Moving Day: Leaving The House That No Longer Feels Like Home

Dear Husband,

Today is moving day. Last night was the last night I will ever spend sleeping in the same house that I once shared with you. Now I must take this packed house and start a new life in a new place. A life without you in a place that isn’t yours. This isn’t a day of celebration, nor is it a day to grieve. This is a day for both simultaneously. I do not celebrate moving into a new life without you; but rather, I acknowledge that this is the first major step in accepting that you are not coming home. I know it seems that I should have accepted this by now, but how do you accept the unacceptable truth that that the one you can’t live without is gone.

This house stopped feeling like home after you died, but in this place I still hold onto this hope that you will be coming home. That there has been an impossible mistake and you aren’t really gone, or maybe this is all a dream and I just need to wake up. Leaving feels like giving up hope and I don’t want to go. Every time I tried to pack up this house it broke me. I have spent more time sobbing on the floor than accomplishing anything useful. So I asked for help and found it in the most amazing place. Your coworkers packed this entire house. There were so many of them. They came with a plan and didn’t ask anything of me. I think if I had sat on the couch sobbing the whole time they would have just worked around me. They were wonderful and exactly what I needed. I am still speechless from everything they’ve done for us (I know… me… speechless!). But as soon as they finished, I broke down into tears because I realized that the time is here for me to take my first step away from you. You have already left, I know that, but it is so hard for me to have to be the one to take this next step into this new life without you.

They tell me you will always be with me, that you are still here in my heart. And I know that. But it’s not enough. And moving from this house does feel a little like leaving you, even though I know you will be no more gone than you already are. But on the nights that I really need you, I will no longer be able to close my eyes and imagine that you are there in that space the way you once were. I will not be able to close my eyes and go back to the moments that I don’t want to let go of, and just be in them with you. I won’t be able to stand in the places you once held me and imagine that you are right here, that you are holding me like you once did. I still have my days where I just hope and pray that I will hear you come up those stairs. The closer we get to this move the more I have been wishing for you to just undo this and come home. We can just fix this and go back to the way it always was, the way it is supposed to be. But I will never go back to the person I was before, and we will never be able to go back to how it was.

Today I am moving out of our house and into a house that you never called home. The strength that it takes to move today is a strength I am not sure I have, but I know that even if I’m not strong enough to move this mountain, it will be moved today. I have learned something that you learned years ago before I met you, and something you continued to face through the years that we walked together into battles with your health. You don’t know how strong you are until being strong is no longer a choice. You were strong. And I am admitting now that I never realized the strength it took for you to face what you have faced every single day when you were sick. Every day you ached, every day you hurt, every day you watched everyone else go through “normal” while you were stuck with sick. And every day you got up and kept going as if you didn’t feel the hell that I know you felt some days. So I am following your example. I am doing what you did, or at least trying to. You have given me so much strength, and you have given me my reason to stay strong and power through this. You have given me reason to heal, not just survive. I don’t want to survive this. I want to heal. I hope in time I can find the same grace that you had when you watched everyone else go through normal while you were living through the unfair, the broken, the harder than “normal”.

So today I am moving. Today I am taking this first step away from the life we lived together. Today I will survive this, tomorrow I will break from this, and the next day I will start to heal from this. I miss you every single day. I love you with every piece of me that is still here. You will always be in my life, you will always be my family. You will always be my love.

Love,
Me

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A Widowed Mother’s Wish

“I may be imperfect and mess up a lot. I may say things I will later regret. But never doubt for one moment that I love you and want you to live a great life.”

There is no doubt that any mom is imperfect, but a widowed mom carries with her the fear that her imperfections will no longer be balanced out by the one she can no longer turn to. She fears she will never be able to be both mother and father. She won’t be. She can only be herself. She can only do her best. And when her best isn’t as good as she wants it to be, she can only learn to forgive herself for not being more than herself. And then learn that forgiveness is not needed because she is good enough on her own. These are very hard things to learn. I am trying to learn them myself. I do my best, but I am not perfect. I will never be perfect, but I no longer strive for perfection. I strive to be good enough.

