The end….. that never ends

It’s time to end this blog.  I have other plans for it (you’ll see), but not as a blog.   It’s not the end of the journey. The journey never ends until life on this planet ends, but for now, it’s the end of this portion of it.  Does it mean grief ends? No. Does it mean I no longer miss him? No.

Because the truth is, grief never ends. It takes a different shape as time goes on, but it’s still there.

The truth is, he will always be missed.

He will be missed every time I drive out of our neighborhood past his old clinic.

He will be missed every time I pass a football stadium or a soccer field.

He will be missed every time one of his colleagues receives an award or commendation he should have received.

He will be missed every time I read an article on concussions.

He will be missed every time I see news of his convention.

He will be missed every time I see geese fly overhead or hear a duck’s call.

He will be missed every Christmas, birthday, and anniversary.

He will be missed every time I look at our son and see parts of him in his looks, his mannerisms, his “Pat-isms”, and recall our love that created this oh, so special young man.

He will be missed every time I see a Brittany or a yellow Lab.

Because the truth is, he will always be missed. There will always be tears, just fewer and farther in between. There will always be unexpected landmines that bring the tears. There will always be the “what ifs” and “if onlys”.

But none of that can be changed. Because if I’ve learned anything about this messy business of grief and life, it’s that ultimately, it comes down to our response to it.  And I choose to respond with gratitude. Gratitude for the years we had. Gratitude for our son and our love. And gratitude for what life has become.

So, that’s the end that never ends. And now it’s time to focus on life and work towards not having any regrets with my now husband. To live life to the fullest. To always kiss him goodbye. And to always count each day of our marriage as one we’ll never get back. (It’s day 406, btw.)

This widow is feeling the might of love- past, present, and neverending.

 

Stepdad 101

In May, a tornado came through our town. The first tornado to touch down in our town in recorded history. My son was in the area affected. I can say that now very calmly, but trust me when I say that night I was anything but calm. 3:30 in the morning found us entering what looked like a war zone to pick him up along with his cat. (Have I mentioned that both my guy and I are severely allergic to cats?) There was nothing we could do but bring them both to our house.

This was the first occasion my guy and I had to have my son living with us, even part time, and for him, it was a full immersion into Stepdad 101.  Don’t get me wrong. We see my son at least once a week, but it’s usually dinner, laundry, maybe some errands, then we send him back to his place. It’s different being a stepdad to a grown offspring than to be in a relationship with younger children.

So, what does this have to do with the widow’s journey? Not only finding myself pulled between my guy and his happiness and my son and his well-being and security after such a catastrophic event, but suddenly missing my late husband more than usual.

The fact is, my guy has never had to deal with having offspring. He’s never had to deal with having a spouse. And that week, it was all happening at once, in our space, in our little slice of heaven. It’s tough to be a parent. And when your adult child (or as my friend calls them, chadults) comes into what was never their home,  you find yourself falling into the old habits.  I found myself pulled between my son’s needs, my now husband’s needs, and angry at his dad for not being here. My mama-bear protective mode was in overdrive as I had my cub under our roof and he actually needed me! But it was a different environment for him, and a different dynamic for us all. My guy has no idea what my son’s habits are, or how things were when it was just the two of us. It definitely caused some tension in our little house!

And yet, I miss my late husband. Still. Over five and a half years later, he is still very much missed. I can’t even play the “what if” game anymore because so much has happened in the last five years that he wouldn’t even recognize my life, our son’s life, or me, for that matter. That’s not a bad thing. It’s just all so very weird.

I’m so very grateful to my now husband for stepping up to the plate and embracing the crazy that is my life when he really didn’t have to. We’d been friends for so long that he could have just as easily said no. But he didn’t deny a love that has grown so amazingly beautiful and strong, and he didn’t say no to embracing my life, complete with a grown son. And he is totally rocking it in his Stepdad 101 course. 

He has stepped up to be a fantastic stepdad. His relationship with my son is deepening and most of it without me around, as they spend time together and have conversations about life and adulting without me. His affect on my son has been amazing and I know he never would be accomplishing all he is without his stepdad’s advice.

Our life is totally different now, and it is still unfair that he was taken from us so unexpectedly and at a young age. It’s totally unfair that my son has to navigate young adulthood without his dad’s sage advice and that safety net of home to fall into. But the unfairness is hard to focus on now with the lenses of what life is like now. And I am oh, so grateful for the life we have now, and the man my son is becoming. There’s a choice to be made when your life is totally changed, and though it took some time, I think we’ve all come to this part of the journey more grateful, more compassionate, a bit guarded, but definitely tougher. Be it death, tornado, or whatever, we are becoming a new family.

