Parenting Failure: My Admission

This blog is about is about loss, and it’s also about parenting. And for a widow with children, these two things are so deeply intertwined that one has everything to do with the other.

I like to consider myself a patient person and a patient parent. I work hard to make sure that I am as gentle as I can be without becoming a pushover (sometimes I’m a pushover, but I try to take control of even that so she thinks she is winning when really I decided I would give in before I set the boundary). When she is upset, I comfort her. When she is angry, I let her be angry. When she is throwing a tantrum, I walk away with open arms ready to welcome her back to the land of reality whenever she is done having her moment. And when I am at the end of my rope, I work hard to keep my mouth shut. If no useful words will spill out when I open my mouth, then no words should spill out. 

I try hard, but I am not perfect. Sometimes I have to work harder to keep my mouth shut than others. And sometimes those non-helpful words sneak out before I catch them. I’m not perfect, but I try hard to be a good mom. I’m the only parent she has. She doesn’t have another parent here to balance me out, so I have to be everything she needs all wrapped up in one imperfect (and, in many ways, broken) person. I will never be perfect, and I don’t strive to be. I simply strive to be good enough. 

Last night was the first time I truly crossed the line. I hadn’t been sleeping well (or very much lately for that matter) and I have been exhausted! I’m exhausted and up too late right now writing this. My toddler woke up in the middle of the night crying for me. I was instantly angry. I had just managed to fall asleep and now I’m woken up. But I managed to pull it together… for a moment, until she asked me to sit in her room with her for a while. She often does this, particularly if she’s had a bad dream. I get it. It’s a reasonable request. The poor thing just needs a tiny bit of comfort from mommy. But when she laid back down in her bed and I saw her eyes wide open and staring at me I lost it. I yelled at her to close her eyes. Then I yelled at her to come sleep in mommy’s room so that I could go back to sleep (I was so exhausted it hurt). She said no and started crying “mommy sit there!” Pointing to the chair next to her bed that I was already sitting in. Then I got up, told her “no”, I picked her up and grabbed teddy and brought her into my bed and told her she’s sleeping there. Then I proceeded to yell at her to go to sleep!

What was I thinking? She’s a toddler, she’s not even three years old. She woke up from a bad dream and all I have for her is to berate her like this? The poor thing did nothing, and I mean absolutely nothing, wrong! Where was soft and compassionate mommy when she just needed a few minutes of comfort? 

I cried myself to sleep. I burst into tears and I hugged her and apologized for yelling, for being mean. She just rolled over and went to sleep. I don’t know if she was stunned, or if my perspective made me feel like it was so much worse than it was, or if she really is just one tough cookie. I don’t know that answer. But I do know that as terrible as I felt about it this morning, I still ended up repeating the same mistake again today! Again I yelled. And this time I was so mad at myself in the moment that I stood up and I stormed into my bedroom and slammed the door. I dropped onto my bed and sobbed into my pillow. I gave myself about 2 minutes before I pulled it together enough to open the door. She was standing right there playing with some mark on the door itself. I grabbed her and hugged her and just held her, apologizing through my tears. I picked her up and we both sat down on my bed quietly where I apologized without the tears this time. I told her that she did nothing wrong and that I was wrong to yell and get mad like that. I asked her if mommy was mean last night, she said yes. I said, “I am so sorry I was mean to you, you didn’t do anything wrong”. I really needed to drive the point home. 

I’ve been holding back tears all day because I know that yelling at my toddler is not ok with me, and I can’t be that mom. So I am trying to change my internal dialogue from “I am a piece of shit” to “I am not being my best self” because I can fix one of those things… and the other is just self-deprecating. It’s not always easy in these moments. But I’m trying! I also decided that I need to do something about this exhaustion, so I called my parents and arranged for them to take my daughter for an overnight so that I can get some relaxation and sleep. 

I crossed the line last night. I know that Matt would have looked at me and decided that we needed to make a plan. He wouldn’t have been upset with me, as long as I fixed it. Not eventually, but now. He was a wonderful husband, he was so good to me. So when something like this happens, I can’t help but realize how much this has to do with losing him. I don’t say that with blame or to excuse my behavior, I simply mean that I miss him. I’m exhausted from doing all of this solo. I’m exhausted from missing him. Grief creeps in from behind if you ignore it for too long. You can pretend like it’s not there but it will always follow you like a shadow, so tend to it. And for the love of everything that is good in the world, get some sleep!

