(Just) F•R•I•E•N•D•S

So no one told me life was gonna be this way.

In October I met a guy. He was charming, funny, handsome.. all of the things I like about men wrapped in one well dressed package.

Maybe my judgement was cloudy because I was lonely. Maybe we had actual chemistry. But what happened next was something that will take me a long time to get over. This is the story of how he came crashing in (and out of) my life. The whole, ugly, painful, screwed up story of how I trusted someone I shouldn’t have and came out on the other side a little bit more battered and bruised, but smarter. And about how sometimes the apology you deserve just isn’t the one you’re ever going to get.

I met him at Starbucks. I was drinking my pink drink with matcha and he sat down beside me. We instantly connected. I’ll spare you the details because I don’t want to focus on those or I may just cry. Let’s focus on what went wrong.

He had quite a reputation around town that I was unaware of. People tried really hard to get me to stay away from him, but he totally had me fooled. He had a response for every single thing people said. I believed every word, thinking that this guy couldn’t possibly be the monster people said he was. We even laughed and joked when I put him in my phone as “Dangerously Hot B”.

There were plenty of red flags, but I ignored them. He broke plans with me all the time. My friends were so exhausted hearing about him standing me up yet again and making up some ridiculous excuse for why he didn’t show up. We texted daily, sometimes all day. We talked about life and it was good.

But Q. She loved him from day 1. He was larger than life to her and she thought he hung the moon and stars. Seeing someone interact with my child that way was magical and I got sucked in. “Mr Bri Bri”, as she called him, started coming around more and more. She took to him. They laughed together. Took turns dragging me. Snap chatted good mornings and good nights to each other.

He wanted to keep our relationship “private” (red flag). He used his children as a reason, as a way to protect them from small town gossip. When people would approach me at work or church and ask if we were dating I was told by him to tell them that we were “just friends”. He would get irrationally angry whenever I was approached by anyone. He was very concerned with what the people in town thought about him. I was not. I was happy. We had fun together. We laughed a lot.

As the months went on, he would pull me in and then push me away, citing “gossips”. I just thought he wanted to be a super private person, so I went on the defensive just like he did. We talked every day. Our lives became more and more intertwined and out of town trips, late nights out, sleepovers, and hiding out at my house became a thing. At church, I was expected to walk right by him like I didn’t know him. He talked to me about telling Q that him staying at our house was private. I did all of these things, in the name of his privacy.

I pushed people away. People with genuine concern for my mental, emotional, and financial well being expressed concern and I got my feathers ruffled and told them to mind their own business. My association with him alienated me from people who had my best interests at heart. I wouldn’t listen to anyone. I was too far in.

I wasn’t allowed to meet his children. I was told that no one he dated did. This was after him spending entire weekends with me and my child. I sit literal feet away from his son at church and saying “hi” was just not something I was allowed to do. His children have no idea who I am. He wanted it that way.

In fact, no one had any idea who I was. I was the secret. The good time girl. The fun one. The one he could talk to all day long and tell his problems to and laugh with and call and I would drop everything to go out with him and stay out all night. But to everyone that asked, we were “just friends”.

I cannot begin to tell you the mental and emotional stress that comes from living a lie. He blamed it on not being able to be what Q and I needed (although I never asked him for a single thing), the pressure of dating a widow after the death of her well loved husband, his previous relationships.. he called it everything but what it was- he was completely comfortable with me being his secret.

I began to feel used completely up. He was draining me in every way possible and I felt like I was giving so much to someone who was just taking and taking and taking. He would tell me to post a picture of us and I would be so excited to finally feel validation in our relationship, only to have him freak out and tell me to take it down when I actually did. He began to dodge selfies (red flag). When we were in Europe for Christmas, he stayed at our house and sent cute selfies and called us on Christmas Day. When we flew back from Europe, he met us at Waffle House at 3am when Q was so jetlagged she couldn’t sleep and he came home with us and spent the weekend. And the next one. And the next one.

