Flooded with memories

May 17, 2017

I have a voicemail from the hospital at 2:04 am on May 17, 2017.  I’ve never been able to delete it.   My phone is always on silent when I sleep.  I came home from the hospital exhausted on the night of the 16th… sent my neighbor home, sent Tim a telegram message I knew he wouldn’t get since I had his phone, and crashed.  At 2:30am, D woke me to nurse, I grabbed my phone and saw I had a message.  Crap!  I listened to it while I nursed and felt like I heard the judgment in the nurse’s voice… um, we need you to call back… um, we need your authorization… um, your husband is declining fast, why aren’t you here or answering your phone? Maybe that wasn’t there and its all in my head, but its what I hear.

I took D downstairs to call back without waking the girls.  I paced the playroom.  I talked to a nurse and then a nephrologist.  Tim’s kidneys were shutting down.  He needed to go on dialysis.  A machine needed to act for his kidneys.  I needed to verbally authorize the dialysis.  I’m pretty sure I only really knew what dialysis was because I had recently watched a John Oliver episode on it.  (Yup, I just quick googled that episode: Published on May 14, 2017.)  I asked if I needed to come back…. was it ok if I came in the morning when I got the kids to school? They said that was ok.

I felt so much conviction to TRY to keep things as normal as possible for the kids.  I would get A on the bus, and R and D to school…then instead of going to work I’d go to the hospital.  We’d see what the day held.  Maybe someone else could get Annabelle off the bus.  Maybe someone else could pick up the other two from daycare…

I fell back to sleep around 2:45 and turned up the volume.  At 4am my phone rang again and I jumped up like my bed was on fire.  It was my friend Anne. She happened to be in MA, and the night before when I texted friends and family, she had offered to come and I said yes.  Now it reminds me of the first week of freshman year of college when her mother offered to come get me from the dorms when I had mono… and I said yes.

I got up early and showered.  I was so tired.  But mostly, I was so scared.  While blow drying my hair I texted people.  My friend Jen who had put my kids to bed the night before offered to take the day off work and meet me at the hospital.  My friend Christine works at the hospital, but she was off that Wednesday.  I didn’t want to inconvenience Jen, but she seemed to want to do it, so I said yes.

On the drive to the hospital, a drive that would become like the back of my hand in the coming weeks, I sat at a light and texted Anne and my two other best friends from college and said at least Anne would have good weather for the drive.  Shruti who was in Austin where it was raining, asked if I was being sarcastic, so I sent them this photo:

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When I got to the hospital, I found my way to Tim’s room in the regular ICU area. It was around 9am.  I didn’t recognize anyone so I introduced myself.  They said they’d started dialysis at 6am, and they would be taking him out for a test soon, and I would need to talk to the new attending when he was available.  It seemed like there was going to be time, so I picked up my pump bag, “ok, I’ll go find a place to pump, and then he’ll be back?”  All of the sudden, there were a million medical professionals in his room.  The new attending doctor was very talkative.  He said a million words.   Then the cardio-thoracic surgeon showed up and everyone made it clear I had to pay attention to him. He told me they had to put Tim on ECMO.  (I had no idea what that was.)  He said it would be a surgery and it would be putting him on a machine that would bypass his heart and lungs.   He would be moved to the other side of the hospital for the surgery, and after he would return to the Cardiovascular ICU (ie the “CV ICU” or  my”home” for the next 26 days.) He told me that there was a 10% mortality rate in just going on the machine, but basically without it he’d be dead in a couple days for sure.  OMG, where do I sign?  10%?  Thats nothing.  When can the surgery start?  After I signed the paper, the surgeon went away and the attending was talking to me again about drugs, treatments, tests they wanted, all the things they didn’t know, all the blood and blood products Tim needed…. I was at the foot of Tim’s bed, under a lot of lights, holding my pumping bag, and a ton of interns were standing there,  along with nurses buzzing around… so many people and many of them were staring at me… and it was the first time in my life I thought that information was going to make me pass out.  I swayed.  I grabbed Tim’s bed.  I asked if I could sit down.

One nurse really jumped into action.  Most of the nurses seemed sort of exasperated with the attending for saying so much to me.  The attending told me they all knew about us, about my family… that they all had families… then he nodded towards the interns and said “well not them, they are too young!”  They all looked at me with so much compassion. It made me fell a little stupid?… uneducated?.. slow? I am used to people looking at me like that now.  But I wasn’t on May 17, 2017.  No one had ever looked at me the way that everyone in that room was looking at me.