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Healing Through Creativity

Over the last year I have spent the majority of my “spare” time and energy on personal growth. Being widowed is hard. But I am not just a widow. I am a stay-at-home widowed mommy of a toddler. This pretty much goes without saying, but sanity is relative for me. The house is always messy, even when its clean! And there is not a single corner of a single room that does not scream toddler. The biggest problem, of course, is that this new life of widowed motherhood makes it nearly impossible for me to find time for myself. But I recently made a change to this and I now have “creativity Tuesdays”.

Since shortly after my husband died, Tuesdays have been my “day off”, when my daughter goes to Grandma’s house. I used to have a simple rule for Tuesdays: NO GUILT. I spent so much time overwhelmed and broken that occasionally I could do something for myself on Tuesdays, or use it organize my life. But many days I was so tired and just wanted to sleep, or stare at the wall, or sit on the floor and cry. So Guilt Free Tuesdays was what I needed to survive.

I have recently changed the rule. I decided that it is time for me to have Creativity Tuesdays. My two creative outlets are writing and photography. The last birthday gift my husband ever got me was a very nice Nikon DSLR camera, but after he died I stopped using it. I just couldn’t see beauty worth capturing, so it ended up hiding out in the back of my closet just sitting there. Well, I dug it out and I’ve been playing with it and learning how to use it. I have started teaching myself a little here and a little there. I love it! So now between writing and photography, I finally have hobbies. I finally have something that I have started doing just for me. Both are solitary activities for me, something that I am a little surprised about. I have always thought of myself as a social butterfly, and I’m not sure that I would have enjoyed spending this type of quality time by myself so regularly. But I find it peaceful and personally rewarding, even if most of what I write is read by only myself and my photos are only seen on my walls. And as I am raising a toddler by myself, with no one coming home to me at the end of the day, without a workplace to escape to during the day, without someone to share any of these responsibilities with… it is nice to feel like I can finally breathe. It is nice to have an identity that is more than just mommy.

Somehow, in losing my husband, that transition from wife to widow changed everything and I lost me. I am starting to feel as though I am getting me back. Not the same me, that person is gone and won’t be coming back… and I am fine with that. I like the new me. I am not the person that I once was. I have changed in ways that I couldn’t explain if I tried, in part because I don’t exactly know who I am yet. I’m working on it… thanks to my husband.

I Can Be Strong Tomorrow, Tonight Let Me Fall Apart

To my husband, who I miss so much…

It’s been a while since I’ve had one of these nights. The kind of night that isn’t bittersweet, it is just bitter. Tonight, pain is pushing joy and happiness into another part of my heart, safely tucked away in a place where I will find it tomorrow. Tonight, there is just pain. Tonight there is just missing. Tonight, there is just the fact that you aren’t here, and that I am… without you.

I don’t want to hurt anymore. I don’t want to be a widow anymore. I want to go back to the time when I was happy, when I had the life I chose, the one I wanted. I want to go back to the time when we were planning our future. I just want to go back. I want you back. I want the life that was ripped out of my arms. I want you. You were everything to me. You were my home. It has been 19 months now and since you died I have moved. I have tried to make this a home, but the truth is that sometimes I just can’t get away from that feeling that I haven’t really been home since I had you. Since the night you died. I can’t help but miss everything about you.

I know you hate to see me cry like this. I know it breaks your heart to see me hurt, to know that my heart is so broken. These nights don’t happen as often as they used to. I had a whole day at home alone today and I felt so free and so good and so happy. I think today I filled up my cup enough to break down. Tomorrow morning will come and chances are I will feel refreshed, knowing that tonight I allowed myself the emotional release that my body and heart need. I know that from tomorrows perspective I will feel good that I allowed myself to break tonight. But tonight it doesn’t feel like that. Tonight my heart just feels broken and shattered. Tonight has been spent wiping tears off of the wedding album you made for me. That was the sweetest thing you could have ever done. It has been spent sobbing in a pile on my bed (on the mattress you never slept in) listening to heartbreaking music through my headphones, trying not to wake up the little one with my crying. Tonight has been spent knowing that you didn’t want to go… so why did you have to go?