 

The Truth About Grief

In about two weeks it will be the fifth anniversary of his death. Five years! How is that even possible? In my mind I can replay those four days down to the most minute details as if it were yesterday, yet it’s amazing how the pain dulls a bit. The decisions made during those days were the most difficult of my life, and I pray I never have to do that again.

It’s amazing how much life can change in five years. Here I sit, in a different house, married to a most amazing man with whom I share a love I could never have imagined. I told him this morning, “P taught me to trust again and to love again, so I could love you completely now.”  And he doesn’t ask me to not love P, nor does he negate that love. We celebrate every day together and honor our pasts in the life we have now.

In five years, my son has gone out on his own, and while he’s still finding his way, he’s taking chances again and exploring what he wants out of life. He’s choosing to live again, too, which is what his dad and grandparents would want for him. Thankfully, he has a great relationship with his step-dad and they’re enough alike to have found common ground.

If you’ve ever visited any of the grief groups on Facebook, you’ve no doubt seen some of the sayings and memes that are prolific in those groups. I’ve been a part of some of those groups and they’ve been a great support to me over the years, along with my counselor.  I’m going to try to not use their exact wording, but the overall lessons I’ve learned about grief have been discussed on those pages and in memes. While they can be harsh when you’re new to grief, in time you find they are true.

The truth about grief is grief never ends. It changes, and the harsh corners soften with time, but it’s always there. The loss is always there. There will always be things to remind you of that person, or things that should have happened.  Case in point: watching so many of his contemporaries receive awards and accommodations for things he should be receiving, too. How quickly they forget someone once they’re gone!  Or seeing someone walk down the street that has that same stride to their step, or using a similar mannerism or turn of phrase.  There will always be reminders. And the empty hole will always be there.

It’s a decision everyone has to make after a loss: to burrow in and live in the past and the memories, or to attempt to live again.  The past is a place to visit, but not to live. My husband asked me why I look at my Facebook memories so much. It’s comforting. Sometimes I’ll see a comment from over five years ago, and it will make me laugh, remembering how we were always egging each other on and teasing constantly.  Other times, I’ll see comments and reminders from friends who lifted me up during that dark time.  It’s a good way to see just how God has worked in my life, and how blessed I have been and continue to be by friendships and love.

This may or may not be my last post in this blog.  The future will decide that. Several have said I need to publish this blog as a book, and I’m looking into it. Either way, thank you for accompanying me on this journey. And remember: honor your memories, but live the life you’re given.

The Guilt of Living Again

One week from today is Christmas Day, the fifth since he died. After that comes the fifth anniversary of his death.  It’s also the first Christmas with my now husband and the first in our new home. While I try to focus on that and all the good that is now my life, there is a generous portion of guilt that comes along with it all.

I wondered what it would be like to be in a new and different marriage, after being married to him for twenty-two and a half years.  Those of you who have been married a long time know what I mean. You become like a well oiled machine and you know, or think you know, what the other will do, or what’s to come. It’s like a pair of old, comfortable shoes.

A new marriage is definitely like a new pair of dress shoes. It’s all shiny and new and a bit uncomfortable at first, with some pain involved.  And there’s a wedge in this shoe called guilt.

Not to get too involved in specifics for personal reasons, but I must say that while I’m incredibly happy with my life now, guilt comes along with it.  There are times I want to tell my now husband just how happy he makes me, or how very much I love him, but how do I do that without negating my love or the happiness I had with my late husband?  Not to mention the guilt of even feeling this way again!  Should I be this happy and this much in love? Well, yes, I know it’s perfectly fine, yet part of me feels guilty for feeling this way, especially when I think back to some of the not-so-great parts of my decades’ long marriage.  It creates a bit of a conundrum and swirls in my mind.

Luckily, again, he gets it, and I don’t always have to put things into words, but there are times I really want to!  My head knows they are two very different people and two very different loves and relationships, but my heart feels the guilt. And while it’s easy to not compare them as men, it’s not easy to not compare other aspects, especially since I didn’t choose the end of one.

So, once again this Christmas, I’m going to try to focus on the blessings and the gratitude for the love once shared and the love now shared, and try to convince my head and heart to accept and enjoy what is and believe that he wouldn’t want me to feel this guilt.

New Life- Same Grief

I’ve been very open and honest about getting married again (Living Again Doesn’t Mean Forgetting). It’s been twenty-eight days since the big occasion and I must say I never knew I could feel like this at my age. Our friends have dubbed us “adorkable”, and that’s pretty accurate!

But the grief spiral still comes back to bite me in the tush, and usually at the most inopportune times. For example, the day of our wedding I’m standing at the altar about to say my vows, looking into his eyes and thinking how very right it all is, and suddenly it occurs to me that I’m standing exactly where the casket was for visitation, and suddenly I see his face as he’s lying there. (Insert Twilight Zone theme) I shook it off, but that was definitely unexpected!