I went to pump, and a nurse gave me a piece of paper and pen and I wrote down everything I could remember from that conversation. One nurse practitioner kept asking me who was coming… telling me I needed people here… telling me people needed to come.  I kept saying “My friend is here… she’s just downstairs getting us coffee, its fine.”  She was so incessant, that people needed to come… and what could she do for me?  And it occurred to me “How do I tell his parents?” So I wrote down their numbers and asked her to call them.  I had texted them both the night before.  I texted them to say to expect the NP’s call… I don’t know what she said to them, but I’m not sure that did anyone any favors based on the state they were in when they called me.  They were getting on airplanes.

Jen and I followed Tim’s bed to the elevator and down to the basement of the hospital and way across the hospital until they took him into the OR and I couldn’t follow anymore.  It was a long journey, a lot of people had to push his bed and all his machines, make sure his huge feet didn’t hit anything. Jen was helping me be sure me and my million big bags didn’t cause any issues.

There was a ton of waiting.  We waited for hours.  It was awful.  But then all sorts of people started showing up. I can’t even remember all who arrived that day but it was a lot.  Anne arrived later after he was out of surgery.  She ended up sleeping at the hospital that night after I left to go home and get the kids to bed and get some sleep. His best friend and his wife came up from Fredricksburg.  My sister and her husband and 2 teenage children.  My sister-in-law.  My mother-in-law and father-in-law.  Friends.  I remember when the doctor came out to tell me about how the surgery went. Someone had just made me laugh.  I jumped up to go talk to the Dr.  He looked so serious.  I felt judged for my laughter.  My friend  Christine, who works there, followed me and stood there basically holding me up and rubbing my back. He told me they were providing way above the normal standard of care.  Those words “standard of care” were said a million times and I just didn’t understand.  It felt like medical speak that they understand.  There are words in my industry like that. And acronyms.  That other people don’t understand.  I recognized this as that.  But I WANTED to understand.  I asked Christine.  And she couldn’t really translate it for me.  Much later, I would understand.  At the moment, I said “are they saying I’m going to have to make a decision to have them stop?”  and she said no.

After that it gets blurry.  Eventually I got home and my sister told me to go to bed.  My sister and her husband and kids were downstairs.  My 3 were asleep.  I knew I needed to sleep because D would be up to nurse at some point… but when I laid down… unlike the night before.. I could not sleep. I could not even sit still.  I was freaking out.  I ran downstairs and asked my sister if I could take some sort of tranquilizer.  She looked concerned. She didn’t let me take anything, but she came up and got in bed with me.  Warmed a heat/rice thing and put it on my chest.  And I did get to sleep….

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May 17, 2018

This morning I was going to a conference in Arlington.  I turned on Waze and started driving… and it took me the exact way I went to the hospital last year…

Then, I drove through Arlington on the way in and out…  Arlington, where Tim and I had lived as friends, boyfriend/girlfriend, fiances, husband and wife, and parents for 10 years…. the memories were on every corner. I  drove by his Ballston apartment, the restaurants where we went on dates in our 20s before going on dates was a big deal, the house where two of his best friends lived and we spent New Years Eve, barbeques and random drinking game nights.  I drove right by the rose garden where we did Annabelle’s 6 month photos, the park where we had Rose’s 2nd birthday, 7 corners and all the stores we went to a million times… the memories almost drowned me like today’s rain.  They are all good memories.  I am so blessed to have so many good memories.  I know that.  But goodness, today, they hurt.

Tonight I had a gym class scheduled… as I was parking, the James Arthur song came on.  The one I sang to him nearly every day in the hospital… until I could no longer ask him to “say you won’t let go.”  The song that now makes me cry every single time I hear it.  Immediately after that I heard the new Shawn Mendez song :In my blood:

 

I’m looking through my phone again, feeling anxious
Afraid to be alone again, I hate this
I’m trying to find a way to chill, can’t breathe, oh
Is there somebody who could
Help me, it’s like the walls are caving in
Sometimes I feel like giving up
No medicine is strong enough
Someone help me
I’m crawling in my skin
Sometimes I feel like giving up
But I just can’t
It isn’t in my blood
It isn’t in my blood

So the memories hit hard today.  Big memories.  I just wanted to write some of it down.

It’s absolutely true that sometimes I feel like giving up.

But its also true, that it isn’t in my blood.

Reliving the trauma – a year without your voice

My dearest Tim,

I had told myself this time was going to be hard.  This week especially, but mostly the time between Mother’s day and Father’s day when I’d re-live the worst 26 days of my life… the memories of the hospital… when all of the sudden I’d flip the switch, and Facebook would no longer share “1 year ago” memories that you had posted…. all of YOUR posts would all be older than that…. putting you just a little further away from us.