Tomorrow I will pull it all together again like I always do. Tomorrow I will wipe away the dirt and get back up… but that is for tomorrow. I won’t do that tonight. Tonight I am weak so tonight I will let the pain consume me. I will let my heart bleed, and I will be broken. Few people know how much pain lives beneath the surface. I have learned to put on a good face, and I’ve even learned to be happy, but it isn’t like it used to be… when life was easy. When I had you. Joy is always bittersweet now. And even when I truly am happy, I am also a little sad. Light and dark live together in my heart now. When one comes, the other does not go away. They learn to coexist, and I am learning to be happy through the sadness, and be happy with the sadness. I embrace it, because that is what it means to not just survive heartbreak, but to live a heartbroken life.

Tomorrow I will be strong again. Tomorrow is another day, a new day in this new life. Tomorrow I will smile. I will smile because I had you, because without love I wouldn’t feel the pain I feel tonight. I love you so much. I am yours and you are mine. Always.

 

“It well may be that we will never meet again in this lifetime, so let me say before we part… So much of me is made from what I learned from you. You’ll be with me, like a handprint on my heart. And now whatever way our stories end, I know you have rewritten mine by being my friend.” For Good, Wicked (Broadway Musical)

When Will Good Enough Ever Be Good Enough?

 

I am a widow, and the mom of a toddler. It isn’t easy to be both of those things. Hell, it isn’t easy to be either one of those things, but here we are. When I lost my husband everything changed. My life changed, everything was different and I didn’t know what to do. But I knew that if I was going to give my daughter any chance at the life she deserves, I had to change.

Self-compassion is something I learned only after Matt died. Everyone would tell me to go easy on myself, but to me these were words that had no meaning. As much as I wanted to understand what this meant, I had no idea how to do it! I had my ah-ha moment after doing a lot of work with my therapist and doing a lot of soul searching. And then one night, as I was hanging pictures on my wall, I dropped a picture frame. It wasn’t a special or important picture frame, or one that I even particularly liked. It didn’t break, I simply fumbled and dropped it. But when I did, the words that came out of my mouth were terrible, and they were cruel. You’re so stupid! What is wrong with you? I hate you. This may seem like an over the top reaction to dropping a picture frame that didn’t break and that I don’t even like. It is. This is an over the top reaction to absolutely anything. And these are things that I would NEVER say to anyone… except me. But on this night something was different because I stopped myself, and I said out loud, “Stop it! Shut the hell up. Go to bed.” And I did.

I made a habit of doing that until I learned how to give myself a break, how to speak to myself the way I would speak to anyone else. Now I try to follow one simple rule; to speak to myself the way I would speak to a friend. I practice this and it isn’t always easy, but it is important to me. It is important that those terrible words don’t enter my house or my head. They are not welcome here anymore.

I did all that soul searching and healing of old wounds because I knew in my heart that I could not heal from Matt’s death if I didn’t heal other things about myself first. I couldn’t be the person he would want me to be, or the mother that my daughter deserves, if I didn’t heal myself. So I put my grief on hold for a while and I dealt with me. It’s all just so much work! It’s hard to be a widow. It’s hard to be a mom. I need to be the person standing in my own corner, picking myself back up. I need to show myself the same kindness and compassion that I can no longer look to my husband for.

I want only the best for my daughter. I want to teach her that she can do anything. I want her to be confident enough in herself to be authentically her. To figure out what she really wants in this life and then to be courageous enough to go for it. I want her to dream big, knowing that big dreams take hard work and a lot of failure. I can’t teach her any of this if I am not living it. I can’t teach her to believe in herself if I don’t believe in myself. So I’m figuring it out.

