Falling

Leaves are falling from trees. This isn’t news to anyone, but to me it signifies a change in seasons and another season my husband is not here for. It’s another milestone in the grief process, and it means holidays are coming. More things he’ll miss. More times we’ll miss him.

Today at church my anxiety was at a fever pitch. I couldn’t relax. I scanned the doorways the whole time. I breathed and inhaler’d my way through a panic attack to keep from having to walk out. My whole body hurt. I begged God to take away my anxiety and my pain. I found comfort in the sermon and comfort in familiar songs. I found comfort in my church family. My best friend’s son, arguably one of my favorite humans, saw me struggling and gave me the biggest hug. I’m surrounded by good people. The best of the best, even the young ones.

After church my anxiety got worse, not better. That unsettled, uneasy feeling couldn’t be shaken. I promised my daughter we would go to our favorite after church lunch place and we did, but I couldn’t enjoy it. Dread set in and would not leave. We sat where my back was against the wall so I could see all entrances and exits. I picked at my food, but couldn’t finish it. She helped.

Grief feels different on different days, but today it feels like I’m free falling and grasping for anything to bring me comfort. Today it feels like I’ll never be happy again, that I’ll be alone forever, and that this feeling will never go away. It feels like I don’t know how to be happy again because I’ve lived in survival mode for so long that I’m just doing the bare minimum to get by. I see people happy and smiling and I’m angry that my happiness is gone. I’m angry that my daughter has to see me on edge, unable to relax on what is usually our favorite day of the week. I’m angry at the narcissistic asshole I dated after my husband died that took so much from us and then walked away like nothing happened. I’m angry that I have to suffer the consequences of his actions. I’m angry that, in the lowest time of my entire life, he came along and hurt me more.

After lunch we went to Target and that was a mistake. I have been ordering everything I need online to avoid stores but I couldn’t get a Shipt delivery today so I sucked it up and we went in. I started feeling that all over heat feeling I feel when I’m close to panic. I breathed through it, but with a mask on that’s hard. By the time I got to the register I was completely done with socializing for the day. The only solace I have is that Sam Adam’s Octoberfest is out and beer is my love language.

I am taking the advice of my therapist and other mentors in my life and hiring someone to help unpack our house, organize, purge what we don’t need and don’t have room for, and help us make it into a livable space to heal and grow together. I don’t know how long we’ll be in this space, but we need it to be a calm space that suits our needs. Moving out of the home that I shared with my husband was more traumatic than I ever could’ve imagined and I have felt stuck in the new house, unable to function and find room for the things we need daily. Grief makes everything unbelievably hard, even things that should be fun.

I don’t know how long this feeling will last, but I don’t like it. I don’t like not feeling in control of my life. I don’t like waiting for what’s next. I don’t like knowing that lawyers are in control of my future and my financial well-being. I know this is part of life in the widowhood, but it’s a part I would like to fast forward through. My therapist’s words ring in my ears daily, sometimes multiple times per day- “Cyndi, you can’t go around it. You can’t run away from it. You have to go through it.”

Right now it feels like I’m falling through hell, unable to find comfort in anything. Right now, I feel more alone than I ever have. Right now I want to take my child and get in my car and drive until I don’t see familiar places anymore, because everywhere holds a memory of a time when I was happy. I wonder if I’ll ever be happy again, or if dread and fear of my happiness dying will continue to take over my days and nights. I wonder if God will hear my prayers and offer me the peace and comfort I so desperately need from every situation that has broken me. I wonder if God forgot about us.

Sweet Dreams

When Matt was diagnosed with stage 4 colorectal cancer, I kissed my peaceful nights of sleep goodbye. So did he, and he loved sleep. Watching him struggle to sleep a full night without pain was hard. Some nights he was so exhausted but, between chemo and meds, it wasn’t happening for either of us. As his disease progressed and his lungs became compromised, I was paranoid he would die alone and I would be sleeping beside him, so I didn’t sleep. I would just lay awake and watch him breathe and pray that God would allow him to be made whole again. Nights were always the worst. I would check his pulse ox while he slept and count the rise and fall of his chest per minute to make sure he was breathing enough. I knew we were nearing the end of his battle when, even with oxygen on full time, he struggled. The disease took over his lungs and took the breath from the most beautiful man I had even known.

After he died, my struggle with sleep continued. Suddenly I felt the weight of the world on my shoulders and I became the only adult in the house. I was my job to fight off intruders. My job to get us out if the house caught fire. My job to protect the only person I had left in the world- our young daughter. I felt the responsibility of that and I couldn’t sleep some nights until 3 or 4 in the morning, some nights I didn’t sleep at all. For over a year, I laid awake and shook all over. Days would go by and sleep would not happen. I felt like the walking dead. Being alone is hard. Being alone at night? I was acutely aware that he was gone and grief was consuming me. There were plenty of nights I would’ve rather just died than go through one more night of hell on earth.

When you’re overtired and overstressed, you start making deals with God. I remember praying and asking God to give me rest. I remember praying for 2 hours of sleep to feel like 8. I tried everything- new pillows, new sheets, anxiety meds, sleeping pills, lavender, yoga, meditation, sleepy tea, alcohol.. some nights I could drink myself to sleep but I never got a full night. For over a year I survived on the least amount of sleep and found myself praying for daylight so I could just get up and start my day. Nothing helped.