I thought I had prepared myself for how hard this was going to be.  But I had no idea.  Similar to what I said in my Pain post, its hard to imagine that it’s real – the physical manifestation of grief, or that you have no control over it… much as you may WANT to be happy, to live in the present, the past has a way of sneaking up and taking the wind out of you.  Even just seeing May 16th or June 11th on the calendar, or on a meeting notice that I am sent… it takes my breath away.   I sometimes think that you would laugh at this… call it my obsession with dates… but I mostly think this was all so beyond your realm of imagination, that you would accept whatever I think/feel/experience as fact.

I’ll tell you what I have planned for tomorrow.  Because it will make you laugh.  You will shake your head because you think its ridiculous, and smile because it’s so me….

I remember what I wore that day.  May 16, 2017.  It was a Tuesday.  I went into work my regular time after taking A to the bus stop, and taking R and D to daycare. I left work like a bat out of hell after lunchtime because you told me you had vomited and you still had a fever and were sweating through your clothes.  But I often wonder, why did I even go to work that day?  What if I had realized how sick you were, and simply stayed home and just lay in bed with you… sleeping while all the kids were at school or watching Netflix.  What if I had had those final, quiet, peaceful moments with you?  Moments I can never get back…. but I rushed to work because we were working a Task Order proposal… because I would have felt so much guilt to send the kids to school and lay in bed with you…so much guilt to not be contributing at work…  I remember what I wore because I remember looking down at the skirt in the hospital.  A long, flowery skirt.  After that day I would look at that skirt and it would remind me that I went to work that day, instead of reading the signs and staying home with you… I couldn’t take seeing it much less wearing it so I put it at the back of the closet.  So I wouldn’t have to see it, and feel that guilt and heartbreak.  I will wear it again tomorrow.  Because let’s be honest, I’m going to feel the guilt and the heartbreak tomorrow no matter what.

A year since I heard your voice.  Since you teased me. Since I heard your laugh. Since I told you not to pull out your catheter and freaked out your nurses… who I then had to explain about my bad-patient-father who you, my rule-follower, are nothing like… who told me they thought girls married men like their fathers… and I said, not my sister and I!

So often I hate how things went down.  That I never got to ask you… so many things.  That I never got to hear directly from you what you’d want me to do on my own… But mostly I don’t hate it.  You would have hated to face your own mortality.  Better that all you knew was that you had pnemonia.

Here’s a really fun fact about the disease that you got:

Median age at diagnosis of SMZL is 69 years. The overall age-adjusted incidence is 0.13/100,000 habitants per year. The percentage change in age-adjusted incidence is 4.81%, with most of the patients being White. Gender prevalence is controversial, but there is an increasing trend to male predominance. – from the NIH at https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5457460/

Seriously.  69 years.  You had literally JUST turned 37. What. the. fuck?

I had a dream last night in which you and Colleen were playing golf… I can’t imagine Colleen playing golf…and I don’t think you played at all since A was born… Maybe a trip or two to Top Golf with friends?… But you were in this little stretch with strips of green grass… and I had the impression that you guys were growing tomatoes in the patches of dirt in between…the area was small but it overlooked the ocean…like you guys were hitting balls out into the ocean. The kids were up a bunch last night so I was in and out of sleep… I dreamed this scene and later I dreamed it again like I was watching it on TV… with other people… remembering you and Colleen… and I told the people with me “its how I imagine them in paradise.” (Though I’m not sure if that’s true?) You were both facing away from me so I never saw your faces….but I heard your laughter...and I can hear it still.

I had another dream too, which was so much worse. All of the sudden I was at your side as you took your last breaths again.  Only this time it wasn’t your dad there with me, it was my sister.  And she wasn’t on the other side of you, she was behind me.  I remember looking down and both your legs had been amputated at the knee.  There were just two silver plus signs.  I asked the nurse why and she said because you didn’t need them any more, you couldn’t walk.  They told me you were gone… I was lying on your chest again, feeling the last of your warmth, the lack of machine-breathing that there was at the very end. The silence when they turned off all the beeps on all the machines for me…. I forget why but Jean said to me then that you were gone, you were not suffering…  And she said that dad was suffering more, so much worse…(in fairness, I know she’d never actually say that to me, but it probably is true)… and my response was “there is nothing worse than this” and I sobbed and fell to the floor.  I woke then to D calling for me, in my bed with R asleep beside me.  My eyes were dry but squinting, and my whole body was still shaking from those wracking dream-sobs.