I suspected he was seeing someone else and gave him every opportunity to tell me that he was. He denied it. His stories didn’t line up. Seeing him became more sporadic. He claimed he was “focusing on his family”. It would’ve been the perfect opportunity to back off. At one point I even tried to break it off with him but he refused to listen to what I had to say and said he couldn’t “take that” right now. I know now that his motives for that had a lot to do with money. I poured every bit of my energy into helping him get his own life together. We went to Atlanta one last time in late February. I didn’t know it was going to be the last time. If I knew, I would’ve taken more pictures. This is the only one I took that weekend.

That day when we left the hotel in 2 different cars because we were going 2 different directions, he called me right after. He said “are you ok?”’and I said “yes, why wouldn’t I be?”

And that was the last time I’ve laid eyes on him. Over the course of the last month he started making excuses for why he couldn’t see me, blaming me for his problems, repeatedly telling me that we’re “just friends”. This has been the most confusing thing ever because it was completely contradictory from what he told me during the hot times. But he was ice cold. I needed a clean break and he wouldn’t give me that. He would say one thing and do another. It made no sense.

I have beat myself up for a month trying to figure out what I did wrong, how I could fix it, why he was still texting me like nothing ever happened, and how I could shake some sense into him so he would just act normal again, whatever our normal was. I begged. I pleaded. I bargained. I was willing to reduce myself down to the ridiculous relationship that he wanted with all of his rules about privacy just not to lose what we had.

When school was cancelled for coronavirus quarantine, Q and I had to cancel our trip to NYC. I knew that there was no way I could stay anywhere near him so I found us a place at the beach and we went camping. I spent 3 days crying. Q would go to sleep and I would just fall apart. Losing him felt like a death all over again, except he’s still walking around like nothing happened.

While I was at the beach I found out he’s also been dating someone else since November. To say that I’m devastated is an understatement. At any given moment he could’ve told me and I would have so much more respect for him than I do now. All of the things he wouldn’t allow me, spending time with his kids, actual dates in the town where I work and go to church, he did with her. He maintained to everyone that I was “just a friend”.

He has yet to be honest about what he has done. Through therapy, I now know that what I’ve been dealing with is classic narcissistic abuse. Our lives were intertwined on his terms as a form of control. He had me. I didn’t see it. I have clarity now.

Right down to the car I drive and how I pay my bills, he had all the control and I had none. I am giving him the opportunity to make it right in that way, but am otherwise not hoping that anything but closure comes out of this for me.

The thing that hurt the most was his manipulation of my daughter. He said he was coming to her birthday party, then 2 days ahead of time said he was not. She cried for 2 whole days. I will never forgive myself for inviting someone into my life that hurt her. She loved him. I loved who I thought he was, but I see now that who I thought he was and who he actually is are two very different things.

The discard phase almost killed me. His manipulation of me took me from a confident, able bodied person to a puddle of emotion. I’m working on healing from that.

He maintains we were “just friends” to anyone who asks, but I know the truth and so does he. I also know that I deserve much more out of life than someone who doesn’t think I’m good enough for his family when I spent months pouring all of my energy into making his life better. I had never dealt with anyone like him before, and now that I’m on the other side of it I see the signs I missed before.

I want to believe people are good and have good intentions, but I believe that my vulnerability as a fresh widow and my own empathetic personality put a target on my back.

I have shrunk to conform to the crazy rules he made for our “relationship”, but I’m slowly coming out of the fog. And I’m taking back what’s mine and walking away ok with never dating again, because I am strong, independent, and my eyes are wide open after being had by a liar.

He’s a Gaslighter. And I’m not in the dark anymore.

The Flashlight Foundation

Matt Smith was the most selfless person I’ve ever known. He was the first to offer a hand up to someone that needed it and would do so without hesitation. He would give someone his last dime and do it without fanfare or an expectation of praise. He often gave anonymously in simple ways, like buying a meal for a stranger, paying for someone’s groceries, or calling and paying a utility bill just to ease the everyday stresses of life.

