So You’re Not OK And Now You’re The Odd One Out

Self Awareness and the acceptance that bad things happen – and that’s OK. 

Ever since I can remember, I have taken it upon myself to always be the happy one. Always happy, always cheerful, always bright and bubbly. This has been a role that, for whatever reason, I had taken upon myself and then lived up to. Everyone who knew me knew that they could count on me to bring the sunshine. This is what I did, it was who I was. And then my husband died…

When he died, life didn’t feel real. I didn’t feel real. I was 29 and raising a baby, and I was a widow. Can a 29 year old even be a widow? Nothing was normal, nothing was right, everything was wrong.

I took a quick leap from maintaining my image and being what (I believed) everyone else expected me to be, to not giving a f*ck. I didn’t care how they felt about my pain, my sorrow, my life in shambles; or how I should handle myself. I didn’t care about their thoughts or opinions. I didn’t care about their troubles because, relative to the mine (as I perceived it at the time), theirs were nothing and they were lucky to have their problems because mine were so much worse (at the beginning it is impossible not to feel this way). Every day I woke up dying. Every smile was accompanied by tears. It was seemingly unending suffering. My heart was broken and the pain was unlike anything I had ever known.

Before my husband, I had dated a guy named Tony. He was my first (and only) serious relationship prior to meeting my husband. Tony and I had a complex and increasingly unhealthy relationship as time went on, but I still held onto him as tightly as I could, even after we broke up. That breakup hit me hard. Harder than I thought it would, and harder than I want to admit. I loved him. For two years I held onto him, and for two years I hurt.

I thought I knew heartbreak. I thought I had felt what a broken heart feels like, but I was wrong.

Something happens to you when life takes something so powerfully significant and good without warning, without reason, without any care that taking it has done no good. When this happened to me, I broke. Life took from me something that can never be replaced. There is no silver lining to this loss, no flip side, no better thing this world has in store for me. But that doesn’t necessarily mean that my life has to remain worse off. In fact, right after he died I made the decision that, come hell or high water, my life would NOT be worse off for having lost him. Instead I would make sure that my life was better for having had him. Otherwise, what the hell is the point?

There is nothing easy about grief or pain or heartbreak. Nothing is easy about healing. I have learned many things during this journey through grief and healing, but none more important than this: It’s OK to not be OK. Grief comes in waves and when the waves hit, it can be unbearable. But just like the rip tide, struggling against it does not help. The more you fight, the faster you drown. But if you give in to it, let it take you, let the tide wash over you and beat against you, you will resurface. Sure, you will be bruised and broken, but you will breathe again.

You see, in all of my brokenness, it has been the acceptance of my brokenness that has allowed me to heal. We live in a world that teaches us that the answer to all of life’s problems is to stay positive and strive to achieve a life without problems. Forgive me for saying this, and you may not agree, but that is fucked up. Sometimes the problem is that we get stuck in the negativity of our problems instead of solving our problems, but that is not what I am talking about. In my brokenness, I found a lot of advice came my way. Opinions, whether it’s the blatant, “this is how to do it better” or the more subtle, “when you get stronger you will see the silver lining,” do not help because they come from a well meaning (yet vastly unhelpful) place that lacks insight into the depth of loss.

So here is my point: bad things happen and that’s OK. Sometimes the healthiest thing you can do is admit that this sucks; and let it suck. Let the pain in, let the heartache be real and relevant and important to you. You will feel positive feelings and you will feel negative ones, both are OK. You will hurt, you will cry and scream and beg, you will be broken and lost, you will feel blackness that washes over everything you do and everything you are… and you will be OK. Because it is OK to not be OK.

So hurt when it hurts. Be angry when you’re angry. Cry when you want to cry. Laugh when you feel like laughing. Smile when you’re happy. Love with all of your heart. Respect yourself and your values enough to give time and space to your pain, because you matter. Your life matters. What other people think about you or your life doesn’t matter, but what you think about it does. So if you’re broken, break. You have the rest of your life to put yourself back together, you don’t need to do it fast or on someone else’s schedule. You just need to be honest with who you are. You will find your place in this world again, but not knowing your place right now doesn’t mean that you don’t have a place or that there’s anything wrong with being out of place right now. You are broken. Accept your brokenness. Give appreciation and love to your brokenness.