Damn, that was a terrible way to start the day. This Tuesday-after-Mother’s-day.  You would tell me not to celebrate anniversaries of sadness, but I can’t help it, Tim.  I can’t control my dreams.  I can’t control re-living the trauma.  All I can do is survive it.  And keep our kids alive and thriving.  I don’t know that I am doing this dead parent child raising thing right, but I’m doing my best.
I have low moments.  I have low lows.  Sometimes I think they would have been so much better off to have had you rather than me.  But I chase away the lows, I chase away the “what ifs” as you would want me to… I don’t make you proud every moment, but damn, I am trying.  I miss you as my love, my husband, my partner, my co-parent, but more than anything else, I miss you as my best friend.  Isn’t that a funny thing about life?

I don’t know if paradise is playing golf into the ocean and growing tomatoes with Colleen, but I can imagine it to be the sound of your laughter.  This morning I heard your son laughing in the other room.  It was the most amazing sound of baby giggles.  But it was also solid,  joyous, sustained laughter, and I thought of you.  Wherever you are, Tim, keep laughing, keep Col laughing, and I’ll do the best I can to keep your legacies laughing, until we are reunited.

All my love, always,

MaryBeth

Mother’s Day

The village is amazing, and many people reached out to me regarding Mother’s day plans and for this I am so incredibly grateful…

I answered them mostly in much the same way, “I have very complicated feelings about mother’s day.”

And that’s the truth.  I do.  My feelings about mother’s day are very complicated.  Mostly, maybe because they are overwhelmingly negative.  And no one is supposed to feel negatively about mother’s day, right?  Especially not when you are a mother, right?

So at the simplest level there is this: Mother’s day is the day when my husband got sick… and never got better.  And that was last year.

But there’s more.  We spent many mother’s days at the winery where we got married.  In 2015 we had a great day there.  I had a bit too much to drink, and that night, after we got the girls to bed, Tim and I had the worst fight of our marriage, or our friendship, of all the years we’d known each other.  I was very willing to move on from the memory of that low moment.  But Mother’s day 2016, when I was 8 months pregnant, he “had to work” and I took the girls there alone, and met my friends with my pregnant belly for a day at the vineyard.  Last year, even before he got sick, he told me he didn’t want to go…. that he couldn’t go there on Mother’s day and remember the lowest point of our relationship. And I was incredibly moved.  I was a little bitter, that he was making my holiday about his feelings… but I was also moved that that lowest point in our relationship had such an effect on him.

So last year, I didn’t have a lot planned.  Maybe Peterson’s (ice cream) in the afternoon. The girls had swim lessons in the morning.. When he asked me what I wanted for Mother’s day I said…. to sleep in, to get time in the bathroom alone.
I was running low on my perfume. If he could order some more on Amazon that would be great.  Maybe it would be great to get another family photo shoot, since the last was in October when Declan was only 3 months old… but it was probably too late for that… He told me I’d get a Mother’s day do-over.  He was so incredibly sorry for being sick and not helping with the kids at all all weekend.

But I will never get that Mother’d day do-over.  Although honestly, people take a lot of the logistics off my hands. And I have often thought, I’d take all the hard stuff and the exhaustion of the day-to-day, for just one more day with my Tim.  But that is not meant to be.

And I often wonder – was I bitter?  Or did he think I was?  I’d hate for him to have thought that…. there was a text from him that weekend where he thought I was ignoring him and said “I know you’re mad at me but..”  And in telegram there is no response to that… but I know I went up to our bedroom and saw him and said “I’m not mad, hun, I’m just tired, and busy. with the kids.. what do you need?”  It just makes me hope I wasn’t bitter.

And maybe there’e also the what-ifs.   The what-ifs that I try my best to chase away but creep in.  What if it wasn’t mothers day but a regular weekend – maybe then he would have given me more details?  What if not wanting to burden me on Mother’s Day weekend made him hold back details of how he was feeling that would have raised my red flags sooner, or given me critical information to help the doctors make a diagnosis sooner?  What if it being Mother’s day was the problem?

Tonight I went to see the movie Tully with two mom-friends.  And in the end, it made me feel better.  I don’t remember feeling bitter exactly, but if I did, it was no more than the average new mother with a baby who doesn’t sleep through the night.  I loved him.  He knew that.  No matter if I was exhausted that weekend, no matter if we had that terrible fight in 2015.  He knew how much I loved and was dedicated to him, always.  I showed it in life, and I show it now.

Maybe some day I will feel differently about Mother’s day, but for now,  and for my children, I will grin and survive it, just like I do every day.