When he was diagnosed with Stage 4 Colorectal Cancer in January 2018 at age 33, we were shattered. What happened next was truly amazing. Our entire community embraced us and made sure that we were ok. We experienced firsthand what it means to be the hands and feet of Jesus, because we had people that were just that for us. Strangers banded together to ensure we were making it financially and took care of everything they could to ensure we didn’t have to worry about anything but getting him well.

After a brave battle, he lost his life to cancer in August 2019. He was 35 years young and left behind a 6 year old daughter and me, his wife of 7 years. One of his final wishes was that we take our something horrible and use it as a way to continue his legacy of giving.

Out of our grief was born this idea. What if, despite all the bad in the world and the pain in our hearts, we could really make a difference in the lives of others?

Matt had an impressive collection of flashlights. He loved them. He would come home with a new one and I would groan and he would say “but it has eleventy billion lumens!” and he and our daughter would run into the darkest room to try it out. After his death we found flashlights stuck in every drawer we opened. The idea was born.

To carry on his legacy we have created The Flashlight Foundation. We hope that, together with our community far and wide, we can be the light for others in the same dark space we found ourselves in. Matt believed that he could change the world by loving people and giving freely without fear of the future, and we believe that, too.

The Coronavirus has brought the world to a screeching halt, but it didn’t take away the needs that families struggling have. Please help us help people in these scary days ahead. Though originally intended to help cancer patients and their children, we are opening up to anyone in need at this time.

“Believe in the light while you have the light, so that you may become children of light.”

– John 12:36

For more information and opportunities to help, follow our Facebook page @TheFlashlightFoundationBeTheLight

To nominate families that need help during these trying economic times, email me directly at cyndi.theflashlightfoundation@gmail.com.

Together we can make a big difference and offer hope in a dark world 🔦

Girl, Stop Crying, Be Confident, and Love People

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.

Interference

One of the hardest parts about grief is being alone in it. Grief can make you shut off the world. It can make you want to close up your heart and never let anyone else in to protect yourself.

I did that. Until I didn’t.

One of my widow friends told me a few weeks before Matt died that people would disappear after the funeral. I was shocked by this, because we were so surrounded by people and love and support. Then the funeral happened. For a lot of people invested in our story, that was the end of it. They slipped back into their normal lives and their presence in our lives faded. I shouldn’t have been surprised by this because I was warned. But I continue to be.

Then there are the people who are left. The problem with going from virtual obscurity to a small town spectacle because of a terminal illness is that people feel like they have a seat at your table. They feel like they can comment and discuss what you’re doing, with who, and why. They feel comfortable enough approaching you and asking deeply personal questions and interfere in your personal relationships. This has happened. This has put an enormous amount of stress and anxiety on my shoulders at a time when I didn’t need any more stress and anxiety.

Interference. From day one. Every move I make, every person I talk to, every friend I have is under a microscope. The inner workings of their lives are then scrutinized and picked apart when they did not ask to be involved in small town gossip. Their previously private lives become public because of simply associating with the grieving widow.

That’s not fair.

I share my grief so that it may help someone going through the same thing. I share our lives and stories about Matt because we had a wonderful life and it’s a life worth sharing.

But my personal friendships and the people I care about are off limits. Any relationship I choose to have or not have is not up for debate or discussion. Anything I do or don’t do isn’t anyone’s business. Yet people have dug in deep and used me as a way to pass the time with one another.

The problem with interfering with someone else’s personal life is that you destroy friendships. You hurt people. You cause stress and anxiety for people who already have stress and anxiety. You scare people away. You shut people down.

It hurts deeply. And I’ve had enough hurt to last an entire lifetime. Twice.

I have never had a friendship end basically because of other people, but I have now. Before you sit around and gossip about people, think about how much it hurts them. Think about that new feeling of meeting someone you click with and forming a friendship and having fun and feeling good, and then think about feeling awful and panicky and pressure because people have opinions that they not only won’t keep to themselves, but that they spread all around to other people. Half truths. Whole lies, even.

