Afternoons are all pretty similar. Cease working. Pick up Lucas. Pick up Reed. Repeat.
When you drop off in the mornings you give a big hug, remind your children to please make good choices and to have a great day. Drop offs are easy these days. Picking up can sometimes present a different challenge. I always search for the teacher praying I will receive a smile in return, direct eye contact and not raised eye brows or heaven forbid an eye roll. Raised eye brows or a determined stride in your direction usually indicates that my boys haven’t had the best day and may not have made the best choices today. These days are far and few between but I still walk in with a sense of anticipation each day because they do in fact occur.
Today I get smiles at both schools. I empty their “boxes” labeled with each of their names. Their boxes are filled with tons of fantastic artwork, daily sheets and homework. A deep sigh of relief is released as we head to the car together. A good night is bound to ensue at home. Both boys are talking up a storm as they climb in their seats. I quickly flip through their papers and my throat catches. I’m stunned. My mind is whirling. A tinge of anger percolates. I am not going to cry. I am going to take a deep breath and think.
What in the world has me so upset?
Reed, our 3.5 year old has made a family tree today at school. His tree has included three branches, “Mommy, Lucas and Reed.” I am devastated. I show him his picture while I’m driving and begin a conversation that I do not want to have. “I love your tree! Who’s on your tree?” He quickly responds appropriately with mommy, Lucas and Reed. I gently ask if he wanted to include daddy. He simply stares at me in return. Lucas, our overly talkative child, chimes right in. “Why don’t you have daddy? Do you not remember him? Mom can show you pictures. He lived with us. He’s just not here right now because he died.” Silence from the other side of the car.
Where is my manual? What is the best course of action here? This is parenting 101, otherwise known as there is no damn manual. My tears stay hidden. I tell Reed I love his picture. In my head, I am screaming. I am crying and I am frustrated. The frustration is becoming more prevalent these days as the boys recognize what they are missing. As they begin to understand that their family is different than their peers. I take a deep breath, hold in the emotion and drive us home.
It is insane that their perspectives of our life can be so different. My eldest child will always include his father and anyone else that may choose to join our family. I believe my youngest child’s tree will always look the same, regardless of our situation. Part of that is the difference in their personalities but mainly it is because Reed's memories at this time are gone. He no longer remembers the most important man in a child’s life. He no longer remembers his dad. He has after all, been gone over half of his life now.
When death occurs unfortunately many things begin to shift. Not necessarily for the worst but also not always for the best. The best people in my life continue to speak of my husband. They acknowledge the loss but also acknowledge the man he was. Sadly this is not the majority. People continually avoid talking about Daniel, even two years later. They won’t even whisper his name, as if that small feat would bring the wrath of hell down upon them.
Small talk occurs at work, amongst neighbors, even among family members, but everyone pretends he simply never existed. Please acknowledge the elephant in the room. We all know he is not invisible. And yes I am completely aware that my husband is dead. As if I will ever be able to forget that.
The loss of my husband changed me as a person. I am no longer the woman I once was and will never be the same. For friends and family, many may not see the changes as positive. That is okay. I take responsibility. For those of you that I have lost touch with, know it’s not you, it's me. My perspectives on life, on choices, on the way I spend my time are different now.
It was so extremely difficult to feel good again. The guilt of participating in any activities at all brought so much heavy burden after his death. I remember not being able to read after the loss. To many, not reading is probably a ridiculous thing. To me, however, books have always been a big part of my life, one of my great loves. A way to get lost and enjoy “me” time. I had lost the ability to live.
I am however finding my voice again, finding my breath. Learning how to participate in life again, albeit without him.
In our recent move many people kept asking me how I was doing it, why was I choosing to do things on my own. Such a simple question to others with a not so simple answer. I was working through my grief. Physical labor has been a saving grace for me. I had a few helpers here and there but I had to box up our life. I had to close that chapter on my own.
During the move friends talked to me about being careful with my “nice” furniture. Let me be clear in stating its just furniture. Furniture. I don't care what we paid for it. I don’t care how nice it is. These dressers and chest of drawers are simply vessels for our belongings. If you dropped the dresser with me outside on the sidewalk or dented something, trust me, it’s not a big deal. I even forgive the one that busted the 4000 piece Death Star that Daniel and I both spent weeks constructing. Its just stuff. Stuff that can be replaced. Stuff that fills space.
