If It Hadn’t Gone So Sideways…

It’s Easter and I don’t consider myself a religious person by any means, haven’t for a very long time. But it is a holiday that families get together to celebrate and this year it’s been upended by the coronavirus outbreak. People are still making it work with virtual calls to their family, and for that I am glad technology exists.

I can’t help thinking about the life I could have had if the past three years hadn’t gone so sideways. April of 2017 was our third cycle of trying for our first kid. I had everything tracked and ready, knew exactly what to time and when. And we did it, by the beginning of May I had my first positive pregnancy test and I bought little soccer shoes to give to Dan to tell him. Our excitement was short-lived when the first ultrasound revealed no shape, no heartbeat. Three surgeries and almost a year later I’d learn the embryo likely implanted on a uterine septum I didn’t know I had. But the scarring from the first two surgeries had done their damage, and when we finally had some breathing room the walls caved in with Dan’s terminal cancer diagnosis.

Now in the second of year of life without Dan, I’m sitting at our kitchen table, in the midst of a pandemic, thinking about how if both bad situations had never happened we’d be walking around our back yard with our 2 year old, helping him or her find the eggs, taking pictures and video along the way. We’d be sending them to family and posting on social media with everyone else. It’s so weird to vividly see that life in contrast to the one I actually have right now. Solo with two cats yet a great support system, but still smacked by grief every now and then.

I know I’m never going to be “over this.” I know the healing process is not linear and parts of me will never fully heal. I know not everyone is going to understand or be able to handle that, I sure don’t expect anyone to carry me through this. I know I have to walk it on my own, continuing to figure out what this life is going to become. I know I’ll eventually find myself in a place and state where the earthquakes don’t rattle me so much and I can steady myself through the tremors. I’m not sure when that will be or what it will look like, and time seems to be moving so slow right now.

I’m looking forward to the day I can safely hug another human being again and not worry about getting them sick. I look forward to playing on the pitch with my friends and yelling when the ref makes a bad call, knowing I picked up too much from Dan’s years of reffing to not say anything. I look forward to getting back to the things that were helping me cope and pick up the pieces of my sideways life, and finding out just who I am going to be for the rest of it.

I Miss You

Fourteen months ago I held your hand and told you it was okay to let go, that it was okay to leave. That we would all be okay. Fourteen. It seems like it is both a minute and ten lifetimes ago. The world is so different right now. No soccer, no races to run, no physical human contact. Everyone is hunkering down as best as they can, and your absence has never felt so raw and vast as it does right now.

I was supposed to be doing a virtual yoga retreat, and instead I sat on the back steps and cried. I watched an older couple walk the trail, someone else with their dog. The awareness that even if a couple is separated right now by having to distance and quarantine, they eventually get to (hopefully) see their person at the end of this is so heavy. Heavy because for me at the end of this, it’s still what it has been for fourteen months: the awkward stumble through the days hoping at some point I’ll feel like I am not making a big mess of everything. I won’t feel like the odd person in the group, the physical reminder of “the worst that can happen.” Honestly I don’t feel like that all the time, but the things that distract and do their best to fill that void are gone right now. I can’t travel, I can’t engage in the sports that carried me to you and through losing you. I can’t hug or touch anybody. So all I can focus on is that during this time, we should be in it together. You should be here, working from home, complaining about all the damn IT tickets you have to sort through, and you’re not. It’s silent. Unless I call someone or talk to the cats, no human voice fills this house anymore. And while before you I was used to that, now it seems so strange. My brain cannot accept it at times. It can’t make sense of it.

I have been doing things, lots of things on my own. Like yesterday, I weeded and edged the garden. I posted about it on social media. I post a lot of things on social media. Some might think it’s this need for external validation, and maybe it is a bit. Not for the obvious reasons. The truth is, I could share something that went viral, millions and millions could like and share and praise it, but it wouldn’t matter. None of it matters because the one person, the one voice I want to hear recognition from no longer speaks in words that I can hear. You are silent, and have been for some time.