 

Pain

“On November 7th 2015, almost a year to Aaron’s deathaversary, I woke up so stiff and sore I couldn’t even move my head and glancing through my diary from that day one year earlier I saw that I had found Aaron alone on the floor of the bathroom after coming home from the gym………. it was a year later and my body remembered this… It remembered all of the horror to follow and it was bracing me to lose Aaron again.” – Nora McInerny

The above quote is from my absolute favorite widow, Nora McInerny.  That’s saying something because its an elite club… Katie Couric, who is a “sister” of mine through Tri Delta, and Sheryl Sandberg who I adore… add to the list so many widows I’ve now met in real life through the support group I did, and the Hot Young Widows Club.  Nora said this in the Podcast Terrible Thanks for asking – the Chapter 2 episode, which is likely also my favorite episode.

I have definitely read that loss and grief can manifest into real, true physical pain.  I think if I’d read that a year ago, I’d have believed it… but with some skepticism.  Like… is that really a thing?

It manifests itself differently in everyone.  In all sorts of different ways.  For me, it was this incredible upper back, neck, back of my head excruciating pain.  Pain so bad that only consistent heat and ibuprofen could make me functional.  This started slowly, almost without me realizing it right after Tim died.   And took a long time to go away.

This week, that pain is back with a vengeance.  I suspect it started due to my dad being admitted to the ICU on Sunday.  Even just that word – ICU… all the memories it brings back.  I can’t seem to quite get the pain in check yet.  And I realize I probably just have to manage it the best I can through the coming weeks/months.

I write this not for an answer, a fix, or even for any sympathy.  But simply as someone who might have previously been a skeptic to put down in writing: I am here to tell you its real.  It’s definitely a thing. The physical pain that can be manifested in the aftermath of trauma is absolutely a thing.  My body is remembering this time last year… the horror to follow, and is bracing me to lose Tim again.

 

Milestones

April, May, June.  They feel big.  Full of big milestones.  Full of firsts.  Full of anniversaries of lasts.   And then I start year two.  Year two which everyone says is worse than year one.  Which I get.  I get it – people expect you to be ok now.  You’ve already experienced the first one of those without him, so… you’re ok now, right?  Or, you’ve moved on.  Even when you see us moving forward, my friends, we do not “move on” from this kind of loss.  I will carry this loss with me… I will carry Tim with me.  Always.

April came crashing in with Easter.  Easter was April 1st this year.  I planned big Easter bunny plans.  No family was going to be in town, so I made other plans and had a big, busy, exhausting weekend.  Which was wonderful.  And then I had a moment when I took out the trash and I saw cardinals in the trees and I burst into tears.  These are just moments I have.  And Easter night was… interesting.  A story for a later post.  But April came in with a bang.

April 4th would have been Tim’s 38th birthday.  I took the day off.  I knew I’d need it.  I made an appointment at a friend of A’s mother’s tattoo shop.  I’d been considering this tattoo a while and knew I wanted it, and felt his birthday was the right day for it.  The day he should have turned 38.  But he did not.  Because he will forever be 37 years old.  I also bought orange star balloons and a Happy Birthday balloon at the dollar store.  And I made a cake.  With orange frosting.  I planned to make red velvet but both girls asked me not to.  I drove out to Veramar to pick up my wine and sit on the bench I bought him there.  I put candles on the cake and sang with the kids, and we wrote on the balloons, and went outside and let them go.  During the cake, R said, “I wish Daddy could come back.” I do too, my love. I do too.  As the balloons drifted out of sight A shouted “I love you, daddy!!”  Handling their grief and my own is often overwhelming.

The tattoo I got is his signature from my last Valentine’s Day card in 2017.

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A friend asked me on April 5th if I’d get any more tattoos.  He didn’t know this was my second.  I don’t know.  Maybe.  Probably.  When I got the first, I thought it could be my only.  Maybe.  But I’d be open.  Tim wanted to get one involving the kids.  But he never formulated exactly what he wanted.  This one came to me easily.  I asked one colleague what he thought about its relative visibility regarding professionalism, really just out of curiosity.   Nothing was going to change my mind.  He told me his wife advised against it for professional reasons.  I get it.  I would have done the same, a year ago.  But it was too obvious to me that this was something I had to do.  I didn’t want it on my wrist where it was very easily visible… but this seemed the right place.

All the decisions I’ve made lately are challenging.  But I do my best to always do what seems like the right place… or what simply feels right.  I’ve gone with my gut most lately.