That is perspective. Perspective from someone who has experienced significant trauma. My husband died. My best friend was taken from me. My children grieve every day. I promise, I don't give a shit about scratching my dresser. It's simply a piece of furniture. And yes I acknowledge I am a different person today. You are correct in recognizing that my demeanor, my thoughts and who I am has changed. My perspective is now what it is and I promise its not you. Its Me.
How can your life be reduced to boxes? Boxes filled with stuff. Stuff associated with memories.
I have been fine. I have been fine dammit.
Fine until I emptied my closet. Why does this closet have so much power over me? Maybe because it has become my sanctuary and my safe spot.
I stand in the closet and my shoulders quake. Why do I feel an overwhelming sense of leaving you behind? All these things flash through my mind.
The night we moved in. I was 28 weeks pregnant with Reed and you and everyone else that was here were getting on my nerves so I refused to go to dinner. I needed space. I needed peace. None of you were surprised.
I remember you all coming home and just standing there staring at all that I had accomplished. It still makes me smile.
The play set. I sat in the swing tonight and flew as high as I could, reaching for you. The amount of curse words that flew from your mouth during that building process is unheard of, but wow were you proud to say you built thing from several flat boxes. The boys have cherished every single moment on that structure, thanks to you. We sat together and swung on the very swings together after your diagnosis.
Your space upstairs. Your chair. Our couch. Your fish. Your television that is older than hell but I still chose to move because it was your first purchase over ten years ago and I remember how proud you were of that purchase.
I mowed the final time yesterday as well and you know what, the weed eater started on the first pull. I left the yard as you wanted it. As you always had it. I will never forget shoveling seven tons of rock with you. We were both proud of that adventure and you were right it looked amazing.
Damn the closet. I turned up the music and slid to the ground searching for my breath. Slowly your things have been moved, boxed, donated. The closet held your clothes. The closet held my hand. The closet kept me upright and was my haven for the past two years.
I am leaving this home that was ours. I am leaving our space and our memories. I am however not leaving you. You will come with us and surround us in our new home. We will never be without your presence and thank you for our future.
So long River Lake Court.
I am round, solid, and silver. I am the ball in a pinball machine. And I am pinging.
Every time I begin to settle and fall to the bottom, seeking peace, someone flips the triangle handle and the flying and pinging begins again.
Being in this machine is hell. My own personal hell. No one can eliminate the feelings and no one can remove the pain. I feel that if I can run farther. If I can pack more crap. If I turn the music louder. If I have one more glass of wine, it will eliminate these feelings.
I know better. You must face what is trying to take you down.
Last week was the final straw. Enough was enough. I turned to the one person who had the power to help me at the moment. I sat and watched Daniel’s videos from beginning to end. I listened to his voice, heard his message and cried my body weight in tears. I sat under the window, in the ikat patterned chair, where I watched the hearse pull out of my driveway two years ago. A window that will soon belong to someone else.
There is something to be said about our house selling at this time of year. He knew the weight was dragging me down. He knew I was finally ready. The one place that brought me so much solace at the beginning of our loss was now sending me pinging as well.
His private words to me were to move forward. He reminded me of what we built together but that I had to keep living. The words were reminders to all of us that loved him to live. Not just to exist but to do.
It’s unbelievable that two years have passed. My memories are growing fuzzy. How can that be? How can you spend more than a decade with one person and those memories not be cemented in your mind? That is time. That is what happens. The daily routines have changed. The daily reminders slowly slipping away.
Because of him I am ready to move forward. I am ready to choose happiness. I am ready to open my world again. Thank you love for your strength. Thank you for the encouragement and the push. Thank you for being you.
Grief is not a universal emotion that everyone has dealt with. Grief is varying in depth based on whom you lose or who you’ve lost. Different researchers suggest exactly which loss is the hardest, the loss of a parent, a sibling, your spouse, a friend, your child. It does not matter who you've lost, loss is debilitating and all consuming. I know the depths of my own loss, but it is simply that, my own loss. It is not the same as my children’s loss. It is not the same as our family and friends but it does not mean any of us hurts more or less.
The emotion that none of us is immune to is that of guilt. I no longer feel guilt over the loss itself. I did not cause the cancer. I did not make any choices in life to cause this to happen to us as a family. Mesothelioma did that. What I do struggle with is guilt over who I was. Was I enough? Was the argument worth it? How many hours, possibly even days did we go without speaking? Did I give enough? Did I provide? Was I nurturing enough? Did I put him, put us first? Was I positive enough, when I knew we were defeated at the beginning of this fateful journey? I will never have these answers. My right to choose to improve my marriage; improve myself as a wife, and be an active participant is over. It was stolen from me like so many things.