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Ringing In The New Year – A Widows Resolution

This year, I resolve to prioritize the fucks that I give. I will give fewer fucks about the things that don’t matter so that I can give a fuck about the things that do.

Here we are on the first day of 2017. It isn’t any different than the last day of 2016. Nothing has changed. Calling it a new year doesn’t make this day different than any day in the last year. But for widows (or anyone grieving a deep loss), there is something dramatically painful about entering a new year alone. It feels oddly like crossing a threshold into a new plane in life while reaching out for the one you love, hoping that they will grab your hand and come with you but knowing that they can’t. It feels like leaving them behind, but you can’t stop it.

For many of you, this last year has been the worst year of your life. For me, that awful year was 2015. Last year, ringing in 2016 was hard but it didn’t hit me right away. It was after I woke up on New Years Day when I realized that I have now entered into a year that my husband never lived to see. He died in 2015 and I didn’t want to leave that year, I didn’t want to leave him behind. But I didn’t have a choice. Because when you are handed such shitty circumstances you have to do the only thing you can do: just keep moving. Don’t stop. So now this new year has come. And whether you entered it against your will or you let it take you, you are now in this new year. The year your husband or wife, fiancé, child, friend… never lived long enough to see.

I recently read a book called “The Subtle Art Of Not Giving A Fuck” by Mark Manson (you should check it out if that is your thing, I highly recommend it). This book talks about re-prioritizing your values in life, getting rid of the fucks you give about things that you can’t control – and therefore don’t truly matter – and give more fucks about the things you CAN control. If you are reading this then, most likely, you are going through some pretty rotten circumstances or you know someone who is. Mark Manson is profoundly insightful about the way we experience life. In his book he writes, “You can’t choose the things that happen to you in life, but you can choose how you handle it.”

You didn’t choose this. You didn’t want this. You planned on celebrating all of these holidays and milestones with the people you love most. But life happened anyway. Death happened anyway. And it happened to you. You didn’t choose for this to happen, it happened TO you. But you do get to choose how you handle this shitty hand you’ve been dealt. This is your 7-2 off suite (poker reference: this is considered the worst hand in Texas Hold’em) and now you have to choose – do you throw up your hands and fold? Do you get angry that you were dealt these shitty cards and therefore cannot possibly win this hand? Or do you try anyway, knowing that you will probably lose, but that whatever, at least you tried? For me, I will play. I will try – because fuck it, that’s why. What the fuck do I have to lose? I have already lost my husband and giving in or giving up will not bring him back, nor would it solve any problems. It would simply violate my own values. So how do I move forward? How have I made it this far and remained relatively emotionally healthy? I don’t know, I just did. I decided that I WILL be emotionally intact and healthy, and so I am. I will live a good life. I am not quite sure that the “how” matters as much as the fact that I have decided it to be so. I am also not sure that I am right about anything that I’m saying here at all.

“If there is no reason to do something, then there must also be no reason to NOT do something,”  – Mark Manson.

There will continue to be pain and sorrow. You will continue to miss them forever. You will always love them. So let life back into your heart. Make it a goal to make it through this BECAUSE of the one you hurt for. 2017 has come without your permission or approval. Life will keep coming, the world will keep turning, the sun will rise and set each and every day. So live in their honor, don’t drown in their death. You can let life in or you can shut it out. Live because they lived or drown because they died. You get to make this choice.

For me, I have decided that 2017 will be the year that I start to live again. What does that mean? Who the fuck knows… I don’t! But I will accept that long term stagnation is not a viable plan if I ever want to be “normal” or happy. This year I will prioritize my fucks.

Broken Christmas

Christmas used to be my favorite holiday. I loved the music, I loved the lights and decorations, and I loved what Christmas represented to me. The holidays were all about family and being with the ones you love. Now, the holidays are still about being with the ones you love… and this is why they are so damn hard.

I miss my husband. I have been asked a few different times what I want for Christmas and the truth is, the only thing I really want for Christmas is something I will never get. I want time back. I want to my husband back. I want my daughter to be able to grow up with her daddy. He’s not here. It has been nearly two years since I lost him. Nearly two years since my life shattered into something unrecognizable. Nearly two years since I lost the other part of myself and the rest of my little family. It has been nearly two years since my husband died… and all I want for Christmas is to go back to the way it was, to the life I had with him. I want to go back to the time when I could look at my future and see all the things I wanted, everything I hoped for, and know that whether or not my life was picture perfect, it was mine and I was happy.