On Thursday night, we celebrated our dog’s birthday.  His adoption day really.  10 years since when Tim and I took him home. Tim loved that dog so much.  He was really our first baby.  When I started traveling for work a lot in 2008-09, Tim started letting him sleep in our bed and getting on the couch!  In 2015, my in-laws took him for the summer while we prepped and sold our condo, bought and moved into our current home… Tim told me he thought maybe we should leave him in New York… because it would be so hard on all of us when he dies!  He was literally afraid of the grief we would all experience when our dog inevitably dies.  I can’t believe our dog outlived him.  That fact was not lost on me as we celebrated the dog’s “birthday” on Thursday.  I felt the loss.

This past weekend, I took off Friday.  I took my son to get ear tubes.  I was constantly reminded that Tim would have been there for that.  Forms and people asked me where Tim was… who else was coming…  there was a little boy (older than D) who got out of surgery just after he did who had something done on his eyes who was really hysterical.  His dad was called back and I swear they asked him a half-dozen times about Mom.  I was close to saying “He said she’s not here!!!”  English wasn’t this family’s first language, and I know there could have been a million reasons this poor child’s mother was not there, but my heart went out to this boy and his father in such a big way.  D was a trooper, and yet, doing this without Tim felt big.  I felt the loss.  I then went to R’s classroom to celebrate her 5th birthday.  Something we had done together last year.  I then took R to Kindergarten Orientation… which I attended 2 years ago with Tim, on a day where I had an ultrasound (that he also went to with me) in the morning.  I felt the loss… that he wasn’t there… for R and for me.  I also had a 5th birthday extravaganza at my house on Saturday… and bought her a big gift, that nearly wasn’t ready on time… and  pretty much emotionally shut down at that point.  It all just became too much and my brain shut down.  My sister and my sister-in-law and my two college friends who flew in for the event took over, and simply did.  And everything got done.  And I think R had fun.  All the kids had fun.  That night, my father-in-law took A to the father-daughter dance with her girl scout troop.  It was lovely.  Beautiful.  And yet what Tim wouldn’t have given to go to that with his girl?  And I felt the loss.

I guess the point is that it’s impossible not to feel the loss in the big milestones.  Sometimes its crippling.  Sometimes less so.  But its unavoidable.  All I can do is let myself feel it.  Feel the loss.  And try to feel less of the guilt.

“Only people who are capable of loving strongly can also suffer great sorrow, but this same necessity of loving serves to counteract their grief and heals them” – Leo Tolstoy

Photograph in Music (Alternate title: I’m not Dead)

I am falling behind.  I have a hundred blog posts in my head and half started, but this one was longing to be written.

This weekend I officially joined a fitness place, and went to a class Saturday morning.  I like it because the music is good and motivating and they tell you what to do constantly so you don’t have to think.  During the floor exercises, when I was lifting weights I saw myself in the mirror, and somehow in the combination of music, adrenaline, and tingling of my soft muscles that had gone unused basically since November, I looked myself right in the eye and thought, “You are not dead.”  “I’m not dead.”

I felt like a piece of me, half of me, sometimes more, died last June.  In my post 6 months, an open letter to my love, I mention that sometimes I feel Tim would be disappointed in me.  I don’t think he’d be disappointed in me when I do what I have to do to heal, or to survive, when I allow the kids more screen time than I ever would have “before,” but I think he’d be disappointed in me when I do more of the holding on, the feeling sorry for myself, the wallowing.

Tim had a complicated relationship with death.  I believe now it was mostly a result of not ever experiencing it up really close.  I think he was mostly afraid of it.  Having experienced it up really close, as close as it gets, I can say there is a beauty in the sadness.  This is something I’ve heard from other widows too.  Living up close to death seems to be the only thing that can truly rid us of our fear of it.

But it is a challenge to always look at the positive, look for the good, find the silver lining.  When I hold on too much, is when I think Tim would be disappointed.  When I do things for other people, or for appearances.  He always hated that.  He’d tell me if he could to keep living.  He’d tell me that I don’t have to wait a certain amount of time for anything; that there is no formula; that weeks, months, years from now, he will still be dead.  He’d tell me: Don’t miss out on anything today because you are simply missing me and feeling sorry for yourself.

I can both love Tim, and be alive.  I can stretch, strain, and push all my muscles.  I am reminded of this in music.  And I felt like it was a nudge from Tim that gave me that thought.  It may seem overwhelming how much life I have left without him.  But I have it.  I have to accept that.  I am not dead.  And there is great beauty in that if I can find it.  And live it.

My sister-in-law asked me after Tim died if I hear every song differently now, and I really do.  Every love song has a different kind of meaning by me ears.   All of them.