I have two choices. To be non-forgiving of myself. To cry and wallow in self-pity. To get angry at those around me that don’t fight for their partnerships. Those who take advantage of each other. OR to forgive myself and to forgive you at the same time. Your choices have nothing to do with me. I can assure you that if I am lucky enough to find love again that I will vow to give it my all. I will recognize marriage for the gift that it is. I will recognize that life comes around one time and I vow to give it more than a hundred percent, but only you can be in charge of you.
I know that guilt eats at those around me as well. People continue to make insensitive comments but I cannot change you and I would never ask you to censor yourself around me. What I would ask is that you don’t change your choices in words around me but that you think about them in general. Think and recognize the power behind your words. Recognize your power over yourself and your own life. I promise you if you are waiting for someone to come and change things for you, its’ not going to happen. You are in charge of you.
I would suggest that like me, you release the guilt. We gain nothing from feeling guilty other than second guessing ourselves and bringing ourselves down. Learn from the before and promise to make the future better. Recognize that life can be ripped from under you in no time. Remember that you are only human.
While I do not know what happens when we die, I believe we can say that we lie between two equally inconceivable possibilities: either the universe has always existed and time has no beginning, or something was created from nothing.
Either case makes each and every one of us a miracle. Do not waste your time here.
We all have vices. Things we turn to when angered, anxious, grief stricken, strung out. The word 'vice' however carries a negative connotation. It indicates something almost villainous or immoral may be occurring.
I however look at my vices as coping mechanisms. As long as it doesn't bankrupt me or put me in harms-way I believe buying extra shoes and occasionally indulging in something unhealthy is ok. Some people turn to exercise, cigarettes, food, drugs and alcohol, gambling, meditation, self-deprecation, humor, risk taking behaviors. The lists go on and on.
Someone asked me recently how did you cope with the death of your husband? (Almost as if the coping was over) She knew me well and said, "Did you just buy a lot of shoes?" Some days yes I did buy an extra pair of shoes, some days I felt the need to hit South Park. I engaged in drinking in excess on occasion, I walked on my treadmill until my feet were screaming in agony, I did in fact scream in the confines of my car. I ate cake. I did in fact cry a lot. The point is I wish I could give you a roadmap to manage your grief and inner turmoil that you might be facing but I can't.
Grief, along with so many other life challenges, are individual processes and processes that will never necessarily end. Last week after a particularly long day of stress and demands at work, followed by nightly sports activities and a late dinner followed by an even later bedtime I was feeling overwhelmed and down. I knew what I needed. I quickly changed into my work out clothes and hit the treadmill at 8:30 pm. I walked several miles at a neck breaking pace and I sobbed hysterically through about two and a half of them. I had to get those miles in and all but being dragged off that thing was going to stop me from hitting that mark. The tears rolled, I stumbled, my vision blurred but I kept going.
Sometimes you just need a release, emotional and physical. The combination of sobbing and exercising brought the stress, the grief, the anger, to the surface but then it was gone, it was out and I knew I would get up the next day feeling lighter and ready to take on the next challenge.
I can tell you two years later I'm in a better place mentally, physically and emotionally but there are still days the breath is stolen from me. Still days I want to crawl in a hole and be swallowed up. The injustice never leaves me. The battles I am fighting for my kids once again on the ball fields. The looks of disdain as I drop my five year old off alone at a birthday party. The looks of ignorance and judgement as if I ran their dad off. If it weren’t embarrassing to the boys I swear I would tattoo WIDOW across my forehead. In the end we all have vices. We all have those things that help us get through the day, get through the anger, the anxiety, the depression. Some could say I have an addiction to shoes but I don’t believe that addiction should be bothering anyone else.
I’ve come to realize through a lot of pain that my opinion at this time really is the only one that matters. The stares, the judgement, the ineptness of others, the ignorance- It is all simply noise. Find your vices. Find confidence. Recognize that you can cope. Use them and rise above the noise.
What were you doing 2 years ago? Do you remember? Seven hundred and thirty days. Two full years. Unbelievable. It can still make me drop every expletive in the book or drown a bottle of wine quicker than you'd imagine someone would have the ability to do so. I know how it feels to rather be numb than continue to breathe. I know what it’s like to have to listen to the incessant bitching about how unworthy people's spouses are and watch them take each other for granted all the while feeling the injustice of the situation.