Fourteen months. It seems so short when I think about the possibility that there are many clusters of fourteen months ahead. Is that how long it is going to take? Waiting for when maybe, if there is such a thing, our souls will reconnect again. I like to think you are sending people to me during this time, to boost and carry, to distract and heal. But, some days, it feels like there isn’t anything to any of this, and those days, like today, are really, really hard. This isn’t how it should be. And this isolation only emphasizes it.

I miss you all the time, Dan, but especially today, I miss you more. When I walked down the aisle, it was to a string instrumental of Incubus’s song “I Miss You.” It’s a bit of a weird choice for a wedding, but that version is so beautiful, and the first words of the actual song were something that resonated with how I felt with you in my life, every morning. It’s funny how now, knowing all that happened, the song is still very relevant. Very real. It’s been more than ten days, and some points I really do feel like I am wasting away. I worry how people react to knowing those things, knowing the deeper feelings. Everyone wants you to tell them what I said we would be when I was holding your hand that night: okay. And over all, I think I am. Most of the time. But when I miss you, when I really, deeply, soul-shatteringly miss you, I don’t know what okay means.

But I promise you, I will figure it out.

Dreaming

Widows and widowers often hope for their departed person to visit their dreams. I’m convinced they likely do more than any of us remember, but often you can hear a widow lament they “never” dream of the one they miss the most. I’ve had a few dreams with Dan, amd they are always comforting and loving.

A few nights in a row now, regardless of when I head to sleep, I’ve found myself waking almost on the dot at 3:30am. The time has no known significance for me in regards to Dan, he passed on a Tuesday evening close to 8pm. But the repetition of this waking hour is intriguing. Usually I doze back to sleep, or futz around thinking and eventually pass out.

A couple nights ago, after finally getting back to sleep I started dreaming. In the dream, someone told me (no idea who this was, a mysterious detached voice?) that Dan was here and healthy. I saw him, beard intact, smiling, and instantly felt that comfort that’s been missing for almost 14 months now. I was told we could spend the day together, doing anything we wanted. I don’t recall all of the activities, but I remember us laughing, having a great time, thoroughly enjoying each moment.

The end of the day approached and it was made known that this was a do-over of the last day Dan had alive, that instead of being sick he got to spend it with me, doing anything he wanted.  I was then given a choice.  I could take this day with me as a beautiful memory, and go back to the life I’ve been living without Dan, replacing the memory of the actual last day I had actually had with him.

My other option was to stay here, in this Groundhog Day like existence, redoing this day over and over again with Dan for eternity.

I woke up before I ever got to speak my choice.

And It’s Okay

The first year following the loss of your partner is a complete mindfuck at times. You have all these “firsts” to push through: the first holidays, the first anniversary of when you met, when you got married, when they died. You don’t know how you get through it, but you do.

Then the second year comes.

You think, “okay, I got through ALL of those hard dates, I did it. Now I have to do it… again? And again? For the rest of my life? What the fuck.”

I’ve heard/read/seen that the years following the first year can be even harder than the first. Reality has set in. You can’t cash in all those trials to get your person back. You are here, they are not, and this is it. Whatever happens next is on you and you alone. Sometimes that can be utterly soul crushing to think about. Other times it’s enlightening. You have made it through a terrible time, you survived one year, surely you can survive even more. The days will have ups and downs, triumphs and failures. Things you can’t believe you figured out how to do, and simple things you can’t remember how to accomplish. It cycles and spirals and can leave your head spinning if you don’t find a way to occasionally ground yourself.

Yet the drifting isn’t always so bad. Your anchor is up, you have no idea where you will make landfall, but you know when you do you’ll just figure it out. The best plan is having no plan, no expectations. Because as much as you can read and absorb the experiences of those who have been through this before you, it won’t exactly be the same. It won’t completely align with the expectations you create for yourself from this extensive grief research you have conducted night and day. You’ll be kind of prepared but not really. But it’ll be okay. You’ll just figure it out, like all of those times before, over and over again. You’ll be strong when you hate being strong, bracing against the storms you’d rather just sleep through. Soon they break and you can see the light, the sun. You expand your lungs and just breathe.