Since we moved out of the home we shared together, I have felt mixed emotions. I miss our house. I miss our good memories there. I don’t miss the agonizing pain I witnessed there. I miss the familiarity of it all. Getting used to the new sounds the new house makes and the sounds of the busy road in the distance and the train horns was hard. I found myself praying for daylight all over again. I do my best worrying at night.

Then one day, I slept. I slept 6 solid hours and woke up feeling like I could take on the world. Gradually 6 turned into 7, 7 turned into 8. Waking up in the middle of the night shaking all over stopped. All of the anxiety I had carried for so long about nights and how horrible they were faded away. I started to tell myself before bed that I was safe. Quinn is safe. Everyone is ok. I learned to lay every worry and concern I had at the foot of the cross and let God fight my battles for me, even the heaviest ones. I finally felt free.

More sleep meant more dreams. More dreams means more chances to see Matt, alive and well in another world. Every time I dream about him he’s happy. I watched his nightmare unfold on earth and it traumatized me for life. But when I see him in my dreams, he’s whole again. He’s not in pain. He’s not suffering. The promise of heaven with him is what I cling to. I live for the nights I wake up after seeing his smiling face. I want to remember every detail of every dream. We had to live a nightmare with him, but dreams about him now are confirmation that he’s ok. He’s whole again and the pain of this world can’t touch him. I find comfort in that.

Last night I went to bed early. I’m an early riser and I have figured out that the earlier I go down, the better chance I have of a restful night. I woke up around midnight after the most amazing dream I’ve had of him to date. Sometimes I dream about things we did together. Sometimes I dream about life with him still here. Last night I dreamed about heaven. He was there waiting for us. He was surrounded by people who went before us, and they were all smiling and happy. He looked more at peace than my dreams ever show me. Heaven, in my dreams, is indescribably beautiful. He smiled at us and hugged us and said “I waited for you”. I could almost feel his arms around me again. He gave the best hugs. When he hugged you, he hugged you with his whole heart. He said to me over and over again “You’re safe. You’re safe. I have you and I never left you”.

Instead of waking up at midnight full of dread, knowing my eyes wouldn’t close again, I woke up feeling safe and secure. I got a drink of water and went back to bed, hoping for another dream just like that. It didn’t happen, but peaceful sleep did. I woke up feeling refreshed and ready to enjoy my Sunday with my favorite girl.

I know God is leading us through this, and I know that in Him I will find rest. I’m grateful for the nights I finally feel safe enough to sleep and the days that come after where, for just a day, I feel somewhat like myself again. I know that I can’t do any of this alone and I pray nightly for rest to face the next day of life without him. And I know we will see him again, but for now I hold tight to the dreams of him smiling and happy. I know he’s with us, if only in my dreams.

“Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.” – Matthew 11:28-30

Turbo

Yesterday we closed the door on a chapter in our lives and a house that holds so many memories for us. We sold the last home we shared as a family with Matt.

The day we bought the house 5 years ago, Quinn was there. She was a rambunctious 3 year old and keeping her quiet at the closing table was a task. Our realtor helped with candy and books.

Yesterday was no different. Upon arrival, before we ever got to the closing table, she was handed a handful of chocolate and dug through their piles of toys. Like the day we bought it, she played at our feet while we signed away our lives. It only seemed right that Matt’s ashes be at the closing table right beside us. We also brought a bottle of welsh whiskey from the place he vacationed as a child and where we spread some of his ashes for his memorial last December. Shots were involved. I took his, and mine. He would be proud.

I struggled to hold it together. I am so happy for the new owners. They have taken us in and loved us and been so amazing throughout the whole process. Selling a house when someone dies is not easy. Emotionally, it’s hard. Technically, it’s hard. They were patient while I navigated uncharted territory. I knew selling the house was the right thing to do in order for us to move on, but it’s hard to leave the last place we ever hugged him. Knowing we can visit whenever we want helps.

I held it together until we got to the car, then I lost it momentarily. The closing was right down the road from Matt’s favorite curvy road that leads to a place we affectionately call “Matt Hill”. We put the top down on mustang Sally and headed up.

Kids process grief differently than we do. Most days, our daughter is ok. But sometimes I catch her staring off into space and, when I ask her what she’s thinking about, the answer is always “my daddy”. She held on to the ammo box that we keep his ashes in and we sang his favorite songs to the top of our lungs.

When we got to the top, she wanted to see the view. As a family, we all share a love for mountain tops and tall buildings. She marched that box to the rock and stood there for a minute, just taking it all in. Then, like the bravest little girl in the whole world, she lifted it above her head to show her daddy. I ugly cried.

Grief, like everything else in life, is fluid. It comes and goes. Sometimes it hits us so hard that we struggle to function. Some days we are just going through the motions of life trying to make it to the end of the day. The days it hits us the hardest are long.

Here’s what I know about life- you have to let go. Letting go of the material things of this earth even though they hold memories is forward momentum. The memories don’t disappear when you sign on the dotted line. If anything, you hold them closer to your heart because you no longer have the tangible property that gave you the memories. Letting go is painful in its own right, but necessary for growth. It would’ve been easier for us to stay there forever. Packing the house up to move was hard. Listing the house for sale was hard. Moving into a new house was hard, especially alone. But we weren’t alone. He was right there with us, and every decision we had to make was honoring his legacy. My daughter is in the town he wanted her to grow up in, going to the school he hand picked for her, getting the education he dreamed of, surrounded by people that love us. That’s everything to me. We’re honoring him by doing what we said we would do, even through the hard.

