I have spent many sleepless nights in thought about how Matt’s cancer and the last 2 years of my life has shaped who I am as a person. Examining yourself and being honest about the inner workings of your life is sometimes really hard to do, especially after experiencing such a huge loss.
I have always been too much for people.
Too tall, too big in a world that expects to women to shrink down to nothing to meet societal expectations, too loud, too opinionated, too happy, too positive, too blonde, too ambitious, too much of a dreamer, too outspoken, too open, too much of a nonconformist, too quick to share my feelings (because life is short and that matters to me), too confident.. all of these are core character traits that people have tried to minimize in me over the years.
I do what I want, dress how I want, live how I want, love how I want, give how I want. None of these are bad things- they are what make me different and unique.
For most of my youth, I tried to conform. These were not things that were celebrated in the 80s and 90s by anyone but my parents. I was constantly trying to fit in. That didn’t work out well for me.
I was raised by strong parents who taught me that standing out and being different was the only way to live, because they knew who I was as a person. Marching to the beat of your own drum isn’t something that was appreciated when I was a kid. But now I have little eyes watching my every move and the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree. My daughter has been a different kid from day one. I have always encouraged her to be unapologetically herself. I want her to have so much confidence that people don’t know how to take her. I want her to know her worth, double it, and add tax.
Something weird happens when you become a public spectacle, whether it be from a terminal illness or some other life altering change. Your confidence is shaken. You struggle to figure out who you are or what you’re supposed to be anymore. You feel the weight of expectations on your shoulders and start to try to conform to please everyone around you.
That’s not who I am. It will never be who I am. I don’t care if I ever sit at the cool kids table again, because the people I surround myself with are assets to my life and spend their time trying to build people up, not tear people down.
It bothers people that I am confident. It bothers people that I wear the clothes that I wear or that I dare to be 5’9 and wear 4 inch heels. It bothers people that I wear a 2 piece swimsuit in the summer because someone of my size usually does not. It bothers people that I paint red lipstick on the lips that I was teased about my whole life. It bothers people in a bad way that I love myself, and am ok if I never lose a single pound, because I’ve walked through disordered eating and the stress that comes along with that. This body has carried me through hell and back and I don’t hide it just because I’m not a size 2.
Recently my daughter has experienced bullying at school. The people who have been unkind to her likely have no idea what we’ve been through the last 2 years, they just see a target and go after her relentlessly. She’s trying to navigate complex feelings of grief that most 7 year olds couldn’t possibly understand. Her confidence has been as shaken as mine. It makes me sad that her seeing me buckle under the pressure of the people around me caused her to, too.
I never anticipated raising her without my husband. I never anticipated feeling broken and still having to try to build her up. Some days I feel like I’ve failed her, and others I feel like we both have to grow through the loss of her dad and with that comes highs and lows.
Here’s what I know- you can be broken and still be loved. You can grieve and still be happy. You can feel different and still be confident. The biggest compliment anyone can give me is to tell me they love my confidence. When other people notice that in me, I know they are my people.
Grief is weird. I am lucky enough to have a strong group of women around me who get it. They see what I’m going through and don’t let their view of me get skewed by what they think I should be doing right now. People don’t understand anticipatory grief. I knew Matt was dying. He didn’t die of a shocking, sudden heart attack. He died of a terminal illness on his own terms after giving it all he had to be here for us. We left absolutely nothing unsaid. I knew how much he loved us and we talked about our future without him. Above all, he wanted us to be happy. When I started casually dating after he passed away, people were not ok with that. They didn’t understand that I had moved onto the rebuilding and reconstruction part of grief. Their thought process was that I should be walking around sobbing all day long. More than anything, he wanted me to move forward. So I did. And I will continue to.
Matt was the love of my life. I would do anything for him to still be here. But he’s not. Cancer took him and left me to pick up the pieces of my life and try to fit them back together into something I could be proud of. I have had dark days, but I realized recently that those days had more to do about the unrealistic expectations people had placed on me and less to do with who I am as a person.
I’m loyal. If you’re one of my people, you can call me in the middle of the night and I’ll talk you through it, I will show up for you, I will give you my last dime, I’ll feed you, I’ll cry with you, I’ll float a box of wine with you, and, even when you decide that I’m too much for you, I’ll still be there. It’s just who I am.
I so hope she’s seeing that. I hope she learns from me the importance of loving people anyway, through the good, bad, and ugly. Through the pain, through the ups and downs of life, love them when it’s hard, when it’s easy, when it feels like the love is completely one sided, when you wonder if you’re too much or not enough.
Just love. Love can make a cold, dead heart come alive. Love can change someone’s life.
Showing up for people is important. Showing up for them when they cannot show up for themselves is one of the most important things you can ever do for anyone. When Matt died, people scattered. For many, the funeral was the end of the road for them. I became public enemy number one with some of my couple friends being “newly single”, and that hurt. The dynamic of the relationships I had when Matt was here changed completely.
That’s a lonely road to walk alone.
But the people walking with me now are priceless. The celebrate me even when I can’t celebrate myself. They build me up and help me get some of that confidence back I lost.
There will always be people I’m too much for. Quinn is looking to me to see what to do next and now to handle the stress and anxiety that comes with big tragedy. I want her to be so confident that when tragedy strikes her life, she feels comfortable enough to be excited about what’s next. I want her to go on that date, kiss that boy, make plans for fun trips, laugh a lot, and love people even when it hurts. It’s the only way to truly live an authentic life.
And I am confident. I’m confident in the way I dress, walk, talk, how I love, and how I treat people. I know that the unkind people of the world don’t have that kind of confidence, and that they see it as a threat.
If you’re going through challenging times in your life, there is hope. You don’t have to wallow in self pity and grieve the way people expect you to grieve. There is no timeline. There is no rule book. Throw out the expectations of everyone who feels like they’re invested enough in your life to have an opinion and your confidence will bounce back with a vengeance. Fill other people’s cups, but don’t forget to fill yours, too.
Girl, be confident and love people. And don’t give up, because you have everything you’ll ever need inside of yourself to be happy. And maybe, just maybe, we can show the next generation of little girls how to handle life without shutting down. Maybe we can teach them to love themselves when the world tells them differently.