Advice to the me of 4 years ago

Brad Paisley has a song called, “Letter to Me” where his adult self writes a letter to his younger high school aged self.  Hearing it on the radio today got me to thinking about what I’d say to the me of four years ago, fresh off the unexpected death of my husband.

At the time I was blessed to receive a letter from a friend who gave me advice on how to get through and what to expect. It was helpful, but there are still things I would tell the me of then, from the me of now.

  1. Ignore people who say everything happens for a reason.  Sometimes there is no reason. Sometimes free will comes into play and you don’t have to understand everything, especially not how free will affects God’s will.  Leave that to one of your favorite priests and have that conversation with him over a beer a few years down the road.
  2. It’s true what they say. Don’t make any major decisions in the first year. The fog of grief is real, and while you think you’re doing the right thing, you may regret it even years later.  No….major…decisions.  Don’t move away, don’t change jobs, don’t get rid of everything.
  3. Let yourself feel. Even the most painful pain. Feel it. Own it. Scream. Cry. (But don’t punch a wall.  You know what happens when you punch walls.) Don’t try to stuff it down inside. It will find its way out, some way, some how. Numbness gives way to pain, and you have to feel it to fully grieve.
  4. Fear is okay.  Much of grief is fear. Fear of the future. Fear of the unknown. Fear of what life will be like without him. Fear of how to take care of your son. Just remember to feel the fear and do it anyway. Fear can be crippling. It’s one of the feelings you must feel, but you don’t have to live there.
  5. Don’t listen to others who try to give you advice about your son. You know him. You love him. You know what’s best for him. Listen to your inner mama bear and protect him above all costs. He’s grieving, too, and needs to move at his own pace, not yours or anyone else’s.
  6. It’s okay to explore your options. Life is not stagnant.  There will be days you wish you could just stop time and wallow, but the rest of the world is still moving.  Life will never be the same again, and you have decisions to make. Take your time, pray, consider options, but make decisions and trust yourself.
  7. It’s okay to love again. If you’re blessed enough to find love again, you don’t have to let go of your past or stop missing him, or even stop grieving him. And the right man will understand that and care for your heart in tough times, too. (This happens, by the way, when you least expect it, and, wow, is he amazing.)

The 4 year anniversary of his unexpected death is Monday. A part of me died that day, too. But a new part of me has come to life in recent months, and a new life awaits.   As tough as the journey has been, it has shaped me into who I am today. His love formed me, the love of God and friends sustains me, and new love gives me hope; something I thought died with him.

Letting Go All Over Again

If you read the previous entry, New Beginnings Does Not Mean Forgetting, you know that life is changing for me.

The house, OUR HOME, goes on the market in a couple of weeks, which means having to go through every closet, drawer, and the dreaded workshop.  And with that, comes going through the things that I kept of his initially, and things of ours, things that were important to us and our relationship, and make decisions about if I want those items in the new house and to carry over into the new relationship.  It’s like letting go all over again.

Last week, I made myself go through the sympathy cards from his funeral. I had initially just shoved them all in a box.  There were, literally, well over one hundred cards.  It’s been four years, but it opened that wound a bit. Thankfully, I was on the phone with “him” while doing it, and that support was a gift. I probably wouldn’t have been able to do it otherwise.

Yesterday, I was going through the guest room closet, which we used as storage.  That proved to be more difficult than the sympathy cards.  His  monogrammed luggage, a gift I gave him early in our marriage, was in there. Ah, the memories!  Buried underneath a stack of old blankets were his straw sun hats. Athletic trainers are in the sun and have high instances of skin cancer, so he wore wide-brimmed hats the last several years to protect his ears. They were so buried under things that when I picked them up, his scent was there. After nearly four years, there it was: sensory proof that he lived, that he’d been here, that he was real. A double-edged sword.  Looking forward to the future but having to go through the past all over again.

Thankfully, again, I was on the phone with “him” as I was going through it. And he gets it, give me space, and most of all, knows words are sometimes not necessary.

If I’ve learned anything through all of this it’s that I can let go of most of the material items, but the memories and our life together have formed me into who I am now, and made me ready for what it is to come.  I don’t have to ever let go of those memories and I don’t ever want to.

This new chapter of life is exciting and scary, but letting go of another part of him is difficult, too.  But that’s change, and change is uncomfortable and scary.

I was talking to a friend last week and he asked me if I was sure I could take this risk again, and risk loss again, because that risk is the scariest of all.  My answer to him was that yes, I was sure. Because the thought of not having “him” in my life is even scarier.  So, I’ll keep my late husband close in my heart and in my memories, but look forward to the future with “him”.

New Beginnings Does Not Mean Forgetting

In the last several days, I was tagged in a new relationship status on “the book of faces”.  Yes, at my age, I find myself in a new relationship. Well, new in the sense that this portion of it is new. I’ve known this person for thirteen years, and as geography has us separated at present time, we spend a great deal of time of talking.  During several of these talks, we’ve come to realize that there was always something between us, although we’ve always been close friends and never thought that would morph into something else.

