming for me… but it has been the opposite. More of a mixture of the happy and the hard. A blending of the past and the present. And in a few minutes, I will be baking a cake.Read more
So last Friday was the annual Circle of Remembrance memorial held by the Kona Hospice. It takes place at Hulihe’e Palace, an absolutely beautiful spot in Kona town. The building itself has a lot of history for Hawaii, which I thought about a lot sitting there; the place has a lot of history for me personally too. Mike loved it so, so much down there. I can never forget that first time we were there together, Christmas of 2000 before we had even moved to Hawaii, and how much in awe we were of this spectacular location, taking the historical tour of the house and the fish ponds. This night, the waves crashing right there on the wall, the nearly full moon shining overhead, palm trees swaying in the breeze, made me feel like Mike was there with me, sharing in the love of this special place so dear to us both. I lovingly placed his photo on the table laden with candles along with all the others, proud of my legacy, and yet the ache of sadness was so profound, thinking I had now only photos, and not the live man to walk beside me.
Prior to losing Megan, I was an avid backpacker. 5 or 6 times a year, I would meticulously plan a trip to the mountains over a weekend, and disappear for a few days. No cell phone service, no emails, no TV, no distractions. I am at my most calm and reflective while I am in nature.
It was a way to recharge my batteries and spend time in a primitive space.
It's been two years since I last spent a night in the woods. Megan’s organ rejection, and her subsequent hospitalization put a complete stop to any outdoor pursuits. My gear sat, collecting dust until a week ago, when I finally felt ready to leave the world behind and disappear again.
I can’t say that, to me, this moment was any less significant than our first Christmas without her, her birthday, or even meeting and dating Sarah. It felt important to be putting a boot on the ground again, for the first time knowing that I wouldn’t be returning home after a long weekend to Megan. The thought did not escape me that it also meant that the guilt I usually felt, that of leaving a disabled wife with a young daughter, was no longer present either. I was unencumbered...truly “free” for the first time in over 12 years.
That freedom is important. I had always taken my trips around Megan’s various hospital stays, procedures, and during “healthy” times. When I was discharged from the Marine Corps, I didn’t have a regular experience for a 22 year old. Megan and I met three months after my discharge, and she went in for a two week hospital stay the next day. Our twenties were spent months at a time, depending on whether she was admitted to the hospital or not.
With that said, last weekend I dropped Shelby off at my parents, sent a “bye for now” text to Sarah, and stepped off into the woods.
Yesterday marked the two year anniversary of the day I lost my husband to depression. It's the hardest day of the year for me. I miss him always and there are obviously times that are harder than others, like our wedding anniversary, Christmas and birthdays. However while those days bring sadness, it's his death anniversary that has me re-living the trauma of that horrible moment that took my husband and my future from me.
Dan died at 11am. He got dressed for work that morning, kissed me goodbye, and then drove an hour away from our home where he spent some time writing me a letter before taking his life. This is something I don't think about too often anymore, I have somehow found a way to process the devastating details around the way that he passed so the details don't haunt me constantly the way they did in the first year or so. His disease robbed him of his ability to see a way out of the darkness, I have accepted this and understand, in that moment, he somehow thought it was the only option - that those of us left behind would be better off.
It's a cruel added complication to those of us widowed by suicide, in that we not only grieve our partners but have to wade through the stigma, judgement and unanswerable questions that come along with the loss. Time has helped, and the day-to-day has certainly gotten easier but I've come to know there will always be moments where the questions of how my funny, clever, popular and thoughtful darling came to be in such a helpless place (and what I could have done differently to help him) will always re-surface. His death anniversary is one of those days.Read more