I would give a limb to hear you complain about my choice of music in the car. I’d love to go on one more wild car ride with you. I promise I wouldn’t criticize you about the crazy way you were riding people’s bumpers. I’d even agree to watch the History channel and learn about topics that are beyond my intelligence level simply to be with you. Listening to you strum your guitar or belting out Big Shot; that's what my dreams are made of.
Honestly Daniel, it seems like years ago that we rode the elevator up into that chemotherapy office together and started the hell that ended up taking you down. Seven hundred and thirty days ago. I remember your mood, the smells, how hot the office was, how petrified I was, what played on the television in the waiting room, the other people sitting in the huge gaudy bluish chairs. I remember that sleeping lady we murmured about. The male receptionist that stared through us. I know what movie you watched to pass the time. I know when you pretended to rest. I remember what you ate. I remember the nurses and how the change in chemicals felt from your perspective. I remember your laugh as we carried on in our usual mischievous way.
You would have been so proud of us today. You would have loved the day the three of us shared in your honor, even when my first set of purchased balloons, bag and all, got stuck in the trees because I didn’t tie them off properly. Instead of being pissed, I simply smiled. You would say that everything does not need to be planned and to chill. I was listening today. They were just balloons.
We hope you reached out and grabbed our second set, Mickey from Reed and Spider Man from Lucas. I hope you listened to our songs and watched us dance and grabbed our hands and were right there with us. I hope you heard Lucas ask me to send you a cupcake and how I convinced him you would enjoy ours through us. I know you heard Reed's pleas to come home and see him today. We missed you.
Our wedding day, Cabo Wabo, the birth of our children, No pressure- no problem, Melanoma, the day Petey died- seven hundred and thirty days ago, your 33rd birthday joined this group of "forever days" that began the process of burning and branding me a different person than the woman you married.
Today however wasn’t about your absence. Today was simply about celebrating you and celebrating our family. If I could go back I would have held your hand more. I would have backed off on all the things that simply aren’t important and I would have celebrated US more. It’s so easy to look back and say coulda, woulda, shoulda, but to those reading this, I would tell you to do. You must take the steps and do. What will your life look like in the next seven hundred and thirty? I can assure you I never imagined in my scariest dreams that I would be sitting here, widowed with two kids under five. Tell those important to you that you love them.
Today Daniel, the day was for you. A day full of your favorite things. A day dedicated to you. Thank you for the strength. I know you see me fighting every single day and I know you are seeing the progress.
Hard to believe we are on thirty five. Happy Birthday Daniel.
I sat with friends the other night and one of the topics of conversation was their impending 40th birthdays. They sat around and complained about getting older and feeling older. The weight gain that they can’t get off as easily anymore. The increasing responsibilities at work and home. More wrinkles and more gray hairs. I sat and listened and nodded not having much to add. Inside my stomach was churning.
I wake up each morning and look at myself and like everyone else I overanalyze and recognize the need for self-improvement. I know I look tired. I am gaining more wrinkles around my eyes. I furrow my brows so often the deep forehead lines are really becoming evident as well. Instead of staring in the mirror and feeling bad about myself, instead of giving in to unrealistic societal standards I look at myself and think “I’m happy I got up today”. I’m happy I was given today. I celebrate those wrinkles as markers that show I am living and breathing. I celebrate my faults. I am happy to be here. I am happy to have been given another day.
As your own number turns this year, celebrate having another year. My husband didn't make it to 34.
Excerpt from “The Unexpected Widow:”
The sucker punch came on Monday morning, Jan. 26th, 2015.
I sat in that room by myself for what felt like hours. My mind raced. Did they tell me I’d be taken to a private room after surgery? Would the doctor meet me here? Is this normal? Should I be worried?
I tried to imagine the worst-case scenario. But what was the worst-case scenario, really? People don’t die during routine hernia surgery, do they?
“The news is not good,” the surgeon said. He sat on the couch opposite to me. I could tell by his tone and the empathy in his eyes this was serious.
“Your husband’s hernia is, in fact, fixed,” he said. “But we ran into some problems when we went in.”
“He had several masses in his stomach,” he stated. The surgeon didn’t know what to make of them but an initial report from the pathologist on call sounded deadly.
My head spun. The room started to go dark and I had to steady myself in the chair.
I’d heard of mesothelioma. On TV, in those horrible 1-800-ASBESTOS commercials.
“Has your husband ever been exposed to asbestos?” the surgeon asked, matter-of-factly.
“I’m not sure,” I whispered.
How does someone get exposed to asbestos? What IS asbestos? What are we talking here? Is it cancer? What is it?
“I’m so sorry,” the surgeon said.
