I Went to a Funeral, and I Never Went Home

I recently read an article that hit me from the very title, You went to a funeral and then you went home. I hadn’t even finished reading it before I started typing away…

When my husband died, I was so grateful for the love and support that I received from friends, family, coworkers… Everyone. I have never felt anything but love and gratitude, and even a little bit of peace, from all of it. So many people came to the funeral, and it was beautiful. They spoke, told stories, made fun of his flip flops and terrible golf game. We laughed and cried, it was perfect.

And then everyone went home. Everyone except me.

I never felt as though I went home from that funeral. He was my home, I felt homeless. I was a wife without a husband, a left without a right. I will never forget how strange my house suddenly felt without him. It went from a home to a house. My life was upside down and backwards, and it felt oddly like a prosthetic life. It was mine, I knew it was mine because when I opened my eyes there it was. But it didn’t feel like mine, it didn’t look like mine, it didn’t move when I told it to move. It wasn’t mine, but it is what I was left with after mine was ripped away.

I never went home from my husband’s funeral. Not to the home that I once knew. Instead I had to learn how to build a whole new home from the scraps of the old. I’m still building, I’m still scraping, but now I have a home again. It is a smaller home, a more humble home, but within the walls of this home I now live in is an echo of the home I once knew. And though it is not the same, there is something warm and comforting within these walls that comes from knowing what I had within the old walls of that home that I once had. The home that I lost the day my husband died.

The life I had started with him ended before I had the chance to settle into it. I miss what was, but more than that I miss what could have been. I miss the life that I was supposed to have. I miss the anniversaries that I will never have with him. I miss the children we will never have. I miss the years of bickering, compromising, laughing, playing. I miss arguing about his ridiculous drive to his barber every two weeks when he could be helping me with the baby. I miss the inside jokes about the cat that will fall flat with any other audience. I miss hearing about his day at work. I miss texting him all day long about every little thing in my day. I miss his jokes. I miss his laugh. I miss the sound of his voice when he’d tell me he loves me. I miss him.

So to everyone who came to his funeral and then went home, I am glad you came. I am glad you were there for me. I am glad you were there for him. I am grateful for all of it. I struggle to find the words to tell you how much you have done for me by being there for him, and then me. And I hope that you never stand in my shoes. What I want is for you to be grateful for what you have. Honor what I have lost by being grateful for what you have. Love completely, fight less often, find more opportunities to show compassion and love to someone who needs it. Look at your families and know that there is someone out there who is missing theirs. You went to a funeral and then you went home. Don’t take that for granted.

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Widowed Parenting: Struggle is not a strong enough word

In many ways I have been struggling as a single parent and as a widow. Lately, however, it has seemed to be exceptionally difficult. My daughter, our daughter, is two and a half years old now. My husband, Matt, and I always joked about the fact that, as two of the most hard-headed people we knew, we were in for it! I am so glad I knew it was coming. I don’t know if it helps, I don’t know if I am handling anything better than I would have if this were a complete shock to me, but I did know what was coming. 

Rather, I thought I knew what was coming. 

This is hard, and there is no handbook. No cheat sheet sheet. No guide to parenting at all. And while I struggle to get this parenting thing right, as we all do, I also struggle to do it all myself. Dishes need cleaning, laundry needs folding. Elsa Barbie is missing (the toddler will just die if not found in the next 240 seconds!). Shop for groceries, cook the dinner, change the lightbulbs, feed the cats, walk the dog, clean the house! It’s just so much, and it’s never ending. This is parenting. Parenting is hard no matter your circumstances. But there is something different about widowed parenting. There is a loneliness and longing that makes every decision hurt to the bones, and in ways I had never imagined I could hurt. And every time my two-year-old has a tantrum over something that I struggle to  handle, I am suddenly utterly aware that I  have no husband to turn to. Because he is gone. Her daddy, my husband, is gone. And it is so hard to do this without him. Wondering what am I doing? Am I doing this right? What would he say right now about how I am handling myself? What would he suggest to me if I could tell him about my struggles and hear him talk back? 

Losing my husband is the hardest thing I have ever gone through, and the hardest thing that I hope I will ever have to handle. There is only one thing more unimaginable, and I dare not say it. When I married my husband we had our whole lives ahead of us, to make plans, to make babies, to settle into our life together. We had a lifetime to figure everything out. And if I could go back, knowing what I know now, I would do it all again. Time and time again. But I am glad that I didn’t know, because who knows what decisions we would have made. I am glad I didn’t know. The idea that I once lived my life with him as if we had an endless road together… I miss that. How perfect it would be to go back to a moment where our time together was just beginning. 

We were married less than three years when I lost him. We had been through so much in such a short period of time. He had been through dialysis, I had given him one of my kidneys, we had a beautiful baby girl, and we were trying for another. And then one night he went out to pick up dinner and never made it home. I was widowed at 29. My daughter lost her daddy at 13 months old. She will never have a memory of her own. She will never dance with him at the father/daughter dance, he will never coach her soccer team or help her with her homework, he will never walk her down the aisle when she is lucky enough to find the kind of love that I found with him. 