I didn’t deserve that.

He sure didn’t deserve that.

But here we are. More loss.

Losing people after you’ve lost your whole world is a new kind of pain I wasn’t prepared for. I don’t blame anyone for not wanting to deal with what we have to deal with on a daily basis. It’s a lot.

Your words matter. So careful who you tell what, because the pain you cause from your interference into my life is insurmountable. It leaves people wishing things were different and wishing the peanut gallery would’ve just shut up and let it be what it was going to be. It could’ve been great, but when associating with me means pain for the other person, everyone needs to take a giant step back and evaluate what their words have done to two people who deserved more than what they got.

I deserve privacy. Any man in my life does, too.

I will not play small town gossip games. I will shut you down.

Onward. A little more broken, forcing a smile when I want to cry forever, a little more banged up and a whole lot more hurt. But onward.

Zig Instead of Zag

I had a conversation a while back with a friend going through crisis. I asked what could’ve been done differently, or if there was one thing that maybe was the start of trouble. The answer was “I guess there were a lot of times I should’ve zigged instead of zagged”.

I get that. I wholeheartedly get that.

Oftentimes I lead with my heart and not my head. It gets me in trouble way more times than I care to admit, but it comes from a good place.

Through Matt’s diagnosis and treatment, I was full of so much hope. I refused to believe he was going to die, despite the statistics and specifics about his case right there in front of me. One of my biggest regrets is that I made him think he could beat it, too. I was his constant cheerleader, always building him up for the next step. And he just kept trying and trying, because I wanted him to.

And that was when I zigged when I should’ve zagged.

I unknowingly put pressure on him because I believed that there was nothing he couldn’t do. I believed that with a good attitude and a smile, he could push through. And push through he did.

In the last few weeks of his life, when the decision to die on hospice was made, we had a lot of sacred conversations. A lot of what we talked about I will never share. It’s just for us. But I asked him if we did all we could’ve done. He looked at me with the bluest eyes ever and told me he wished he never would’ve even done chemo. He believed that his time on earth was the same whether he received treatment or not, and treatment broke him. It hurt my heart to hear him say those words because I knew the only reason he fought as hard as he did was for us.

That’s love, sacrificing your comfort to be there for someone else. But it’s a horrible way to die.

Since Matt died in August, I have tried to make decisions I wouldn’t regret.

I have failed miserably. I’m so full of emotions and love that I have nowhere to put and fear and doubt and energy and sadness that it clouds my judgement. I’m leading with my heart and not my head, because my heart is much stronger right now. I feel alone in a room full of people. For a year and a half my life was one big cancer fighting adrenaline rush. I find myself chasing that adrenaline rush and coming up short.

I’m sad. That’s hard to type, but I am.

When I’m completely overwhelmed I think about our easy life in Atlanta. We were so happy. We spent weekends in parks at festivals and loved every minute of it. I don’t know why we ever thought it was a good idea to leave our urban paradise.

We zigged when we should’ve zagged.

Right now I’m focused on surviving this season of life. Right now it’s cold, dark, rainy, and depressing. but spring is coming. And I’m ready for sunshine and peace.

Love is All You Need

Six months ago my whole world came crashing down around me. I could focus on that.

Or I could focus on what happened after the fall.

Watching my husband suffer from a terminal illness and die in front of me was a defining moment in my life, but it is not the moment that defines the rest of my life. I could use it as a crutch and limp through the rest of my life as the wounded bird people expect me to be, or I could use it to elevate my thinking beyond societal norms.

I choose the latter.

Losing my husband at a young age broke my heart, but it didn’t break my spirit. It broke my family, but it didn’t break me as a person. If anything, it taught me what’s important and what’s not important.

It’s important to love people. It’s easy to love people when life is wonderful, but when life gets really tough and you feel unlovable, that’s when you really learn what love is all about.

