This weekend we were supposed to celebrate our 5th wedding anniversary. We should have hired the babysitter and gone out to dinner, played mini golf, exchanged corny anniversary cards, then gone back home after the little one was down and celebrated on our own. 

We should have done that, but we didn’t because my husband died in February two years ago. It was sudden. His heart gave out behind the wheel, he passed out, and he never woke up again. Two days ago I celebrated our anniversary alone for the third time, and I have now celebrated more anniversaries without him than I did with him. 

I was 29 years old then. I’m now 31. I have had just over two years to process my husband’s death and one thing I have learned is that why is an unanswerable question, but I still ask it. I’ve learned that I can raise my little girl on my own, but I still wonder how am I ever going to do this? I’ve learned that I am strong enough to make it through this and be better for all that I’ve gone through, but in order to be that strong I have to let myself be weak when I can’t stay strong anymore.

Losing my husband meant also losing a part of me. I lost the part of me that cared too much about what other people thought of me, and not enough about what I thought of myself. I lost the part of me that tried so hard to become the person I wanted to be by trying to play the parts. I now know that you can’t be the person you want to be if you’re playing a part.

I spent this anniversary weekend doing exactly what I should have been doing. I spent it with my daughter. And for the last three days I spent the majority of the time smiling and crying. And though it hurts worse than I could describe to feel the way I have been feeling over the last few days, I feel good. I feel calm and content about the way I handled this very difficult moment in time. And I feel blessed to have been able to spend this weekend completely dedicated to my daughter. We got her a brand new haircut (which is adorable!), spent time at the playground, did some shopping, built a bookcase together (though let’s face it, she’s three so mommy did the work, she just handed me the tools, unless she was distracted and then mommy played Twister trying to get to them when she walked away!). We even went to a farm and met some baby animals. And at night when she was asleep, I cried harder than I have cried in ages. My heart felt bare and broken, and the tears that I have cried this weekend have been raw, emotional energy that needed to be tended to. It was hard and awful, but it was oh so cathartic. And though my days were dedicated to my daughter, my nights were dedicated to my husband. This was the way I needed to love him on what should have been a small milestone that we celebrated together. This was the way I needed to hold him in my heart in order to keep his memory and his love safe there, while also allowing me to keep living and loving and rebuilding. 

I am healing, and healing takes time and patience. It’s not always easy to be so patient with yourself. Our modern world has a way of trying to always get us back up on the horse. Something goes wrong, well buck up and keep on going. No use looking back now, the past is behind you. And in many ways this is true. You do have to get back up on the horse, you do have to keep going, and you can’t change the past. But if you need to jump off the horse to go hide in a corner and cry, then do it. It’s cathartic and it’s necessary in order to heal. Just don’t forget to get back on. You do have to pull it together and keep going, you don’t get a choice about that. You didn’t get to choose this life that you have been handed. You chose a different life and that was stolen from you, it was ripped right out of your hands. And there’s nothing you can do about it. So, you do the only thing you can do and you keep going. You pick up your broken pieces and you try to put them back together. And you keep moving until you need to stop and scream or cry, just break. And when you get it out of your system, you pick yourself back up and you keep going. 

I have always been one to feel my feelings very deeply, and I find that now I feel them even more strongly. I can rarely tell my daughter how lucky I am to be her mommy without tears welling up in my eyes, and I tell her every single day. When I hurt, it feels like agony. And when I am happy I feel like I’m floating. Life is different now. It is not better, but it is not worse either. It is different, so much different. We, my daughter and I, are on a different path than I ever anticipated for us. And we will be ok. She will never get to know her daddy, but she will always know she is loved. Kids grow up in a million different circumstances in a million different ways. She is no different than anyone else, she just won’t know her daddy. But how lucky she is to be so loved! 

I can’t tell you that I’m a perfect mom without lying to you, because I’m far from the perfect mom. I used to think I could be Mary Poppins, practically perfect in every way, but I know now that I can’t be. But I can try my best. And sometimes my best is Eggo waffles for dinner 15 minutes before bedtime because oh my god I forgot to feed my kid! And sometimes my best is a little too much yelling and not enough stopping to listen. And sometimes it means movie marathons because mommy just can’t today. And I’m learning that that’s ok. As long as I know when I misstep, which I am not perfect at but I’m trying, and as long as I apologize when I am wrong, and hold her up to those same expectations herself, then we are doing just fine.

So it’s been two years now from the day that I married my husband. My life looks nothing like I thought it would when I walked down the aisle that day, but I still have so much. And because of her, I still have him. I will always have him. He will always be mine and I will always be his. This little girl is the most important thing her daddy could have ever given me. She is my hope, she is my reason. She is my everything. So for our anniversary I got as close to my husband as I could hope to get by being as close to my daughter as I could. This is what it means to be a widow. It means still being a wife when you’re no longer married. It means still loving the person who can’t be there anymore. It means learning to love in ways that seem impossible, but aren’t. It means learning to find love and hope inside the pain. 

Life will always continue. One day you will die and someone’s heart will break. They will have to find a way to heal and keep living when you are gone, so be their example. Teach them how to not just survive, but to live. And to love life even in the midst of unfathomable pain and sorrow.