I told this to a friend of mine recently and now I am reminding myself:

Sometimes surviving is a full time job. Sometimes it feels like you can’t handle as much as you think you should, because you forget to include all the things you are doing that you can’t put on a list or on your schedule. You are picking up the pieces and going a thousand miles an hour… and trying to be normal. But he died. This isn’t normal. Nothing about this is normal. You can’t be superwoman because this isn’t a comic book. Don’t try to be superwoman, she’s not real. Be you, you are real and you are wonderful. Don’t risk getting lost trying to be more than human. I prefer you when you are human.

I’m not the same person that I used to be. I am not yet where I want to be but I am working on it, and that is good enough for me because I am healing.

Sending Notes To Heaven

You never think it could happen to me. We all know that teenagers have this tendency to indulge in risky behaviors because they don’t believe that the things that could happen will actually happen to them. And somehow we believe that we outgrow this mindset. And in some ways we do. We swap the risky behaviors for more responsible ones, but we still never think it will happen to us.

I was widowed at 29. Now I am raising a little girl who will never know her daddy. I am doing the best I can and some days I think I’m doing great, and other days I wonder if what I am doing is enough. It isn’t easy to be a widowed mom. The widowed mom is different from the single mom. The tasks are the same but our demons are different, the widow has an extra layer of complicated emotions and spends a lot of time on the brink of emotional meltdown. I’m not saying the single mom has it easier, we all face our own set of challenges. But I know that trying to be a mom and a widow and human, all at the same time, can feel defeating. It can feel impossible.

My daughter and I just celebrated her daddy’s 40th birthday. I wanted this day to be special and memorable for her, as memorable as something like that can be for a two year old. But how do we celebrate daddy’s birthday when she barely knows who daddy is? So I decided that she needed to do the other children do on their parents birthdays. She needed to give her daddy a birthday card. So we sat down with construction paper and made a Happy Birthday card to send to daddy in heaven. We got a bouquet of balloons and attached the card.

We released them in the park and watched them go. It was hard. And as soon as we released them my daughter had second thoughts (she is two and balloons hard to let go of). So I told her, “We can’t have them back. Now they are leaving us and they will take our birthday messages to heaven.” She was OK with that, but as soon as I said it I started to cry. In that moment, the imagery hit home. I was watching these balloons float away and I couldn’t get them back if I wanted to, if I tried. There was no way to bring these balloons back to us. And there is no way to bring Matt home.

I never thought that when he left the house he might not come home. I never thought I might have to raise our little girl without him. I never thought that there would ever come a time when I would use balloons to send my daughter’s construction paper birthday card to heaven. It wasn’t going to happen… and then it did.

So as I try to keep finding ways to keep my little girl’s daddy in her life, I want you to look around at your life and be grateful for all that you have. Because every day I look into my life and think about everything that I am grateful for. This beautiful little girl who calls me mommy. The man who so lovingly called me his wife. I know how he died, but I will never know why he died. Why him? I don’t need to know. I don’t want to know. The only thing that I need to know is that I had him, for a little while. And I have her. And everything else in my life may come and go, but I will always be grateful and I will always work hard to live a beautiful life. Because I had him.

So to my husband in heaven, Happy Birthday. We love you. We miss you. And I am so grateful for everything that I have in my life because I had you. You have given me everything. I love you so much more than you know. To the moon and back, forever and always.

I Gave My Husband A Kidney Before He Died And It Changed My Life

Tomorrow marks an anniversary of sorts, one that I am heartbroken to celebrate alone, but proud to celebrate at all. Four years ago I donated a kidney to my husband. This is a milestone that I never anticipated celebrating without him, but this year, and every year after, I will be. Because my husband died 19 months ago.

Not many people are lucky enough to call themselves a living donor. Most organ donors will die before making their donation. My husband did. So I am among the few who have been so fortunate in this life. My husband was not fortunate when it came to his health. He was 31 when he was diagnosed with kidney failure. I met him when he was 32. The person that I always knew him to be was someone whose body didn’t work quite right. His body couldn’t function the way it was supposed to and it was very hard on him, both physically and psychologically. But after the transplant he was a new man. He was the same person, but it was as if he was just a little bit more cheerful, a little bit brighter, and a little bit happier. He felt good for the first time since I had known him. His body worked and he finally felt normal again. Just like everyone else.