I have struggled with WHY for a year and a half now. I will continue to ask, and I know that I will never have an answer. But I have recently decided that maybe it is possible that I wasn’t meant to have Matt for very long. Maybe he came into my life to give me a child. Maybe it is her that I am meant to have. I know that I will never have an answer to such an unthinkable question, but sometimes it brings me comfort to think that maybe he came into my life to make me a mother. And even though the idea of losing him still brings me to my knees, still breaks me down and shatters me over and over again, I am at least able to pick myself back up each time knowing that yes it is true that I lost him, but I had him! Even if only for a fraction of a lifetime. And even though the life I had chosen is gone, in its place is a life that he will always be a part of. I’m still learning how to do all of this; how to be a single mother, how to be a widow. It’s a lot to take on, it’s a lot to handle. There is no one lonelier than a widow. 

But the sun still rises, the tides still change, the moon and the stars still find their way to me when it is dark. So I still live. And I believe now, more than ever, that the most important thing that has ever been given to me is love. So in the wake of my husbands death I did not harden, I became softer, gentler, more willing to open my heart and let others see me. Because my husband saw me, and he loved me. And I don’t want to live the rest of my life without that kind of love.

I struggle to raise a toddler on my own. I struggle knowing that I am not just caring for a child, I’m raising a young woman who will one day make a mark of her own on the world. I want her to be proud of who she is, proud of what she will have done with her life, and proud of where she came from. I want her to be proud of her daddy, because he is someone to be proud of. I can’t fail her in this regard because I can’t fail him. He was the love of my life and he matters. He will always matter, he is her dad. He is my husband. And though I will have to, in time, live a new life that is separate from the one I once knew, the one I struggle to let go of, I will never live my life without him. He gave me her. He gave me everything. He changed my world, he left his mark. And no matter how much I struggle to keep it together (or how many texts my dear friends get when I’m not sure that both my daughter and I will make it through this next tantrum alive!) I know in my heart how much I have, because I know how much I have lost.

I love my husband. I love my daughter. One day I will love the life that I live now, even though it is not the life I had chosen. I will start by being grateful for the life that I have, and for the life that I once had. He is always here in this new life with me. He is in her. There is no more perfect thing than that.

The Second Year is not Harder, it is Different

They say the second year is harder than the first. In the first year you have to go through all the firsts. The first Christmas, first anniversary, the first birthdays. For the first time, you have to “celebrate” the first of every occasion that you will live without them. These firsts are a big deal and they weigh very heavily on the ones who are left here to grieve. It is so hard to get through those moments that are supposed to be happy and hopeful. But as hard as those specific days are, what is even harder is watching the “everyday” pile up, one after another after another. The firsts are so hard, because it feels like the rest of the world gets to celebrate the fact that they have what you are supposed to have, while you are left with emptiness.

I am in my second year. In my first year, I heard that the second year was harder. I will be honest, hearing that made me want to die. I couldn’t bear the idea that it only gets worse when what I was already feeling was too much to bear. I was left with the feeling that this was my life now. The unbearable pain, the stones in my chest. I had this dreadful fear that happiness was behind me and all I had left was pain and despair. It was suffocating. There were times when I couldn’t breathe. I was told a hundred different times in a hundred different ways to look forward and leave the past in the past. I’m sure these words were been pretty easy to say but they were irrelevant to my life, because overtime I looked forward, it would suffocate me.

The second year is different. In the first year it is hard to wrap your head around deep loss. The first year is foggy and much of it is spent almost in a daze. But what happens is that eventually the reality sinks in. It takes a lot longer than you would expect it to. For me, it was around 10-11 months after losing my husband. For me it sank in around the holidays. It was this sudden full body “realization” that he was gone forever. That he was never coming back. That the last words I would ever hear from him had already been spoken. That there will never be another memory to make with him. There will never again be another new moment with him. I think I spent a month on my knees, my body felt so heavy it was as if I were filled with stones. For me, it was the moment that it sunk in that was the hardest and most painful.

The second year has been a different type of hard. The first year is when you go through your firsts, but the second year is when you start to learn how to live this new life. For grievers, time becomes quite simple. There is the before and after. The old life and the new life. The second year of the new life is hard, there is no doubt about that. But the pain no longer flows through your body the way it used to. Yes, there is pain. I believe I will always yearn for my husband and it will always hurt to know that he should be here, but he’s not. But the pain used to flow through my veins like blood. Every waking moment hurt, even when I tried to be happy and “normal”. The pain is no longer in my veins. I have replaced the pain with gratitude. I am grateful every second of every day for the time that I had with him, and for his daughter. With every breath I take I am grateful that he is a part of my life. I am better for having known him. The pain in the second year is different. There is no more wishing, no more what if’s, no more hoping that any moment now I will wake up from this terrible dream. It hurts beyond belief when that sinks in. When you realize this is not a dream and you won’t wake up… this is your life now. When that sinks in the pain will bring you to your knees. But then eventually you will stand up and start walking. Walking towards whatever may come in this new life.

Gratitude is what propels me forward. Gratitude is how I keep moving forward. Gratitude is how I look my daughter in the eyes every single day and thank God that she is just like her daddy. Gratitude is really all I have right now, and it keeps me going. What keeps you going?