I don’t know what’s next for us. I don’t know what the years will bring, but I do know that we are exactly where we’re supposed to do living the life he wanted for us. I know he’s with us, even if we can’t hold him. I know he’s laughing with us, crying with us, and somewhere, he’s shaking his head at the million ways I’ve screwed up this last year without him. I never claimed to be the best at widowing and I openly admit that I have no idea what I’m doing.

When we got back in the car to drive back down I looked down and noticed something that wasn’t there last time. Spray painted on the asphalt was one word- “Turbo”.

Talk about a Godwink. Matt owned a mustang when Quinn was 3. It’s the last solid memory she has of her dad before he was diagnosed with stage 4 colorectal cancer at age 33. This is the reason I bought another one, same color, so that she would have that connection to her dad and so we could make the same kind of memories together. It’s unconventional, but it’s the ultimate mom-mobile. When Matt would take her driving, she would shout “Turbo!” and he would punch it, squealing tires and leaving “elevens”, as he liked to say. She would laugh uncontrollably with her chubby little baby fists in the air. He was the cool dad.

I know we’re going to be ok. Life hasn’t turned out like we planned, but it never really does. I never dreamed we would have to live life without him. I feel a constant ache in my heart for what we lost, but every day I remind myself to move the mountain in front of me. Yesterday we did that. The view from the top was pretty awesome.

Especially with Daddy riding shotgun.

“He replied, “Because you have so little faith. Truly I tell you, if you have faith as small as a mustard seed, you can say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there,’ and it will move. Nothing will be impossible for you.” – Matthew 17:20

Our Finest Hour

8 years ago today on the 90th day of his travel visa at 11:59pm Matt flew out of America for England. He was going home because his travel visa was up, literally, down to the last minute. That’s the last time he saw England. My heart hurts thinking about it, but he never got to go back home.

We spent the whole day in bed that day. We ordered delivery for all of our favorite things. We cried, because in what life is it fair that you can be so happy and have to say goodbye to someone? This is also how I feel about his cancer and his death.

We stood in the Atlanta airport by international departures and just clung to each other and cried. I was pregnant with Quinn and he was so worried that I would hurt “bump” by getting too upset. He tried to calm me down, and before he walked away he said “I’ll be back to you Cyndi, I swear. I promise swear. Bible, Brooklyn Bridge.”

Watching him walk away was the hardest thing I had ever had to do. I was terrified he wouldn’t come back, that he would get back to England and all of his friends would tell him he was crazy for uprooting his whole life and moving to America. I was scared I would raise a baby alone. I was scared that for one reason or another, America wouldn’t let him back in. I loved him so much I just wanted to beg him to stay, but he couldn’t.

The next several weeks were filled with sadness for both of us. We hated being apart. On both ends of the earth, we went to work and came home. That was it. Our conversations and FaceTimes were full of tears. I told him I was scared he wouldn’t come back and, for the first time in our relationship, he hung up on me. He made me promise to never say that again. He promised he would be back.

We had the best summer of our entire lives that year. We went everywhere. We made a baby (accidentally, on birth control and with a broken uterus that was never supposed to be able to hold or birth children).

Matt fell in love with America and America embraced him. He loved our culture, and he loved me. He loved me in a way I had never been loved before. He loved me exactly as I was, he didn’t try to “fix” me. I can not describe how it felt to have someone love me that much, other than to say once you have it, you can’t settle for anything less. Once you know it’s out there, you long for it.

We lived every minute of that summer. I thought the feelings I had and the excitement of the relationship and all of the wanting each other like crazy would go away. It didn’t. It only got better, even after he got back 6 weeks later and I was in full cranky pregnant woman mode.

Life with Matt was as close to perfect as it could be. He never made me feel that feeling of dread about him leaving again, until the day he took his last breath. I knew he was dying and I knew he didn’t want to, but his body was tired. He had fought so hard to be here for Quinn and I. I knew I had to say goodbye but I would’ve rather just gone with him. This time, there was no promise of return. This time, there was no “I’ll be back to you Cyndi, I swear. I promise swear. Bible, Brooklyn Bridge”. He knew he was dying, and he spent the weeks prior telling me how much he loved me, telling us all all the things he wanted for us and wanted us to do. I’ve never seen anyone so brave. He had to say goodbye, but slowly and agonizingly. He did it with all the grace he carried through the rest of his life. No one watched Matt die that didn’t know exactly how he felt about them. He wore his big, beautiful heart on his sleeve.

Letting go of my person was the hardest day of my life. Holding his hand until it was cold and dead is a memory that I cannot shake. By the end of his fight, we were begging God to take him. He was in pain and he was ready to go home.

I’ll carry the memories forever of that first summer. All the laughter, excitement, tears, and even goodbyes. When he returned to America just like he said he would, he hit his knees and kissed my growing bump. He told me he would never leave me again. In the last weeks of his life, he told me he was sorry for having to leave us and sorry for making a promise he couldn’t keep. He promised he would see me on the other side, and I hold tight to the promise of Heaven because I know that somewhere in the clouds, he’s there. He’s free of pain, free of cancer, and living an eternal life that’s better than anything we will ever have here. Heaven is more beautiful with him there, because he was the most beautiful person inside and out that I had ever encountered.

It was a whirlwind of a relationship and not ever conventional not even for one second, but it was our finest hour. And when the clock ran out for us, it left me broken and missing a part of me that I’ll never be able to repair. Life without Matt will never be the same. He was a bright light in a dark world. We don’t know how to live life without him. Every day brings a new “hard”. We just push forward until we see him again.