It’s interesting to find myself in this situation.  For twenty-two-and-a-half years I was a wife and partner to my husband, and I loved and still love him very much. Never in a million years did I ever picture myself with someone else. Yet to be with someone who knows almost everything about me and still isn’t scared away is pretty amazing. And while I could wax on about what a great guy he is, and what it’s like to have these feelings, that’s not what this blog is for.

I was talking to one of my friends last week about it, and her comment was, “Well, (your husband) has been gone for two years.”  Uh, no…. He’s been gone almost FOUR years.  But time makes no difference.  Some days the wounds are still fresh and raw, while other days I can step back and look at my life now and realize just how different it is. There’s very little about my life that resembles four years ago.

The point is, the grief spiral doesn’t magically go away with a decision to continue forward.  As happy as I am these days, and as much as I feel for this man, that doesn’t mean I no longer love my late husband or that I’ve forgotten him.  I can honestly say, however, that I have no doubt that he would want me to be happy and would be happy I’m not alone.  It will be interesting, as things move forward, to see if I feel like I’m cheating on him, or if I can truly separate the two.

I’m blessed that this man understands all of this, and is a great support.  Having suffered some loss himself, though not the same sort, he knows the pain never truly goes away, and I know from past years and conversations with him as I was traveling this path, that there’s really nothing I can’t talk to him about, including the ugliness of grief.

This particular week is a rough one.  It’s the anniversary of our last family trip four years ago, which means the anniversary of his death is about six weeks away. It’s the anniversary of my father’s death. And the basketball tournaments that hubby always worked are happening now, as well.  That overwhelming sense of “he should be here” is still there. And his birthday is coming up, too. Yet at the same time I’m anxiously awaiting the next visit from “my guy”.   It really is a double-edged sword.

I don’t have all the answers, but I do know that as this new relationship moves forward, that I don’t have to forget everything he and I shared or sweep it under the rug.  It’s because of him and his love that I am who I am today, even though some days I’m not sure who that is.

On top of all this, the time has come to move out of our home and into something else. This decision has nothing to do with this relationship, but instead is the reality of life almost four years post-loss. I just can’t afford to stay here.  It’s another heart-wrenching decision that I know will be difficult, but it’s also one that I can say with certainty that it’s time.

Onwards and upwards!

The Holiday season

Yes, I’ve already written about the upcoming holidays , but I find I have more to say on the topic.

This will be my fourth Thanksgiving, Christmas, New Year’s without hubby.  There are those who say that by now it shouldn’t bother me. By now I should have made new traditions, “moved on”, “stop dwelling on it”.  But, as anyone who’s on this journey knows, as much as you may “fake it til you make it” on the outside, on the inside, it’s still there.

My first Christmas without hubby was also my first Christmas at home without any family here. My husband died almost seven months to the day after my mother, so that first Christmas without Mom we took a trip rather than stay home and dwell on all the changes.  My family always did Christmas up big, and I was used to being surrounded by lots of family over the holidays. I went from the equivalent of “The Berenstain Bears and Too Much Christmas” to a lone wolf.

I’ve tried many different things these last few years. I’ve tried keeping our traditions, just for my son and me. I’ve opened my door to anyone who needs a place to celebrate.  I’ve accepted invitations to go to other’s homes.  I’ve tried to forget it and just sit home and watch movies.  No matter what I do, it’s still not the same, and the void is there.  I can be in a room full of people, laughing and appearing to have a good time on the outside, but on the inside ready to run away.  I do okay trying to find the blessings and I’m grateful to those who reach out and include us in their family celebrations.  It’s just that “the new normal” is difficult at times, and this season is the worst.

After we get through these holidays, the anniversary of his death rolls around again.  How it can be four years, I have no clue. I have no idea how I’ve managed this long without him.  And it seems to have gone by in the blink of an eye.

The pain isn’t as crippling as it once was, but the loss never goes away.  And with the void comes the “He should be here” thoughts and, while less than it was, the anger that he’s not.

When you’ve lost almost everything, you have to make the choice to look for the blessings.  I was blessed to see both of my brothers this weekend.  Family is everything, and while spread all over the map, any time with any of my siblings is treasured time.  This Thanksgiving my son and I will join friends and their family.  They’re a large, loving family who we’ve come to love dearly, and it will be great to be in that environment and feel the love. The loss will be there, but so will the love. And that’s what matters.

I….. am…. blessed.


Autumnal Grief Spiral

I don’t know what it is about this time of year that brings it all back, but every year about this time, it comes back like a tidal wave.  There really is no reason for it. There’s no landmark date on the calendar, no memories associated with October,  nothing to really trigger anything.  Sure, Facebook memories remind me that he started getting sick around this time, and hindsight reminds me that it really was the beginning of the end, but that shouldn’t cause it.