I really love Ed Sheeran’s song Photograph, and when I heard it the first time after Tim died, I heard it with new ears, and it resounded with me in many ways.

Loving can hurt, loving can hurt sometimes
But it’s the only thing that I know
When it gets hard, you know it can get hard sometimes
It is the only thing that makes us feel alive
We keep this love in a photograph
We made these memories for ourselves
Where our eyes are never closing
Hearts are never broken
And time’s forever frozen still
So you can keep me
Inside the pocket of your ripped jeans
Holding me closer ’til our eyes meet
You won’t ever be alone, wait for me to come home
Loving can heal, loving can mend your soul
And it’s the only thing that I know, know
I swear it will get easier,
Remember that with every piece of you
Hm, and it’s the only thing we take with us when we die….
~ Ed Sheeran, Photograph
If love is the only currency we take with us when we die, then Tim died an incredibly rich man.  He lived big, and loved big and openly, and people loved him back.  So many of us loved him.  He loved life.  And life loved him.  He took so much love with him when he died.
I can only try to live my life so that I can be as rich on the day I die.

What Grief looks like

I said before that grief is my constant companion. But I’m really not sure I have ever done justice to what grief really looks like. The truth, of course, is that it looks different to everyone. But for everyone, it’s ugly. My cousin’s wife said those words to me right after Tim died, “the ugly parts of grief,” and I nearly immediately understood them in a way I never could have “before.”

I try hard to be positive most of the time.  Mostly, I think people need to think I am OK. But who is OK?  Am I a model for what a grieving widow should look like?  I work.  At the very least, I show up every day and try to do at least one thing that makes someone else’s life easier, or in some way generally moves the economy forward.  But truthfully, I show up because I am a mother.  I am a mother before I am a widow.  It’s job 1.  Exactly as Tim would want it.

But here’s the thing.  Grief is hard.  It’s hard for everyone, sometimes I get sucked into posts from the Hot Young Widows Club, or the Terrible Club.  (Reference: American Public Media Podcast “Terrible, thanks for asking” with Nora McInerny)  And then I think, ok, I don’t have it so bad… it could be worse, right?  But no. We don’t have to constantly compete on who’s bad stuff is worse. Who has it worse right now?  It doesn’t matter.  We can simply have compassion for others but still feel absolute crap about our own situation.

I actually listened to an episode of the podcast where a woman had to give birth to a baby she knew was already dead – how terrible is that?  Who should ever have to bear that?  But then she said that when the procedure was over and the medical professionals left her, her husband held her and they cried together.  And the emotion I felt then?  Overwhelming jealousy.  Here I was sitting in my car, jealous of a woman who had just gone through this absolutely terrible, unimaginable ordeal which when I had considered (any version of) during all three of my pregnancies I thought I could never survive.  And I burst into tears.  I cried so hard.  All over the steering wheel and leather seats.  Tears and snot and sobbing and all the ugly things no one wants to see.  Because that split second of – I’d rather that if I had Tim – I knew it wasn’t even true.  And yet for a second it’s what I felt.  It was absolutely my truth in that instant.  That right there – that is one of the ugly parts of grief.  Want to hear another?  Sometimes I see old men on the street and I hate them.  I hate them for being old when Tim never will be.  Sometimes I literally hate everyone in the world, even the people who love me the most, who I love the most, simply for being alive when Tim is not.

And hate is an emotion I try never to feel.  I tell my children not to say that word like its the F word.  And yet I feel it.  Towards literally everyone in the world sometimes.  Because they are not my Tim.

Many widow/widowers get comments about how strong we are. Others mean it as a compliment, certainly… they don’t know how we do it.  If  it were them, they wouldn’t get out of bed… but you know what?  We don’t want to get out of bed either.  We don’t want to be strong either.  Sometimes, it feels like an insult – like we aren’t doing grief right.  Like we must not be as in pain as they would be if it were them.  Like we didn’t love our person enough.  I had someone tell me once, a month after Tim died, “I had no idea.  If you mentioned it, I’m sorry I didn’t hear you. (Um no, I didn’t causally mention to a person I just met that my husband died last month.)  You don’t look like a person… who went through what you went through.. what you are going through.”  I smiled, nodded, said Thank you. But what I immediately thought was “am I not doing justice to Tim?  To the love we had?  To the life we had?  Because I seem ok to other people?”