Once upon a time, we were happy. Once upon a time, we were whole. Once upon a time, I was loved by a man so strong and so solid and so genuine. The years with Matt are frozen in time in my head and I remember everything about him in vivid detail for the rest of my life, until we meet again.

Supply Survivor’s Club

Something really weird happens when you share the most embarrassing, traumatic, miserable relationship of your entire life and how you suffered at the hands of a raging narcissistic abuser- people come out of the wood work to say “me, too.” Friends that I’ve known for years who have never shared stories of their narcissistic ex’s shared stories that were eerily similar to my own, but with different abusers. They had buried the details of their own abuse because it’s traumatic and it hurts, but it’s all the same. The chain of narcissistic abuse rarely changes- they idealize you, devalue you, and then discard you. Then they repeat with the next unassuming victim and the cycle of pain continues.

They bank on you being so embarrassed that you allowed them into your life that you just walk away quietly, licking your wounds like a beat dog. They tell people you are “crazy, delusional, and obsessed” with them if you dare speak out against them. Their entire existence served to devalue yours, and this is how they continue to attach themselves to you. They walk away completely unscathed.

But what happens when you fight back?

You provide truth, facts, screenshots, bank records, and legal documents to back up your abuse in an effort to prove yourself to people who don’t really matter just to continue to defend yourself from the abuse you suffered and take your power back.

You find yourself explaining the basics of narcissistic abuse to people who, like you previously, had never encountered this level of psychopath before. It’s very hard to understand it unless you lived it.

You put yourself in even more danger. The minute I began to fight back, the threats got worse. The minute I started to expose my narcissist, my personal safety was threatened. I moved. I changed cars. I protected myself and my daughter from someone who still cannot leave any of his ex’s alone. He cannot stand not to have supply and seeks it out regularly, having multiple streams at all times to boost his demented ego.

Unless you set hard boundaries, narcissists will always resurface in your life. You’re never free of their control unless you remove yourself from every single scenario in which they can contact you. In my case, a protection from abuse order serves as the no contact I need to heal from him. Contacting me means jail for him. So far, he hasn’t been dumb enough to break that order.

And then you bond with people he’s hurt before. You find yourself a whole new group of friends who know exactly what it’s like to survive the narcissist you encountered. You find your heart broken again for women you never would’ve come in contact with otherwise, but you share a bond that cannot be broken- you survived him. They know exactly what it’s like to be adored and then broken down by him, because they lived it, too. They know what it’s like to want so desperately to be free of him, only to have him resurface via phone call, text, or email. They know what it’s like to tell him no and feel the wrath of him and the degrading comments. They know what it’s like to love him and then watch him pick apart their lives piece by piece.

At one point, they were “the most amazing woman” to him. He used all the same lines. He did all the same lying and cheating and sold them all the same sob stories. They know what it’s like to turn into investigators to see who he’s cheating on them with. They know what it’s like to regret every single day they spent with him and every dollar he swindled them out of. They know what it’s like to be physically sickened by his face now. They know what it’s like to hate the thought of him ever touching them. They know what it’s like to regret the day they ever met him.

Narcissistic abuse is abuse, plain and simple. It will take you deeper than you ever wanted to go and you will lose yourself trying so hard to appease the narcissist. Everything you loved about your life before the narcissist you will long for.

If you’re deep in the trenches with your narcissist, keep moving away from them. Keep setting boundaries. Keep saying no. Keep forcing them to be accountable for their actions. They hate that.

One day, you’ll be ok. One day, all of the pain and turmoil they brought into your life will be a distant memory and you’ll find that woman you were before they set out to destroy you. One day soon, you’ll survive the narcissist.

You have a whole team of women who have been where you are. We see you, we hear you, and most importantly- we believe you.

We’re all cheering you over the finish line.

Battle Scars

Tonight in the middle of moving hell, my daughter hopped a curb on her bike and went tumbling down a hill. She took a pretty bad fall complete with a head slam to the ground. Thankfully, she was on grass and gravel. Thankfully, I’m too traumatized to step foot into a hospital since I haven’t been in one since the day my husband went on hospice care last year so I make her wear a helmet. It rung her bell a little, but she’s ok. Her new school pants weren’t so lucky.

When I walked over to her, probably way too calmly because I’m just exhausted, I thought about what to say. I come from a long line of “suck it up, you’re fine”. I grew up in a loving home but mental and physical toughness was instilled on me at a young age and I oftentimes have a hard time with the tears and drama. But my current situation has me a ball of emotions and I want her to know it’s ok to cry. It’s a tough balance- raising a daughter to bounce back when crappy things happen and still letting her know it’s ok to feel things. The PTSD I have after watching my husband suffer and die and the last year of trauma I’ve experienced had me panicking a little in my head because I do not, for any reason, want to have to take my child to Children’s Hospital ER in the middle of a global pandemic. I was thankful not to see bones sticking out anywhere. When I got to her, I said the only thing I knew to say, and my own words slapped me directly in the face. It felt more profound to me than it probably ever will to her. The joys of being 7.

I told her that she’s going to fall. And it’s going to hurt. I told her she had to just get up and try again another day. Then I pushed her bike back home for her while she limped along behind me.