Living this life has taught me to love harder than I ever have before, and how to understand the pain and suffering people all around us endure on a daily basis. I find myself loving the people who need it the most extra hard, and to people who haven’t experienced life changing loss, this looks like weakness on my part.

But it’s not. It’s real love.

Loving broken hearts is hard, but the broken ones are the ones who need it the most. Love equals understanding, and the people who life has beat down need more understanding than anyone. They are the people who push you away over and over again, but you have to keep showing up for them. I’m so thankful that the people I pushed away didn’t give up on me. I hope that I can be that light for someone else, and I hope I’m receptive to those who choose to keep shining their light for me.

Love is patient. Love is kind. Love transcends all understanding. Love will break your heart and hurt your soul, but I have never once regretted loving someone. Loving someone makes you lovable, and if there is anything I can take away from the loss of Matt, it’s that love is really all any of us need.

Normal

Some days I don’t remember what normal even was.

I know I used to enjoy life. It takes an enormous amount of energy to enjoy life now.

One of the most difficult things about losing a spouse is trying to figure out what days are supposed to look like as a single parent. I have never been afraid to be alone, but alone with a small child, a house, 2 dogs, a cat, and everything that comes along with all of that is stressful. I remind myself constantly that there is no rule book or schedule for any of this. I try to keep to our routines so that Quinn can have as much normal as I can give her right now.

Some days I fall short. Today I felt like I did, but maybe I didn’t? She said this was the best day ever and all we really did was watch movies, read books, and make dinner together.

Depression and anxiety compounded with grief is hard. It makes everything seem so much harder than it has to be, from socializing to doing simple things like housework. Everything feels overwhelming. Everything feels like it’s too much. I want to be surrounded by people because I’m scared of what I’ll feel if I’m not, but I also want to be left alone because life can get too peopley for me really quickly and I shut down.

I find myself constantly wanting to run away from every bad feeling and unfortunately that’s not how any of this works. I have to allow myself to feel the grief completely or it just sneaks up on me and comes out when I least expect it anyway. There is no way around it. Only through it.

Normal for us used to be comfortable. Normal was a happy home. Normal was a house full of laughter and people and love. Normal was stability and comfort.

I think the loss of stability and comfort scares me the most. I miss that feeling.

I wish I knew what was next. I wish I could just see the other side, because I think if I could I would feel better about everything instead of walking around with a heavy sense of dread all the time. Anxiety takes over and I don’t sleep.

I’m terrified to lose people close to me. I’m scared of losing any more friends than the ones who have already faded into the background of our lives now that Matt is gone. I’m scared to lose the people I confide in. I’m scared to lose family members, even though I know that is inevitable. I need everything to just hold steady for a while.

I’m trying to remember who I was before the world got its hands on me. I’m trying to get back to normal, whatever that is going to be from now on.

Before I Die

Years ago, we came across this Before I Die board in Georgia. Matt thought about what he wanted to write and we walked around on a beautiful, warm Georgia day. When we came back to the board he quietly walked over, picked up the chalk, and started writing.

“Before I die I want to see my Quinn grow up”

We never thought for a second that he wouldn’t live to see that.

Six months ago today, he took his last breath here on earth. Every hope and dream we had for our future together died with him that day. For the rest of her life, she will live without her biggest fan- her dad.

Dads have a hard job. They are the providers, the ones who are supposed to always be strong, the ones who carry the family through the good times and bad. Watching Matt unable to do that for us killed me. He was always the one who made sure we were ok. Dads don’t get a break from the weight of the responsibility of taking care of a family because they are sick. It’s still there, it just crushes them more when they are unable to function.

I have learned a lot about life since cancer came into our lives. I used to think financial stability, a nice house, nice cars, and money in the bank meant something. I know now that my priorities were skewed.

Matt lived life to the absolute fullest. He was always the first one to book a trip, take a day off to do something fun, and calm my nerves when I thought things we were doing cost too much. He understood the value of a moment. Maybe somehow he knew his moments were limited, but I have adopted his way of thinking.