I try to channel my grief into preserving beautiful memories for the kids.  From remembering Tim in big ways with a bench, a tree, who know’s what else… but also in the small ways.  At the dinner table, “Remember how daddy used to…?” But there are those ugly parts of grief that creep in too.  It’s probably the bigger part, though I mostly keep it hidden because its ugly.   I hide those ugly parts behind the facebook posts that Tim would have made.  That he did make back when we were a #partyoffive.   I no longer spend my time reading mommy blogs.  I read widows and widowers blogs.  I read posts from sad people.  Because I understand them.  I am a sad person.

I am trying hard to put together “selfies with Dad” books for each of the kids.  They are beautiful, and wonderful, but also, looking through all the photos… damn, it hurts.  Seeing how much he loved each one of them.  What he wouldn’t give to be with them here, now.  The selfies end 6 months ago.  But before that, there are so many.  The joy he had in his smile, in his eyes, whenever he was with them.  Unadulterated, unfiltered joy in his children.  I grieve that they don’t get to experience that in their dad anymore… that they won’t experience all the hurt that life will throw at them, and then come home to collapse into his big warm arms.  They don’t even know how much they are missing with that.  How good it was.  Feeling the warmth of his big arms around you was one of the most good things in the world.  His blood flows in their veins, and yet that is lost to them.

I grieve his losses. I grieve their losses.  A is so like him, they were kindred spirits in so many ways. A has the flair of anger and temper he had.  He could understand that temper better than I can, because it was his.  I grieve that she will not grow up with that understanding.  R has his goofiness, his sense of humor, his flair with sarcasm, and his comedic timing.  You can see it in the selfies they did together, in all the expressions they could make.  I grieve that she will not grow up with that  comedic appreciation and understanding.  And D… I grieve for him, but I’m not even sure I know yet what he will miss most of all.  I know this: He has the LAST selfie with dad.  The very last photos Tim ever took on his phone were of him and D.  And yet… there aren’t any that show their similarities.  He was only 9 months old. He never got a beach trip with dad, never got to spend a Father’s day together.  We don’t have photos that show their similarities, we didn’t even know what those similarities could be yet… and that is hard.  And I grieve my loss.  Every day.  Having him there each day to talk to in the present.  And I grieve the future I planned with him, that I imagined with him. That future is now lost to me forever.  And all I am left with is grief.

No one should ever have to give birth to a baby who is already dead.  A child that you’ve loved since you peed on a stick.  But you know what else?  No one should ever have to have their 37 year old husband, and baby daddy to three beautiful souls, die in their arms.  No one should have to watch the love of their life die before he fully got to live.  And that’s my truth.  It sucks.  And I am allowed to be sad about it whenever I want, and for just as long as I want.  I am allowed to do weird things.  I definitely think I creep people out sometimes.  But then I just remind myself it takes a certain strength of character to be around me.

There’s one big thing I notice.  I noticed it most the weekend of our wedding anniversary.  There were a lot of photos that weekend.  A lot where I am smiling.  Holding the kids and smiling big.   And that weekend we looked at a lot of photos of our wedding day too.  There is a key difference in the photos if you really look. In 2017, in any photo taken after May 16, 2017, the smile does not reach my eyes.  There is a part of me that died this year.  Maybe many parts.  But you can see it, if you look, in the sparkle that used to be in my eyes. I grieve the loss of all the parts of me that died too.

What does grief feel like?  There are moments when the loss hits you so hard it’s a physical pain.  This can happen literally out of nowhere.  When you least expect it.  It feels like someone has either destroyed or simply removed all your internal organs. Your stomach, your heart, lungs, esophagus, its all simply gone, and in its place is a gaping hole, like a pain so big and deep you can not breathe, how could you possibly go on in this world one more minute?  I don’t know how.  But you do.  Simply because you have to.

The only thing I ask, if you are reading this – if you got this far – is if you are grieving now, (or if not, hold on to this for when you grieve in the future): let yourself feel all the grief, whenever you can, and don’t compare.  Don’t think your grief is worse or not as bad as mine.  It’s all bad.  Life hits us hard.  And sometimes you will hear words that help, like “grief is the price you pay for love” which I heard on Anne of Green Gables on the day Tim died and has stuck with me.  And other times, no words of consolation will help and you are just so filled with anger and rage, you want everyone to stop talking.  Whatever you are feeling, just feel it.  Even when you have to feel it through changing a diaper, or giving a bath, reading a story, driving someone to something, the necessities of a life that goes on even when it feels like it shouldn’t.

“The other night dear, as I lay sleeping
I dreamed I held you in my arms
But when I awoke, dear, I was mistaken
So I hung my head and I cried
You are my sunshine, my only sunshine
You make me happy when skies are gray
You’ll never know dear, how much I love you
Please don’t take my sunshine away”
-Jimmie Davis, You are my Sunshine