This Christmas, my daughter and I are spending it with my family. We traveled across many states to be here. I am glad that we did, I am grateful to have this family. But as I look around, I see that every member of my family is living a happy life with their own complete families. In the time that I have been here (less than a week), one cousin has graduated from college, another just got engaged, and a third gave birth to her second born son. I am happy for them, I am. But I am not happy. I look around and I see the life I used to have. I see the future that will never be mine. I see a world that I don’t seem to fit in anymore. My broken doesn’t feel like it fits. The life I will never get back was beautiful and happy. It was full of promises and possibilities and love. It was happy. I was happy. But now, here I am.

I have settled into this new life. It has been nearly two years and I am no longer drowning. I am not hopeless. In fact, I am grateful and happy for what I do have, and for the time that I had with my husband. I wouldn’t trade that time for anything in the world. But today, I cried. Today I broke. Watching everyone around me in their happy lives has taken its toll. It is hard to live a broken life. It is hard to pretend like everything is ok, like this season isn’t the hardest thing in the world for me to get through. I have spent this time putting a smile on my face and avoiding sadness like the plague, but it has taken its toll. I’m exhausted and broken, lying in a pile of shattered pieces with no way to put myself back together. But I will put myself back together. I don’t know how. I never know how, but I always do it.

So today I may pick myself back up, or I may keep on crying. I don’t know yet. But Christmas will come and it will be a good day… and a sad day. And I will pull my broken self together and I will be happy. But before and after that day, and most likely during that day as well, I will break. I will cry. I will beg and plead to have him back, for a different life, for the life I used to have. And I will put that smile back on my face and pretend as though everything is normal and happy. And I will fake it until I make it. This is how the widowed life goes, after all.

I know your Christmas is broken, but I wish you all the love that you need to pull you through your brokenness.

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

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.

My Grieving Heart Still Begs To Have My Husband Home

No one knows how to beg like a person who’s lost their love. It was February last year when my husband died. Our daughter hadn’t even learned to walk yet. It’s been nearly 21 months now and our daughter is a firecracker! We have moved and life has changed. It’s not easy finding a way to let it be ok that he is not here, but I’m doing it. I’m here and he is not… and I have this sweet angel to get me through it all. 

I hate the terms moving on and moving forward. I hate those terms because it feels as though it means leaving behind. And it does matter that it never feels as though you are having to leave them behind. And it does matter that you don’t feel as though you are being asked to leave them behind. So I will not say that I am moving forward or moving on… but that I keep moving. I keep putting one foot in front of the other and I don’t stop. 

That old life is now a past life. But I can’t leave it in the past. That is what it means to leave something or someone behind. That past life needs to come with me on my journey through the present and into the future. That past needs to remain my present, so it is imperative that I do not leave it behind, that I do not leave him behind. 

This is why I beg. I used to beg for him to come back, to come home. Today, I still beg for him to come home. The pain isn’t over and the longing hasn’t stopped. But more often now, I find myself begging him to stay with me, just don’t leave me! Because the idea that I might move forward in this life and that he may not remain with me… that’s excruciating. So I need him to remain with me. 
You may have your own beliefs about what happens to a person when they die, but after your love dies, another persons beliefs are of little comfort. My own personal belief that he is with me is all the comfort I will ever get. And I can work to strengthen my spirituality if I choose to, but I will find my way in this on my own.

You see, I have come to believe that the very reason religion exists is because death exists. Spirituality I think comes natural to people as a whole, but the need for community and answers drive us to find religion. And I have come to believe that what you believe in and what I believe in are equally valid, because the only thing that matters at the end of the day is the comfort it brings to a heart in need. Right now my heart has found its way to a spiritual place that I am comfortable with. Right now my heart is still broken and still yearns for another moment in the past and a future that will never happen. And my heart begs. My heart begs for him to stay with me, to never leave me, to stay by my side until the end of my days. Even if I were to find love again, I need him to be with me, too. Because my heart will always love him. And it has been forever changed by losing him, and forever changed by having him. 

So hold the ones you love. Remind yourself why you love them, and then tell them that. Don’t forget. Don’t lose sight of what is important in the forward motion of the day to day. Don’t let “in a minute” become your “should haves”. Love eagerly and passionately. Don’t work so much that you can’t enjoy your life. You will never get another chance at today, and you never know when your time is up.