Perhaps it’s the anticipation of the upcoming dreaded holidays.  Holidays that really aren’t anything special anymore.  (More on that another time.)  But again, after over three and a half years, that shouldn’t be bringing the tears to the surface so easily.

As one of my widow friends said tonight, “I just miss him and need one of his hugs.”  Yep, that pretty much sums it up.  Sometimes, nothing else will do but him, and he’s not here, and then I feel bad for being so selfish.

It all just goes to show there is no sense or logic to grief.  It ebbs and flows, and can suck you back in anytime it wants to.   Every year this time, I wish to just jump ahead to March, and bypass it all.  Even when I try to not think about it, I find myself moodier than normal, weepier than usual, and there it is again.  There’s only one word for it:

Fear vs. Reality: The More Things Change

During the first year after he died, everything scared me. And I mean EV-ER-Y-THING!  At the time of his unexpected death, I was basically unemployed. I had just begun my own business six weeks before, so it was new with no clients, only a business plan.  He died relatively young (58), and we were just preparing to be empty nesters. I know now that  he probably figured he had time to plan for the future, to add to his retirement and to get some life insurance, after we paid for college for our son.  As a result, I was starting out on my own with next to nothing. Very scary.

Now, almost four years later, I can honestly say I’m much braver and I’ve done a pretty good job of rebuilding for myself.  But there are still things that scare me.  I know if I look too far into the future, I will start to panic.  But I also realize I have to be realistic.  One can only live day-to-day for so long before realizing the situation is permanent and preparations for the future must be made.

I’m very blessed that I’ve been able to stay in our home this long.  Reality, however, is that it might not be the best decision to stay here long-term.  The yard is too much for me to handle and I can’t pay someone to do it for me.  That reality brings the scary back.  I’ll have to finish going through his things, including his garage workshop.

My son and I went through the garage once, about a year or so after hubby died. But now it’s time to figure out what I really need to keep and what I can sell. It’s time to let go of some more of his things. And as I was standing there going through the paint tray of assorted nails, screws, and God-knows-what that he spilled all those months ago and never picked up, I realized that it’s okay.  I’m not losing more of him, I’m letting his things be of use to other people.  It doesn’t mean it’s not difficult or emotional, but it means I’m ready to face that portion of reality.  And I’m kind of getting excited to see what’s next.  I’m in no rush to move.  But I am ready to start looking and see what God has in store for me next.

It’s still scary to look too far into the future. Retirement?  Probably won’t happen.  As the saying goes (or was it Dad who said it?), “I’ll be working the morning of my funeral and have appointments the next day!”  But I can do my best to start to figure it all out.

There’s still fear, but the reality is so far, so good.

Choose Your Mindset

The saying, “Mind over matter” is common, and in some ways probably over-used. You hear it in business, especially in sales, almost too much. You hear it from personal trainers at they gym when you’re just starting to work out and set your weight loss goals.  You hear it whenever there’s something tough to face or get through.  It really is an often used phrase.  But I’ve found in this journey of widowhood, it’s especially apropos.

The first year after a major loss is mostly about just getting through, sometimes breath by breath.  The second year can be just as difficult, as it becomes a realization that time is moving on and he hasn’t been there for any of it for more than a year. It’s the year that it all becomes permanent. He’s not coming back.   The third year seems to be the year where you’re faced with choosing your mindset.  Will you stay “stuck” or will you choose to move on?

Choosing to keep going and maybe even to make some lifestyle changes does not mean forgetting your loved one.  I have no doubt that my husband would be proud of me for the changes I’ve made in the last year.  I’m different in so many ways, post-loss.  And yet, in many ways, I find myself returning to parts of myself that got lost in the mix through the years.  Suddenly, I’m back in education. I’m back to the music I played thirty years ago that made me ever start playing in the first place.  I’m discovering parts of myself that I thought were lost.  That’s not to say I lost myself in my marriage, in fact, that’s a part of myself I miss, too. The part that belongs to someone.

I’ve also discovered new parts of myself.  I’ve found my voice.  I’m no longer afraid to say what I think, to go into new situations, or even to introduce myself to someone I’d like to know.  From the beginning of this journey, I’ve heard his voice in my head saying, “Man up!” (Yeah, I know….. but hey, he’s a guy.) I know I’m discovering sides of myself that he always knew were there and encouraged in me.  Because of this, sometimes I feel even closer to him, knowing that I’m becoming what he already knew I could be. Most of all, I know I’m able to make these changes thanks to what he gave me and what he taught me.

Does this mean that the rough days are over? Not at all. But it does mean that every day I decide how I’m going to face the day. Sometimes I still choose to let myself have a “wallow in it day”, but most of the time, I choose to have a day where maybe I can make a difference for someone else; a day where I can find the good and try to have an attitude of gratitude.   Every morning, when I say my prayers, I pray that my words, thoughts, and deeds be for good.  It really is a choice each day.  Your mindset is important.