I’ve fallen. Over and over again, I’ve failed. I have felt so low in the last year that I didn’t think I would ever feel normal again, whatever normal is. I clung to things I thought were good for me and to me when they were destroying what was left of my soul. I have been there on the proverbial ground, bleeding, in pain, and mad at the world because I was hurt again. I’ve learned that there is healing in the fall. The real growth that has happened in my life over the last year didn’t happen when everything was going great, it happened when I was in the deepest pain of my life, betrayed and hurt by the one person I thought I could count on after my husband died. He broke me and left me to die.

I wasn’t aware of my own suffering. I was powering though life, ignoring everything that felt like grief. I was in a constant cycle of replacing the bad feelings with good ones, even when the good feelings were killing me when my back was turned. I was being abused and used in plain sight, completely oblivious to it.

When I was diagnosed with PTSD my therapist told me I actually have CPTSD, because my trauma has been compounded by more trauma due to an abusive relationship I should’ve never been in. Life may have been different had I not gone head to head with a liar, cheater, and raging narcissist. But it’s not. What happens now is the healing from what broke me and continuously pulling myself up and finding my way back home.

When you fall and fail, you have two choices. It’s easy to lay there and cry about it while you bleed all over the place. It’s almost comforting to know that that’s an option, but it’s gets you nowhere. You have to get up. You have to drag what’s left of yourself home. Ask someone to push your bike if you need to, but you have to keep moving. Cry if you need to, the tears will eventually stop.

As I tucked my sweet baby into bed, she laughed about it. She said “Mama I almost made it”.

Yes you did, child. And one day you’ll hop that curb like it was nothing. One day, it will be the most distant memory and the sting of the gravel will be long gone, because where that raw scrape is now will toughen up and you’ll be stronger than ever.

Grief management. Like riding a bike.

One Year Ago

One year ago today, the kindest, most gentle, most loving man I had ever met took his last breath on earth and went to his forever home in Heaven. A huge part of who I am went with him that day.

He made sure we would have plenty of things to laugh at, from his ridiculous requests of where to spread his ashes, to all of the crazy stuff he had stashed away in this house when he died that we found while cleaning it out to sell. Even after he died, the amazon orders he so loved kept rolling in. He loved mail. I let it pile up for months after he died because it was his to open and he wasn’t here.

Life without him is not what we planned. He used to look at me and smile and say he couldn’t wait to see me old and wrinkly. His plan was to work for the railroad for 30 years and retire and watch our grandchildren play. Any railroad wife knows that you suffer through the long years to get to the sweet retirement, but he didn’t make it that far. He couldn’t wait to see Quinn grow up. He doted on her and loved her so much it made my heart explode. He provided us with the best life he could and we wanted for absolutely nothing. He didn’t take anything too seriously and when I say he lit up every room he walked into, he did. His head was always on a swivel because he was always looking for excitement. When Matt was around, the fun began. You never knew what was going to come out of his mouth and he instantly disarmed everyone with his quick wit and charm. If you weren’t his friend before, you were by the time he left. His personality was magnetic and rare. He could make anyone love him.

A huge part of Matt’s life was giving. He would do it quietly, never wanting a second of recognition for it. Over the years that we were together I watched him quietly pay bills for people, send people things anonymously when he knew they were in need, bail friends out of issues they couldn’t handle themselves.. he was just so good. There wasn’t a single person he helped that he did with any expectation of return. When I was very pregnant with Quinn and we didn’t have 2 pennies to rub together, our “treat” was Arby’s one night. It was so cold and the employees were trying to kick a homeless man out of the restaurant in Atlanta. He walked to the register, bought him a meal, and sat it down in front of him and told him to eat real slow and stay as long as he wanted then came back to the table and quietly ate his own food. There was no one who was immune to the goodness of Matt’s heart, because that’s who he was day in and day out. When he was diagnosed with cancer, our entire community rallied around us and carried us and this humbled him every single day. He would sob with gratitude. He wasn’t used to being on the receiving end. He felt things deeply. He felt the pain of other people and was always trying to fix it for them or make it better in some way. He was good in a bad world.

There was no better person to have in your corner in life. I used to tell people “oh you love your husband? Because I LOVE my husband”. We had seen each other at our absolute worst and we had faced hardships that never broke us. We weren’t perfect. I’m a difficult person to love on a good day, but he did. Right up until his last breath, he did. He could see a silver lining where I couldn’t see one. He could take the worst situations and make them better, usually with humor. His instructions for our family were clear when he knew death was coming- move on, love, live, and laugh- because he believed there was humor to be found in every situation.

Cancer didn’t stop him from playing alexa on 10 and dancing around the house. Cancer didn’t stop him from being the best dad he could possibly be to Quinn. Cancer didn’t take that quick wit and charm. If anything, cancer magnified who he was and what was important.

He lived life as if he knew his time on earth was limited. He loved speed, and one of my biggest regrets is saying absolutely not to the “motorbike” he wanted here. I was convinced he would kill himself on it. Should’ve just said yes.

I see him in Quinn every day. She is the most wonderful part about him. All of her quirks and weirdness are a mix of us both, but her great big heart and her ability to make everyone fall in love with her came straight from him.

It breaks my heart every day that she has to live in a world without him. It breaks my heart that she won’t have her daddy there for the important moments. It breaks my heart that she has to hurt because he’s gone. I can’t even put into words the pain of that because it’s insurmountable even a year later. That’s the biggest and most raw pain of all.