Skip ahead four weeks, and last night he was preparing for a medical procedure this morning and chose to sleep in the other room so that I could get some sleep.  Thinking nothing of it, I went to bed, only to dream of the night before the four day drama started with my late husband, and how if he hadn’t slept downstairs, maybe I would have noticed his breathing and maybe…. (The road of what-ifs can be a dangerous trek.) Boom! I was out of bed checking on him and thankfully, he knew instantly what was going through my mind.  This morning, his procedure was in the same building where my late husband used to work. I had braced myself for that, but just the sight of him lying on the gurney and I became a bundle of nerves and fears. Outwardly, I held it together. Inside, I was a complete wreck.

As my good friend told me, “Big change can trigger a lot of things.”  Definitely true.

Grief doesn’t go away when you choose to continue living.  This week my new husband and I are going to an event that would have meant a lot to my late husband, the retirement of someone he not only worked with, but who was in our wedding.  It touches my heart that friends I met through him still keep in touch and invite me to events and that they include my now husband. Still, it will be difficult. There will always be that sense that he should be here. Worlds are colliding in my brain and in my heart.  Deep down I know that, wherever he is, he’s happy for me. We had the talk, and I know he wished I’d find someone and keep living, as I wished the same for him.  Still, when those worlds collide, it’s a strange dichotomy.

I asked him today how in the world he could love me, a widow with a son, with all this baggage. His reply? “Consider me your personal bellhop.”  Yep, he’s a keeper!

Attitude of Gratitude

In one week I’m getting remarried.  I’ve written quite a bit about this adventure of trusting again and daring to date again after loss.  I’ve also heard the words, “Now you won’t be a widow anymore!” Uh…nope! Once a widow, always a widow. But here’s the thing: there can be life after widowhood.  It doesn’t mean you don’t love your late spouse, or that the love shared in that relationship wasn’t “enough”. It doesn’t have to mean anything at all.  For me, it means that I can take the love we shared, the person I became because of our love, the lessons learned, and love again.

Loss leaves you with a choice: what to do with the time you have left. What attitude will you have? What will be your perspective on life and death?  For me, I decided early on to have an attitude of gratitude.   As I mentioned early on, a friend of mine, who had also been widowed at a young age, gave me a journal during that first month. The journal had a spot for writing the good things that happened that day.  Writing in that journal daily put me in the practice of looking for the blessings in each day.  That practice lasted long after the journal was filled and packed away.  An attitude of gratitude helped me to change the way I look at things.  It’s easy to get caught up in the negativity of each day, or the trials that can come along, but it’s also easy to find the good when we look for it.

If you write down those blessings and take time to look back through them sometimes, it’s easy to see how things have worked out. For me, I prefer to see it as the hand of God in my life. Looking back, it’s easy to see the lessons learned, the fears overcome, the support provided at much needed times, and most importantly, how this whole experience has formed me into the person I am now.

It’s easy to slug through each day, just trying to survive. Writing things down and looking back at them provides us the gift of hindsight and the ability to see what we’ve not only survived but how what we needed was provided for us, maybe not exactly when we thought we needed it, or how we wanted it, but provided all the same.

He and I were talking last night about details of the nuptial Mass, and it was then that the ugly grief monster reared it’s head in an unexpected way.  I’ll be speaking words I never thought I’d say again, hearing prayers I never thought I’d hear again, and exchanging rings again.  Do I feel guilty? No. I just feel sad that forever with my late husband ended way too soon, and pray that this forever lasts decades longer, which is a gamble at our current ages.

Next Friday will be bittersweet. We’ve traveled a long, winding road full of obstacles to get here.  Our families and dear friends will be present for the happy occasion, and I’m sure, somewhere, he’ll be smiling down on us and giving his blessing, too.

 

The Grief Spiral Still Exists

We (my fiance and I) just got back from a 10 hour one way trip down south to close up his property and move the rest of his things up here. It was a great, though physically demanding, trip and we realized on the way home that we’ve been “a couple” for about eight months now and haven’t had our first fight yet! That’s got to be a record.

Still, I found myself moody at times this week, and then I realized the dates and why. This week would have been our 27th wedding anniversary, and we always did our anniversary up big ( Tough Times ).   Even when you try to ignore things, that old spiral comes back to bite you. Even when you try to focus on the positive and how wonderful life is now, that ache of loss can still sneak in.

We were sitting in Mass on Sunday and, out of nowhere, I heard his voice as if he was whispering directly in my ear saying, “Be happy, Sweet Cheeks.”  I know it was permission from him to be happy again and to continue living.

This week will be difficult, I’m sure, although probably not as badly as past years. Still, I wonder if certain dates will every slip by without remembering, or without a little bite from the ever messy grief spiral.

Life goes on….. Life can be happy again…… But the loss never goes away……