I loved seeing my husband healthy. And I loved that I was able to be the one to give that to him. I gave him his health back. People talk about this transplant as though I saved his life. I didn’t. Dialysis saved his life. His doctors and the transplant team saved his life. I gave him health. I gave him two and a half years of health. Just long enough for him to give me a daughter, a daughter that I now raise alone. A daughter we would never have had if not for that transplant. She is the greatest gift he ever gave me. 

He died in a car accident on a Friday. I had asked him to pick up dinner that night. I had such a rough week at home with a cranky infant while he was away on a business trip. He was home and I wanted a break, so I asked him to pick up pizza. I didn’t know that this would be the last thing I would ever ask of him. His co-workers told me later that when he left work that night, he told them that he just wanted to get home and spend the weekend with his wife and daughter. We never got that weekend together. Had I known what was about to happen I never would have asked him to go. I will always wish that I never asked him to go. I will always wish that I had done anything else, anything that would have kept him home with me. Anything that would have kept him alive. I have battled with the guilt of this decision, and then I remember the transplant.

I have forgiven myself for this decision, the one that cost him his life. It wasn’t easy to do, but I know that had I known what was coming I would have done anything to change it. I would have done anything to keep him here with me. And I know that because I did do anything. I gave him a part of me that I can never get back. The transplant was successful and I gave him health. I am now more grateful than ever that I was able to do this for him. Even though I lost him after only two and a half years, the peace of mind that the transplant has given me in the wake of his death can never be overstated. There will never come a time when I will wish I hadn’t given him my kidney. If my remaining kidney were to fail tomorrow I would still be grateful.

When he was sick, I felt helpless to fix it. Then it came time for the transplant, and now I can say that I fixed it. The only thing that I could have done to make his life better was exactly what I did. So when I go into those moments of guilt about the night I lost him, I remember that if I could have fixed it, I would have… because I did.

It will be of no surprise that I believe strongly in the importance of organ donation. Organ donation gave my husband a second chance at life. It changed my life. It is the reason my daughter exists. My husband was a registered organ and tissue donor. Because of his health he was unable to donate his organs, but he could still change lives. Because of him, an 84 year old in Massachusetts and a 28 year old from overseas have both received the gift of sight. His skin has helped three burn victims in Maryland and Virginia. And his bones have been used to help over 4o others. Because of him, nearly 50 people have a better life.

None of this brings my husband back. But nothing will ever bring him back. So in the wake of his death, it is comforting to know that nearly 50 people who never knew my husband have been touched by him after his death. It helps to know that someone out there may be seeing their children for the first time, or hiking a mountain that they never could have hiked, or is simply reading a book… because of him. I lost my husband and he isn’t coming back. It helps to know that even though his life was cut short, there are people who are living better and fuller lives because of him. I am grateful for that. I am grateful to know that, even though those people may never know his name, his last act in this world was to make their lives better.

You may also like to know that I am still perfectly healthy. A healthy body functions just fine with one kidney. Today in the US, there are more people waiting for transplants than there are organs to be donated. An average of 22 people PER DAY will die waiting for an organ donor. There is a shortage of organ donors in the US, but there doesn’t have to be. There are many reasons why so many people have not chosen to register as an organ donor, but I will be honest in saying that I don’t understand. I am not a doctor, I don’t work for any foundation. I am just a wife who loves her husband, who knows what organ failure looks like, and who knows the value of a life saving transplant. I am just a widow who knows what it feels like to lose the love of my life. My heart breaks knowing that tomorrow there will be 22 more heartbroken families than there were today. My husband and my daughter are my everything. They are my life. And in my husband’s honor, today I ask you to become an organ donor and save a life. Someone like my husband will need your help after you die. Everyone dies, no one lives forever. When I die, I hope that they can take everything. That is what I asked them to do with my husband. I told them to take it all, I needed his death to give someone else life. I will do the same with my body and my daughter will learn the importance of doing the same. 

Donating my kidney is one of the greatest experiences I have ever had. That one act gave life to both my husband and my daughter. I will always be grateful for that.

 

Your Words to the Grieving Fell Flat – This is Why

I have been so touched by so many people who are grieving since I started sharing my writing. And in the last few weeks I have been touched by many people who have not shared this same type of deep grief but who know someone who has, or was simply touched by the reminder to be grateful. I am grateful for the stories, I am grateful to have touched the lives of people who need that connection.