And it’s okay. It’s been 13 months, and it’s okay.

There Are Too Many Options

I’ve been hit with writing blocks.  Well, that isn’t exactly accurate.  I write a lot of things in my head.  All the time.  There is a constant chatter-wheel of thoughts and stories and things I want to share zooming through my brain-space, especially when I am doing something routine and near-automatic.  But, often in those instances I am not near a keyboard, notebook, or place where it is appropriate to be on my keyboard or writing in a notebook.  I squash the thoughts away and sometimes they return, but more often they are forgotten to the place where all unrealized creativity goes.  That hasn’t been the only reason for my blocks.  I stopped engaging in the writing group because I felt overwhelmed by how many “better” writers there were.  This spiraled into a bit of self-loathing about writing and wondering why anyone would want my voice, that of a fairly privileged white female, added to the masses.  I’m not asking for an ego boost here, just being honest about why after a flurry of activity things died a little.  But, to get better at writing you need to simply write, so here I am pulling my own proverbial teeth to try to get over this inspirational hump of sorts.

You, guys.  I just have to say being a widow brings about something that might seem like it could be “exciting” but in reality it is terrifying, confusing, consuming, paralyzing.  I guess you could say there is some element of excitement, but not in the “yay!” more in the ” think I can try this but I’m fucking scared” way.

There are too many options.

Loss is terrible for all parties involved, but the widow/widower’s reality suffers a very unique upheaval.  There are countless posts, books, articles about the profound impact death has on the widow, especially the young widow.  To break it down simply, your entire future plans are put into a dumpster, said dumpster is set on fire, and then a tank blows it up.  In my case, we got married, we tried to start a family, we bought a house, and then Dan died.  I am no longer married in the technical sense, I could potentially still have our kids, and I now live in a house that was supposed to be increasingly filled with people and not cats (though the cats are tempting…).

What do I do now?

The future I chose, the future I decided I wanted, is gone and I cannot have it back no matter how much I try to barter with the universe.  I have to choose something else now.  Not all choices have to be made with immediacy, but some have to be made sooner than others.  I’m going to be 37, not 27, and that has a lot of heavy pressure.  Do I trudge forward with what we banked and become a single parent?  What if I wanted to get married again?  Do I actually want to get married again?  Do I even want to stay in Pennsylvania?  Where would I go?  What would I do?  Who am I becoming?  What parts of me that I was used to no longer serve this weird combination of new me and old me?  What do I do for the holidays?  Last year I traveled, but is that sustainable?  Can I actually afford to keep the life that I currently have?  Do I want the life I currently have?  Am I just living the shell of the path Dan and I were walking?

How am I going to figure any of this out?

Each of these splits in the road have multiple splits of their own, and if you are the type to argue with yourself internally and imagine every scenario possible then you can imagine how many difficult nights I have had trying to fall asleep with all of this spinning at hyper-speed.  “Maybe you should see a therapist, and meditate” you might say to me.  I’ve already got the first half of that, and the second I am working on.  But ultimately, all of these options, all of these choices have to be made by me and me alone.  I cannot let anyone dictate the path, because if it is wrong that just opens the can of worms of resentment and I don’t want to have any of that heaped on the well-meaning people in my circles.  It’s tough, it’s so gut-wrenchingly fucking tough.  At times it seems the further out I get from when I lost Dan, the more confusing and unreal life becomes.

I can only hope through being open and curious, unapologetic and determined, leaning into what scares me a little, I can sift through the infinite options my life has ahead of me and figure out what the new path is.  And maybe the “new path” is just taking a few steps, being okay only knowing what those few steps are.  Being a little uncomfortable but accepting of the fact I may not know where the road bends and loops.

I really have no idea, but I’m trying, because a little over a year ago I said goodbye to my love, my husband, my future, and woke up alone.