Many of our friends have asked what we’re going to do today. Balloon release was suggested, but Matt would rather die than hurt an animal. Today we will eat Oreo cream ice cream because he loved it. We’ll take a fast ride on his favorite curvy road. We will watch videos of him just to hear his voice and look at old pictures of him. We will let the love of God hold us like we have every day since he left this earth for heaven.

Today, as you go through life, remember him. Remember his spirit, his smile, his unwavering love for people and for what’s good in the world. Do something kind for someone else. Be someone’s happy, because he was always someone’s happy. Make an inappropriate joke, laugh too hard at something, and don’t take anything too seriously. He didn’t, and it served him well in his 35 years.

He loved gentleman jack and coke. He loved America. He loved England. He loved chocolate. He loved tacos. He loved guns. He loved singing and dancing. He loved his family with his whole heart. He loved cars, especially fast ones. He could take a car apart and put it back together with relative ease. He loved his job. He loved candy. He loved laughing. He loved life and he loved Jesus. He may be gone, but his spirit lives on in the heart of a little 7 year old fireball who is exactly like him.

Matthew James Smith came crashing into this world on April 5, 1984 and he left it a whole lot darker on August 10, 2019.

I’ll love him forever.

Bad Romance

Rumination is a big part of healing from an abusive relationship. You go over the details in your mind a thousand times, trying to make sense of what happened to you. In my case, I ruminate to try and get past what happened to me. It’s hard to get your head and your heart on the same level because, at one point, things seemed good. Surviving a relationship with an extreme narcissist means accepting that just because things seemed good, doesn’t mean they ever really were.

My relationship was built on the lie that he did not know who I was. He claimed to not know I was a fresh widow until I told him. He claimed to not know anything about me. If liars spontaneously combusted, he would’ve blown up right there in that chair in Starbucks because, not only did he know, he sought me out for his own financial gain.

When the discard (break up) happens with a narcissist, and it always will, rumination takes center stage. I agonized over every detail of our relationship to tried to make sense of it all. I cried. A lot. My whole body hurt because I felt the loss of something that was important to me. I was grieving the loss of something I had both fond memories and horrible memories of, which is very confusing. Heart and head were not on the same page. Heart and mind were hurting equally and at war with each other.

And then one day I had an epiphany that changed my healing process and changed my outlook completely-

I stopped romanticizing my abuser and my experiences with him.

There is absolutely nothing romantic about being abused. There is nothing romantic about being used and talked down to and cheated on and lied to. There is nothing romantic about a 45 year old man hurting my 7 year old child. There is nothing romantic about fearing for your safety.

When I remember the way it felt to have all those “me, too!” moments the first day I met him in Starbucks, I tell myself that that was part of his sick game. He had studied me, my life, my habits, my history, and preyed on me that day. He knew what he was going to say and do before he ever sat down beside me. What felt like a random moment where two people met and really connected was all part of the disgusting game of deceit he plays with women. I’m not the first. I won’t be the last. I no longer romanticize that moment. Now I get physically ill when I think about it.

When I remember the first time he touched me, the first time he kissed me, and how amazing it felt at that time, I tell myself this was part of the love bombing phase. This was a calculated plan to hook me emotionally and physically so that I could be easily manipulated by him. I tell myself that, just weeks after meeting me, he was doing this same thing to my replacement almost verbatim because she told me herself. He continued to do this to both of us for the entirety of our relationship. And he’s still with her, because she is likely still romanticizing her experiences with him and not identifying them for what they really are- abuse.

Check his phone, sis. Check his social media, his favorite tool for supply. Check his inbox. His multiple accounts under different names, dating profiles he lies on. I promise you he has others lined up. He always does. I’ve seen it. You were one of them.

I used to look back fondly on the time he spent with my daughter. I almost couldn’t believe that he could hurt her like he did, on her birthday no less, because of how much he appeared to love her when we were together. He used and abused my daughter and her emotions. Things I used to think were so sweet I now identify as blatant abuse by him. There is nothing romantic about hurting a child. There is nothing romantic about stealing money set aside to raise a child after the death of her father. There is nothing romantic about making a child cry because you’re a lousy excuse for a man.

Every single time he touched me, every time he grabbed my hand, every time he told me he loved me, every time he texted, called, showed up, spent the night, went out of town with me, every plan we made together- I used to cry over those things because I was so hurt that I would never have them again. I mourned what I thought I lost. Now I’m so grateful that I will never have them again, because I identify them for what they were- methods of abuse. His intention from day one was to drain me financially and add me to the discard pile of women he does this to, and he succeeded.

Romanticizing your abuser happens when your heart and your head can’t get on the same page. Your feelings supersede all common sense. No normal person would put another person through what he put me through. But he’s not normal. He’s a sick person in need of professional help.

I don’t cry over him anymore. I don’t have an ounce of love left for him in my entire body. Seeing him makes me dry heave and I feel panic and my fight or flight kicks in, not because I miss him, but because I’m so disgusted by his very existence in my life in any capacity. I wish that I could just wipe him from my memory and my past completely. I have such a visceral reaction to seeing him in person now and I’m forced to due to court proceedings. My whole body wants to run so far away from him because I identify him for exactly who and what he is- a dangerous predatory abuser who needs to be avoided.

When we broke up (or as I like to call it now, when I broke free) he said “Come on, it wasn’t all bad”. Oh yes it was. From day one, second one, from before he ever even spoke the first word to me, it was bad. His intentions were always bad. I was just collateral damage on his way to financial gain until better supply came along. And she is, too. There’s always new supply lined up for the narcissistic abuser. Their ego won’t allow it any other way.