You are good enough as long as you stay in the fight. Don’t give up. Don’t decide that you will never be as good as you think you should be. Don’t settle for mediocre, because you are not mediocre. Decide that you are good enough and you will find that you are.

Grieving Through The Holidays

As the holidays come around, I want to offer peace and comfort to those who are grieving. I rarely offer cheerful pearls of wisdom, but rather hope that comes from the idea that it is ok to be broken. The purpose of my writing is to give pain a voice. I write from my heart, and my heart is in pain. The beautiful thing about this pain is that it lives side by side and entwined with love.
As I go through the hours, days, weeks, and now years I am finding that there are outlets everywhere for my love. Love is welcomed by all and everyone wants to know about the things in my life that inspire my heart to love. My pain, however, is shunned from the world. When pain needs to show its face, it is usually met by others with desperation to shove it back inside where it will not cause discomfort… for them. After all this time, I understand, I do. I get it. It is hard to face those difficult emotions. Our society does not have an understood social mechanism with which to greet and welcome the pain of another. We have defined strength as the ability to choke back and cut off vulnerability and weakness, but this isn’t strength, this is avoidance. Strength comes from facing those very tough emotions inside yourself, breaking down, and then getting back up knowing you will face it all again.
As I walk into this holiday season, I am determined to do it excitedly and happily. I know that this season will be very hard, it is my second Christmas without my husband and my daughter is finally starting to understand the concept of Santa Clause. I am excited to do The Elf On The Shelf with her for the first time this year. I am excited for the music and the tree and my daughters visit with Santa Clause. And I am prepared for the emotional meltdown that will happen. I don’t know when it will come or what will set it off, but I will break. I will cry and scream and beg. I will feel like I have lost him all over again and it will hurt. It will be torture. And I will welcome every moment of paralyzing pain that hits my shattered heart, because in that pain is my husband and the love we share. And because I am raising a nearly 3 year old. For her, I have to be as close to whole as I can possibly be. I have to be honest with myself. I have to give my pain expression so it doesn’t harden my heart. Pain is as real as love is, and it needs to be given the same time and attention so it doesn’t come out in the wrong ways.
Tomorrow is Thanksgiving. This is a tough holiday for many because it is about family and gratitude. And though there will be an empty chair at the table (which will break my heart all over again), I will give a moment to acknowledge all that I am thankful for. I will be sitting down at that table with a wonderful family and with my daughter. My little girl is my light, she is my sun and my moon, and he gave her to me. I only had a short amount of time with my husband and on some other day I will shout and scream about how unfair it is that I did not have more time with him. But on this day, and every day, I will be grateful for the short amount of time that I did have with him. I am grateful for the ways in which he changed my life, for the little girl he gave me, for the strength that I now have because I knew him.
This is how I will walk into this holiday season. With hope, gratitude, and with welcoming arms for my pain when it needs a moment of expression. I wish I had some advice or tips about how to make it through the holidays, but that is not what I do best. Someone else will do that better. All I can tell you is to be honest with yourself. Try to go easy on your loved ones who mean well as they put their feet in their mouths. Find what you are most grateful for and hold onto it for deal life, especially while you are at a gathering that brings your your loneliness and pain to the surface. If you want to scream, then scream (bring a pillow and leave it in your car, excuse yourself and go scream into your pillow). If this is your first holiday, you will feel like the odd one out, you may even feel as though people are afraid of you – like your grief is a disease that they don’t want to catch. Do your best to hold onto that love and gratitude, but don’t deny yourself whatever is true to your heart. It is ok to say “no” and draw boundaries. You are fragile, but they won’t break you. You have been through too much for any words to break you. And lastly, the most difficult one of all, try to have patience. They don’t know how to do this either. They don’t know how to hold space for you while you grieve, just as you don’t know how to make it through all of this brokenness. You are all learning and it is so hard.
If you have any advice for others who are trying to make it through the holidays, please put it in the comments. We are all doing our best to make it through. I know that I will make it through in one piece, but not without plenty of bumps and scrapes to show for it. Grieving hurts. Healing hurts more. You will get through it, even if you don’t know how.
Happy Thanksgiving. May you find peace and gratitude on this very painful occasion.

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!

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.

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.

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.