There are no words that can encompass what it feels like to lose someone who plays a defining role in your life. My husband and I had plans. We were building our lives, we were growing our family. It didn’t make sense that he could die when we had so much left undone. The empty future it left me with, the blank pages of the story we were writing, I never knew exactly where life would take us, but I knew who I would be writing my story with. And then one day, the blank pages of that story we were writing burned, and I was left holding the ashes.

I always believed that life is what you make of it. We all make decisions, some good, some bad. They direct the path we walk on and they create our future. For good or bad, the life we live is the life we have chosen. But I didn’t choose this. How can my life have shattered in the middle of my story when I did nothing to create this mess?

I can give words to the emotions that I have felt through my struggles, but there are no words that will ever help a person to understand what it feels like when the thing that should never happen… happens. When your heart shatters and all you can do is watch the life you almost had burn to the ground. There are no words that can describe the pain that fills your heart and your body when all you have left is the memories. We treasure our memories, but we don’t live for our memories. So how do you live when what you were living for only lives in the past? There are no words that can describe this, because the pain doesn’t live in the body or the mind, and it doesn’t live in a time or place. The pain lives in every breath, in every memory, in every corner of every room, and in the this idea of the future itself.

I spent a lot of time feeling lost and alone. Alone because I lost my husband, and alone because it seemed no one understood. Everywhere I turned, it seemed that someone wanted me to patch up my wounds and put on a smile and tell them I’m doing alright, that it’s hard but I’m moving on. It seemed as though they wanted me to be this pillar of strength that I didn’t feel I could be. The truth is, I did often use lines that I knew people wanted to hear. I’d tell them I’m ok. I’d tell them about the parts of my day or my life that suited the picture they wanted me to paint and I’d get on with my day.

I don’t know why, but we live in a world where we don’t talk about pain or suffering. We don’t talk about our deep personal truths, the difficult ones. I think we have collectively forgotten how. We have forgotten to look outside of ourselves to acknowledge someone else’s pain. We want to get on with our day, get back to our lives, so we do our due diligence and ask, but we aren’t prepared to listen, and we aren’t prepared to feel their pain with them. Instead, we pass along tips, and talk about staying strong and moving forward.

Move forward. Move on. Don’t live in the past. Think about the future. Take in those words. Read them carefully, and then read them once more. Now throw them in the trash. Put them away forever. When a person is grieving the death of someone they love, it is the future that hurts so much. Moving forward is what paralyzes us. Holding onto the past is survival… for a while. It won’t always be like this. No one will stay paralyzed forever. These words, however, can make it feel more lonely. You have the best of intentions, but to one who is surviving a loss so deep, it can feel like you are telling that person to leave their loved one behind.

We grieve because we love. We experience pain that we can’t escape from. The pain doesn’t stop when we are strong, we just learn to endure it. It takes time. My grief is my love for my husband. I wouldn’t choose for this to hurt less if I could. I would choose this pain. He is worth this pain. His life has ended. My daughter, our daughter, and the lives we lead are his legacy. So I let it hurt. I make the choice to feel this pain completely, to let it cut me until I bleed.

It is hard to read those words. It is hard to be there for the grieving, to watch them do exactly that – bleed. But you can’t fix it. I know you would if you could. I know you would take their pain away if only there was a way. You can’t fix the un-fixable. There are some things you can never understand until you’ve walked the road yourself. It seems as though you could do more to help if you just understood, so you try. Stop trying. There is no need for that. So instead of telling them to be strong, let them bleed. There is no running away from the pain. Looking to the future is necessary and unavoidable, but it hurts so much and it’s scary. Let them know you are there through the fear. Sit with them. Be there for them. Strength comes in time, but not in your time. In theirs.

 

It will not always be like this, the bleeding will stop. So take out their trash, walk their dog, take the kids for a few hours here and there… and listen. Just listen. And if you are ever concerned that someone may be at risk, listen to that voice, not mine. I speak only from my personal experience. 

If you are concerned about the health or safety of yourself or someone else, please contact a medical or mental health professional.