Rumination is a part of life, but romanticizing my abuser and my experiences with him will never happen again because I see so clearly who and what he is.

My head and my heart are on the same page and the chapters behind me will never be looked back on fondly. I look back on them now with disgust and regret and gratitude that I survived his wrath.

There is absolutely nothing romantic about abuse.

Hug a Teacher

This is Sarah Goodner. This is Q. This is today.

Sarah was Quinn’s first grade teacher. Q started first grade at a brand new school 4 days after watching her dad die. Matt was adamant she start on time so she wouldn’t have to be the “new” kid and the “missed the first few weeks” kid.

Q is a touch me not. She initiates hugs and my heart explodes because I know when she does that, she loves that person big. I tell everyone if you get a hug from her, she loves you so you better enjoy it.

A few weeks into the school year while Sarah and I were talking about how Quinn was doing she said they have lunch time hugs. At first it shocked me because in those first few weeks she was very stand offish. Her whole world had just came crashing down around her and she was expected to go to school and behave like every other kid there while suffering a loss no one could really understand. But she just kept reaching out and hugging her teacher.

The two of them formed a special bond. Before school started when Matt was dying, Sarah came today our house so he could be a part of “meet the teacher”. This meant the world to him and to us. He didn’t make it to see her first day of “big school” but cancer didn’t rob him of the excitement of seeing her with her first big school teacher. Quinn said afterwards that “Daddy knows Mrs Goodner and loves Mrs Goodner and I do, too”.

Teachers are special people. In a time where we as parents are all doing the very best we can do for our kids, teachers are, too. Administrators, principals, superintendents- they are all trying to figure out how to navigate this virus and its impact on our children. The same teachers that will pull your child out of a burning school if they have to and throw themselves in front of an armed gunman are the same ones working tirelessly now to prepare a safe classroom for our kids to go back to grow, learn and thrive in.

Pray for them. Be kind to them. And, if you get the chance, put on your godforsaken mask and give them a hug. Lord knows they all need it right now.

We don’t know what the 2020-21 school year will look like yet. But I hope Quinn ends up with a teacher with even a fraction of the heart Mrs Goodner has. And I hope she doesn’t mind lunchtime hugs.

The Grief Cycle

Therapy has taught me how to cope with complex emotions left from suffering through the death of my husband from stage 4 colon cancer and the abusive relationship I found myself in shortly thereafter.

Watching someone you love fight for his life and die a slow death is torture. There is no other way to put it. It’s an out of body experience. There were times that I felt like I was hovering above the situation watching it unfold in slow motion, unable to fix what was happening in front of me. I fought for my family. I fought until we heard the words “I’m so sorry, we feel that hospice care is the right choice at this time. You’ve done everything you could do”. We would’ve gone to the ends of the earth to save Matt’s life. We left no stone unturned. I do find peace in knowing that we did everything we could, but that doesn’t negate the pain of losing him at age 35. The problem with fighting so hard and so long is that everything feels like war. Normal things feel abnormally hard. I am constantly battling a war in my head between letting go and fixing what’s wrong. I’m a fixer by nature. If I can make someone’s life just a little bit easier by sacrificing in my own life, I’ll do it. I used to think this was an attribute. Now I see it as a major character flaw. I also acknowledge that, when I entered into the first relationship after Matt’s death, I was deep in the grief/acute sorrow phase.

I was preyed upon by someone who pretended to not know who I was. He said he had never heard of me, my husband, or my loss. I now know that was not true. I believe there are people out there who seek out people at their lowest point and forge relationships with them because that’s just who they are. They feel more capable manipulating people at their weakest moments because we’re easy targets. This doesn’t always have to come in the form of someone who lost a loved one. In his case he likes fresh divorcees, too. It gives him an immediate upper hand. Truthfully, I would’ve never given him a second look had I been further along in the grief process. I was using everything as a distraction to pull me away from the pain I was feeling and make me feel good. When you meet someone and they shower you with attention and affection and you’ve felt so bad for so long, you love it. You crave it. Who I met was an extreme narcissist that used my grief to his advantage. He crossed boundaries that I should’ve enforced from day one, but I wasn’t capable of enforcing those boundaries. Mentally I was not ok. I was getting up every day, going to work, taking care of my child- shuffling through life like normal. I clearly remember things he said and did and they make my blood boil and my skin crawl now, but at the time he made me feel really good so I allowed them. When you’re suffering from acute sorrow you will grasp at anything and everything that feels better than that.

I remember the first time he called me to come out with him late at night. We had been out before closer to where I live and work, but it got back to his ex wife and, once people found out he was pursuing me, they came out of the woodwork to try and protect me from him. I was angry that people would have the audacity to try and interfere in something I thought was so good, but I regret not taking the warnings now. It could’ve saved me months of heartache. He knew nights were the worst for me, that’s when the dread set in and the bad thoughts flooded my brain. It still is. I had suggested we just hang out at my house and he had said not tonight, so I was surprised when he called. I met him at a bar close to his house at his request. He introduced me to his bartenders and we spent the evening drinking beer and laughing. It felt so good at a time when everything else felt so bad. He was the same overtly charming man I met that day in Starbucks that I wish I could just wipe from my memory forever. I remember everything about the way it felt when he touched me, how he smelled, what he was wearing.. I was floating. He kissed the window of my car when I rolled it up. I left the bar that night with his lip marks all over the window. They stayed there for months. I remember the way it felt when he kissed me that night. I felt equal parts horrible because it felt like cheating on my husband (who had been dead for months, but I still felt very much married) and equal parts amazing because who doesn’t want to feel wanted after feeling horrible for so long?