Life is short. Your kids are only kids for a little while. Our daughter will be 7 next month and, as much as I wish it wasn’t true, the years are flying by. I will forever cherish the memories he worked so hard to make with her. I will never regret one trip, one expensive event, one special thing with her and for her. She was his whole world and they were both mine.

20 years from now, your kids won’t care whether you were the most successful person at work. They won’t care whether or not you always made them most responsible choices, they will know you made choices with love.

Your kids will remember that time dad came through with something amazing for them.

When I look back over my own childhood, I see my parents working hard to give us the world. I see them showing up for baseball games and dance recitals and pageants and every other event we had. I know they struggled at times, but the love was there to drown out the troubles.

Matt showed up. From day one, he never let her down. If you can take anything at all from our tragedy and apply it to your life, let it be this: The days are long but the years are short. Make them count.

He won’t see her grow up. But we will continue to live every day of this life we have like he would’ve wanted us to, soaking up every opportunity we’ve got.

Take the trip.

Do all the things.

Family > work. Always.

Love each other. Because in the end, that’s all we really have anyway. Everything else is just noise.

Getting Over the Rainbow

Sunday I got up and went to church. This weekend was emotionally draining for a lot of reasons. The weight of everything felt crushing and nothing I tried gave any kind of relief. I wish I could just sleep away the pain, sadness, and anxiety of everything. I can’t. Sleep has never come easy to me and it definitely doesn’t now. I do my best thinking and overthinking overnight.

Sunday morning during the church service the worship team started singing Matt’s favorite song, the one from his funeral. I felt my knees buckle underneath me and I immediately sat down. I had been holding back tears all morning and they just fell out. A sweet friend was right behind me in seconds when she saw me go down and she comforted me while I fell apart.

And then, it happened. What always happens when I let anyone see any emotion other than “ok”.

I got mad.

I get irrationally mad at myself for crying in public. It doesn’t happen often at all. I know that part of grief involves tears, but I prefer not to fall apart in front of people. Ever. My inner dialogue was saying “Great! This is exactly what everyone wants, a front row seat to the grief show”.

Grief sneaks up on you. The silly things that have triggered meltdowns since Matt died make no sense. Songs, commercials, seeing something he loved, getting mail addressed to him.. all things that have made me sob.

I have always felt as though I can mentally push myself through any trauma in my life. Falling apart, especially in public, has always felt like a failure of strength. This was no exception. Instead of feeling relieved that I could let it out, I felt embarrassed that I allowed myself to.

Grief is complicated.

As adults we are expected to be strong. We have to hold it together at work, home, kid’s functions, church, and out with the general public. What we don’t understand is that everyone around us is falling apart at one time or another throughout the day.

Maybe I was incredibly naive before Matt’s illness, but I lived such a charmed life that I was blind to the struggles of others. It never occurred to me that anyone around me was hurting this bad until I was hurting this bad. Now I see it. And I feel the pain of others because I understand it more.

It’s easier to be emotionally numb than it is to pull the bandaid off and deal with what is happening. Numbing the pain with different things helps and I dare someone to judge me for it. My drug of choice is red wine. My second drug of choice is Starbucks.

Carrying around the weight of grief is all-consuming. I have struggled with anxiety for as long as I can remember and losing my husband and becoming the soul provider for our daughter has sent me deeper into the panic feeling I fought so hard for years to overcome.

Talking about mental health is a conversation we need to have.

It’s ok to feel alone in a crowded room.

It’s ok to talk to your friends about the meds you’re on.

It’s ok to admit to people that you haven’t slept in days.

It’s ok to call in after being awake all night.

What’s not ok is facing depression alone. Everyone needs someone to remind them that everything is temporary.

Life.

Illness.

Love.

Jobs.

Stress.

Anxiety.

Depression.

Fear.

Panic.

A song that took you out at the knees.

Everything.

I think the true tragedy here is that mental health has such a stigma attached to it that oftentimes people would rather just die than see anyone watch them fall apart.