I couldn’t think clearly. I couldn’t find my voice. I wanted to shriek, to scream, to grab him by the throat and ask, “What the hell are you talking about?”
Instead, I whispered, “Thank you.”
“Do you have any questions?” the surgeon asked, wrapping up.
Do I have any questions? I scream in my head. Of course I have questions! A million of them, in fact, but I can’t think of a single one right now.
I sat there a minute trying to regroup before I quickly began googling mesothelioma on my phone. Every website said the same thing: No prognosis. No cure. No treatment.
The rest of that morning was a blur, frankly. It’s like the world stopped, took a break and then started to turn again in a different reality. This wasn’t really happening. It wasn’t real. There’d been a mistake.
My life is now measured in two parts: ‘Before my husband died’ and ‘After my husband died.’ It is difficult to realize that people entering my life now only know me as the widow. They are unable to meet the amazing man who provided love and growth and also rightfully put me in my place. Those that did not meet me before are not meeting the same woman today. My experience has changed my thoughts and visions, my perceptions, my level of empathy, my level of patience, my own level of ignorance, my level of tolerance of others, my desires and my needs.
As time continues to tick by people are becoming bolder with the questions they ask me. I have said before the fog has lifted and indeed it mostly has. Do not however be confused in assuming there has been clarity. I still walk around this house in search of the one person I cannot have. I cannot remove the tears. I cannot alleviate my own pain. I cannot catch my breath. My strength wavers daily.
We are all searching for the same answers, the whys and the hows? Therefore I fully understand the desire to ask your questions. “Did you know he was going to die? How did he contract Mesothelioma? Have you contacted as many resources as you can? What would you do differently? When did you know he was sick? What did it look like?"
For the longest time my answer to the last question was that he still looked good. You might not have known he was sick if you didn’t know him I would say. I felt at the time that the change seemed gradual or maybe because I was his wife I just told myself that because it was easier.
Our last family photos we had taken were phenomenal. They are enlarged and spread around our home. I have proudly displayed them since the day I received them. However I am once again reminded that the fog is lifting. I stare at these huge photos that once brought peace and happiness because they were taken less than two weeks before we lost Daniel. Now, what I see when I look at them is death. They are screaming from the walls. They remind me of his last breath. The shapes and hard ridges. The swelling. The shortness of breath. The inability to get around.
What does death look like? It is staring me in the face every day.
Santa died at our house last night, along with everyone else.
Yes, I really just said that. Pick your jaw up.
A disclaimer should come with my play dates. Warning: topic of dying and death will be spoken about from small mouths. It’s inevitable. They think everyone dies, and in actuality they are correct.
Imaginary play is at its highest level in our home and it seems with that comes a lot of dying. Thus, Santa kicked the bucket yesterday. I don't interfere. I listen from afar and let it play out. I realize that they are simply trying to process the death of their father.
Lots of “I miss daddy” this season. Wet pillows. Sleepless nights full of tossing and turning. What has the second season without him felt like? Like someone is ripping my fingernails off one by one. Blood is pooling and I'm losing the feeling in my hands. The person who should be wrapping the tourniquet around my fingers is absent so the pain ensues and the blood continues to pour.
I have written and re written so many posts the last few weeks trying to evoke and share the good tones. Who wants to read something depressing from the widow right now? I’m with you, not me either. So I can share that we've seen a living Christmas tree, experienced a wonderful musical, we've played in snow and seen Santa and walked through McAdenville enjoying the lights. We've driven the speedway and built gingerbread houses. We’ve done Christmas crafts and made ornaments. I feel like if I can just give them more experiences it will ease their load. It will make the loss bearable. We all know that no matter how big or small the presents, no matter how many events I compress into the time between Thanksgiving and Christmas, no matter the activities, nothing will fill the void. But I just keep doing it. Maybe it’s not for them but for me. Maybe doing more blankets my own grief.
We are having a magical season together. That layer of pain however is heavy this second go around. It hurts. It's unwavering, more recognizable and in your face. I apologize that this is not full of Christmas cheer. I promise we are still dancing in the living room to carols and searching each morning for our mischievous elf. The boys are smiling and laughing and enjoying the magic. I am still fighting to fulfill my vows I promised to myself earlier this month.
Like everything else, this is just one more mountain to climb.
Happy Holidays to you and your family. Enjoy being together.
Meet the Author (me)
Driven by a need to help others. I have known from a young age that this is what I wanted to do. This is my very real, somewhat sarcastic, look into my newfound widowhood. I hope this site will help you as much as it helps me.