This started the cycle of nights with B. I became his constant bar buddy. He would comment that this was best because we couldn’t have “privacy” if we went out close to where I lived and worked. He introduced me to friends as his girlfriend. I had no reason to believe that I wasn’t in those moments. That’s exactly how he treated me when we were away from “prying eyes”. Every time I would take my daughter to my friend for the night to go spend nights with him she would gently try to tell me that this wasn’t normal behavior. I would gush over him and how he made me feel and go anyway. I lived for those phone calls or texts telling me where to meet him next. It was fun and exciting. There were nights that we spent brainstorming big ideas together and I felt like, in those moments, I saw a glimpse of who he really is behind all the narcissism and misogyny and anger that came out later. I’ve never in my life met someone that has so much potential but chooses to continuously do the wrong thing and hurt people, but that’s just who he is. And when he would break down and open up to me about his own struggles he was almost childlike and I felt sorry for him. I’ll never know what was true and what wasn’t, but my love for who I met and what I saw was genuine. I didn’t know I was being had. I didn’t know anything about narcissistic behavior and I sure did not identify him as a predator. When I was with him, everything felt better. At a time when everything felt horrible, I needed that.

I’ve heard that you shouldn’t make any big decisions or enter new relationships within a year of a big loss. I didn’t think that was true or fair. I didn’t understand the grief cycle or even the process of grief. I had anticipatory grief through the loss of my husband because we knew it was coming so I was further along than someone who had suffered a sudden unexpected loss, but I was sitting firmly in the “acute sorrow, helplessness, hopelessness, depression, and despair” section. The man who preyed on me found me at my very lowest moment and proceeded to take full advantage of my grief.

I didn’t even realize I was being manipulated, but I was. I am normally a very strong person mentally and emotionally, so I didn’t see what was happening because I was at my most vulnerable and most fragile. I didn’t identify that I had been in an abusive relationship with this man until months after it was over. I suffered greatly at the hands of this man and so did my child.

So what happens when you are deep in the grief cycle and someone comes along and uses and abuses you for their own personal gain? Grief magnified by a thousand.

I somehow survived watching Matt suffer from cancer with only one attempt at taking my own life. One day, when Matt was going through treatment and we found out that the chemo he fought through did not work, I couldn’t take it anymore. I went on a drive to clear my head and found myself sitting at an overlook with a gun in my hand. The stress and anxiety of watching him suffer was too much. I felt hopeless and like a failure because I couldn’t save my family. I wanted to end my own pain. I never understood suicide before, but I do now. No one who considers it wants to hurt anyone else, they just want to end their own suffering. I put the gun in my mouth and right before I pulled the trigger my phone rang. It was my daughter asking if she could have ice cream. I unloaded the gun and sobbed. She saved me that night.

Finding out I had been used for personal financial gain, cheated on, lied to, and manipulated by an extreme narcissist sent me right back to that place. I didn’t want to wake up. Every day felt like a nightmare and the shame was overwhelming. I tried to breathe through it, but panic attacks were a daily occurrence. I tried to numb the pain but nothing worked. I didn’t want any of it to be true- the other woman he had been seeing since a month after I met him- none of it. At one point I actually said to him “Just stop it! Act normal! I don’t even know this person you’re acting like!” I was in denial, because the person he was showing me is exactly who he really is. I got angry. I begged. I pleaded. I bargained. I found myself right back in that all too familiar grief cycle, except this time I was grieving someone who purposely set out to destroy me because of his own mental issues.

When I met him he told me his ex was “crazy, delusional, and obsessed with him”. She is not. She is strong, capable, and -like me- barely survived him. In the end of our relationship he used those same words on me. He called me crazy and told me everyone was going to think I was crazy. He called me delusional and told me that dates and times that things happened didn’t happen even though I had proof. He said I was delusional and that he never told me he loved me, never told my child he loved her. He said no one was ever going to date me again because I was obsessed with him. He shamed me for feeling normal human emotions because he is incapable of feeling any of those.

When you’re already suffering and someone causes you more traumatic suffering, it’s really easy to just shut down. Through therapy and writing I have managed to keep going, but only because I have a healthy outlet. I see why people turn to drugs and alcohol to cope. I see why people choose suicide. It’s very easy to feel completely helpless and hopeless.

But you have to keep going. Surrender to it, feel it instead of trying to hide it out of shame and fear that people will view you in a different light. Faith, hope, and serenity are on the other side of everything you’re afraid of.

I wish so badly I could go back to that day in Starbucks and shake some sense into myself. I wish I knew then what I know now about narcissism and how common it is for these people to prey on grieving widows. I didn’t know any better. But when you know better, you do better. Speaking out about it is imperative to my healing process and, if it helps someone else not suffer, I’ll keep writing about it as long as I can.

Words matter. The words you say to people matter, the promises you make, and the words you say to children matter extra. I will continue to use my words to reconstruct what my new life will be. I’m stronger now and am done replacing bad feelings with good just to distract myself. I understand fully that to get to the “new life” part of the cycle, I have to walk through the pain of what broke me in the old life.

There is hope. You have to just keep it moving.