Two people, a man and a woman, sat down to have a drink with a group of mostly strangers. At the time, the two of them were strangers to each other. After a brief introduction, and some small talk, that group of strangers, and those two people, became friends.
The evening was spent talking, laughing, and sharing stories. Humorous anecdotes were being tossed around by all, and the table went from a slightly awkward social gathering to a night out with friends that seemingly all knew each other for years. Those two people however, seemed to connect more than most, and a stronger bond started to form.
The people at this table were all widows. Some were newly widowed, like the man was, and some had been widowed for decades. The woman had been widowed for a few years. That was the similarity that brought the table together that evening in Florida. It was a shared trauma amongst everyone.
The man and the woman, both widowed, struck up a deeper conversation, and got to know each other’s past, without ever pondering how much it would become their future.
I’m going to get straight to the point. Tomorrow, I am boarding a plane, flying to Texas, packing Sarah’s possessions, and driving her back north to Ohio. I am incredibly excited, anxious, and happy about this.
But, I’m a widower. I have a beautiful 8 year old daughter who has lost her mother. I miss my wife, and I want nothing more than for both Megan AND Sarah to be here. Shelby is the same. She asks multiple times a day “how many more hours until Sarah gets here?”, and in the very next breath, talks about a fun memory with Megan.
I haven't balanced that out yet. As I write this, I am sitting ten feet from Megan’s ashes. I am surrounded by pictures of her, us, and her family. I know she’s gone, but it’s still weird to think that I’d love her to be watching Sarah and I turning the page to a new chapter. I can only imagine her joy when she sees how Shelby’s face lights up when the three of us are doing something.
Before Megan, before Shelby, before dating and marriage and sickness and death, there was my car. I bought my Mustang in 2000, when I was only 20 years old, during my service in the US Marine Corps.
It was my first passion. I drove that car to the beach every weekend with my buddies. I drove it 14 hours one-way from North Carolina, once a month to visit my family and friends in Ohio. I spent at least a few hours every week washing, polishing, and waxing it. When I left the Marine Corps, and met Megan, it ferried us to dates. We would spend time at the drag strip with it. It took us on our honeymoon. I tore down and rebuilt the entire thing over a winter after we were married. We went to car shows, parades, and cruise-ins, where we made some of our closest friends. There were so many good things that the car brought into our lives.
Outside of Megan, I was always focusing on that car.
If you have followed Sarah and I’s writing over these months, you know that we’ve now met each other’s families. She traveled to Ohio a few weeks ago, for the first time, and upon arriving, we made sure to arrange time to specifically visit both my parents and Megan’s parents.
Terri, Megan’s mother, has sadly had to watch two of her children go because of Cystic Fibrosis. I cannot begin to imagine what that must be like. Yes, I’ve lost Megan, and I watched her younger brother Jason pass away, but they were not my children. She had known, raised, and loved both of them for their entire lives, and then they were gone.
Bringing Sarah to meet Terri was something then that caused me some anxiety. Not because I was worried that her and Sarah would not get along, or that they wouldn’t immediately begin talking, but because even if I haven’t experienced it myself, i know that Terri is still and will always be mourning Megan’s death. It would only be natural for her to see Sarah as a “replacement” that her son-in-law is bringing into the family, like some sort of distraction.
My birthday, Halloween, the colors changing on the trees, cool weather, fall festivals, apple cider, all of the other things that occur around this time of year in Ohio have solidified autumn into my favorite season. I’m not much for hot weather, and snow, while looking forward to it yearly, always starts getting a little old after Christmas. Spring is usually too muddy and variable for me to enjoy being outdoors as much as I would like.
But fall? It has always been perfect for me. Until this year.
Megan also died in late fall. This season is now bringing up memories of spending the entire autumn months of September, October, and most of November watching a green line bouncing up and down on a monitor above a bed. The bed that Megan was lying in for 6 months, until she wasn’t.
I won’t delve any deeper into the spiritual aspects of loss other than to say that I believe that Megan can still witness where our lives are taking us. Last weekend, Shelby, Sarah and I drove to Buffalo to meet Sarah’s sister for lunch, and we decided to take a short trip to Niagara Falls from there, as Shelby had never been to them.
I wrote last week that I had never taken Megan there, and how complicated that thought was. For some reason, I decided to make it more complex, and take Shelby there less than a week later. The thoughts, after processing a while though, have become simpler.
As I move forward without Megan, I can’t help but think about things we did and trips we took together. I want to be able to share those memories, and relive some of those places with Shelby, and Sarah as well. Just because Megan and I enjoyed going to a particular place together doesn’t mean that I shouldn’t also share that with someone else.
The trip I just took though was something entirely different. I’ve created a new memory with Sarah, without Megan, of someplace that was so obvious that it almost gives me a sense of guilt. I’m unsure how to reconcile that guilt...that feeling that I really should have done this with Megan. Not that I COULD have been there with Megan at the time, but that I SHOULD have done this with her before she died.
Just a few days ago, Sarah arrived here in Ohio to visit for the first time. This is something we have both been waiting months for. As our relationship grew over the phone and Skype, the discussion arose on when she would finally meet Shelby, my parents, and Megan’s parents.
When we first discussed, we agreed that now, in September, she would travel here for a day or two at most, cram in meeting the parents and an evening out with Shelby, before she and I departed for Toronto this weekend to attend Camp Widow.
That plan has significantly changed since that first discussion, and it has turned into two weeks in Shelby and I’s (and Megan’s) home, with four days at Camp Widow and a day in Niagara Falls. It has thus far been incredibly surreal. Shelby being Shelby, as soon as we stepped through the door into our house, she monopolized Sarah, and had to show her all around and introduce her to the dogs. This simply feels as if it’s a continuation of Shelby and I’s trip to Texas a month ago, only the sensory overload is even more present for Sarah.
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.
When Megan died, i went into full sensory deprivation mode. I could no longer see her face, hear her voice, taste her lips, smell her body wash, or touch her skin. When suddenly, all five of my senses were deprived of their primary stimulant, I became numb. I would venture to say that this is the case for most widows and widowers.
Largely, I believe this explains the “fog” that so many of us have and are experiencing. We become lethargic, depressed, stressed, absent-minded, and unaware of our own surroundings. Place anyone in an isolation chamber, widowed or not, and eventually, a similar fog will creep in.
These senses are independent of each other, and each of them are 20% of a whole experience. When all I wished for was to talk to Megan and hear her voice, I honestly would have been just as happy to see her smile or feel her hug. But it’s never enough. I could sit and fantasize about her returning to visit from the other side, all the while knowing that whether she was here for 5 minutes, 5 days, or 5 years, it would never have been enough time or sensory stimulation.