The Wizard of Oz has been my favorite movie since childhood. I have a deep love for Judy Garland.

In her own words:

“I tried my damnedest to believe in the rainbow that I tried to get over, and I couldn’t. So what. Lots of people can’t.”

I feel this so deeply right now. Getting through the day is hard. Getting through the night is harder, which is why I’ve been up since 2:30am.

What can you do to help the person on the verge of falling apart at any given second?

Love them. Be the person who sees them at the end of their rope and offer them yours.

Understand that people struggling can function on very high levels and still fall apart.

Understand that we will laugh. Smile. Make jokes. It’s a way to cope.

Teaching myself that overcoming something that feels so insurmountable will require me to, at times, show my grief in public. I’m trying to be gentle with myself. I’m trying hard to talk it out with the people I trust the most.

I’ll get over that rainbow. I hear the skies are blue and the dreams you dare to dream really do come true.

Love Sucks

Once upon a time I was a bitter divorcee. My marriage failed. I’ll split the blame with my ex. I may be the most difficult person on the planet to live with. My daddy’s favorite thing to tell men I date is “Godspeed”.

I wasn’t open to falling in love again. I had no intention of ever getting married again. I didn’t want to let myself love anyone else because I was terrified of getting hurt. But our friendship turned into an almost obsession with each other. He lived in England and I lived in Atlanta and we texted almost all day every day and video chatted multiple times a day. Absence definitely made the heart grow fonder.

When he came to America to visit, it was like a dream come true. I was in love. Real, terrifying, scary love. I jumped in with my whole heart and trusted when I thought I never would again.

The funny thing about love is you can rarely control who you fall in love with. I’ve loved some real jerks. I’ve halfway loved some really nice guys. But Matt was the first person to make me feel completely comfortable and content. I didn’t have that restless feeling with him. I was at home in his presence and in his arms.

One night, while we were laying in bed after our screaming baby finally fell asleep, he asked me a question I couldn’t answer honestly. He asked me if I would ever leave him. I think everyone has a list of things in the back of their minds that would cause them to abandon the Love Boat. I wanted to tell him “no, nothing would ever make me leave you”. But I couldn’t say those words. I did used to threaten to move out and live with his parents if he ever divorced me so he would be forced to visit me when he visited them. He didn’t think that was near as funny as I did.

I wish I would’ve told him the truth. Nothing in the world would’ve ever made me leave him. I felt such a bond and a connection with him that only strengthened with his stage 4 cancer diagnosis. We fought. We went to bed mad sometimes. I googled divorce attorneys a couple of times. But we kept trying and kept loving each other through the ups and downs of marriage.

Our marriage was not perfect. We could ride each other’s nerves and annoy each other, but he was my person.

I feel so lost without him most days. Sometimes I sit in the garage, his favorite room in the house, where the bullet box is that holds some of his ashes and just talk to him. Sometimes I cry. Sometimes I yell into the air at him when his dogs do something really stupid. I used to think all of this made me a little insane, but now it feels like just a normal way to handle grief.

Love sucks.

Sometimes it sucks the life right out of you.

Sometimes it sucks away your free time and any semblance you had of a normal life.

Sometimes it sucks away your identity to the point that you don’t even know who you are anymore or what you liked before love.

Sometimes it sucks so bad it hurts.

Loving Matt sucked.

It sucked away all my fears and replaced them with hopes for the future.

It sucked away my anxiety and replaced it with stability and comfort.

It sucked away everything I didn’t think I deserved and replaced it with a little blonde hair, blue eyed miracle that keeps me equally insane and sane at the same time. I can’t figure out how she does that. Motherhood is weird.

Losing Matt sucked. It has sucked the life out of me and left me a shell of a person. I would do it all over again just to spend the time I had with him a second time.

Feeling empty sucks.

Depression sucks.

Anxiety sucks.

Sleeping alone sucks.

Being scared for the future sucks.

But for a brief moment in time, life did not suck. And I hold on to the possibility that one day, some how- I’ll feel that way again.